April 10 is the day when forty-four years back Constitution of Pakistan was approved by the first directly elected National Assembly (NA) which was also the 5th National Assembly of Pakistan. The way of the approval of the Constitution was a lasting achievement of that parliament, which was framed after 26 years of the creation of Pakistan. The constitution got such support of people and political parties and became so significant that even after 44 years of its enforcement it has remained an agreed constitutional document. The formation of the Constitution may be called one of the most brilliant successes of the Parliament besides all disputes and controversies.

In many respects, the adoption of the new Constitution marks a turning point in the history of Pakistan. For the first time, a Constitution has been created by the elected representatives of the people, closely in touch with public opinion. It was based on the consensus and provided for adult franchise as the basis of election, and set up a Federation consisting of all the Provinces.

The National Assembly comprising of a single house, enjoyed sovereignty both legally and politically and was able to take innovative action in the sphere of public policy and institution-building. The task of the framing of the Constitution, which the parliamentarians completed was not an easy one. It was expected that after the separation of its Eastern Wing, “New” Pakistan should have no special difficulties or problems in framing a Constitution. However, unlike Bangladesh, Pakistan’s constitution-making in 1972-73 was a complicated task and marked by several acute clashes between the government and the opposition parties both inside and outside the Assembly. The old and complicated issues faced by constitution makers in Pakistan were revived: the relationship between state and religion, i.e. controversy over details of an “Islamic Constitution”; distribution of powers between the centre and the provinces; the kind of executive suitable for Pakistan – all those old issues generated lengthy and heated debates in the country even after its dismemberment, when the unity in the truncated Pakistan was vital for its survival. The controversy over an “Islamic State”-an issue which has a lengthy record behind it- took a dramatic turn when the secular oriented Bengalis were no longer present in the Assembly and orthodox elements in the Western part of the country, though defeated in the general elections of 1970, gathered together to put up a fight to preserve cherished Islamic values and traditions. At the time of debate on constitution the opposition (about 40 votes) could not gather enough PPP rebels to them to present any real challenge to the government.

The Constitution Bill was introduced in the NA by the Law Minister on February 2, 1973 and was debated on February 17. By the time the NA, acting as a Constituent Assembly, began clause by clause examination of the new permanent constitution, the majority party according to the Law Minister said, was wide open for compromise on all points except the measure of provincial autonomy, and the division of power between the Federal and Provincial Governments. During the debate, the government made a number of concessions to the opposition’s views; for example, by dropping the clause providing that a motion of no confidence in the Government could only be passed by two-thirds majority. Even so, the Bill seemed certain of a rough journey through the House. All the opposition parties, ranging from the profoundly radical National Awami Party to groups on the extreme right banded together in the United Democratic Front and put down some 1600 amendments, obviously with the determination of obstructing the Bill until it should be modified to meet its large majority, to have forced the Bill through the National Assembly by sheer might of voting power but this was not President Bhutto’s intention.

The Draft Constitution comprised of 278 Articles and had 6 Schedules. The Committee held 48 sittings, total 175 working hours, spreading over a period of 38 working days in all. The average attendance throughout the sittings was 18 out of 25 members. Prior to the introduction of the Draft Constitution as a bill, the opposition parties in the Assembly resolved that they would ‘resist all efforts to pass an un-Islamic, undemocratic, non-parliamentary, and non-federal constitution, and that if their legitimate amendments were not accepted, they would have no choice except to go to the nation’. However, when the NA opened debate on the Constitutional Bill on February 17, the ruling PPP seemed willing to seek the cooperation of the opposition parliamentary groups ‘in rectifying whatever mistakes might have crept into the draft’.

There were certain problems in the functions of the Parliament. The debate of the Constitution continued in a desultory fashion since 17th February 1973. This first reading produced a crop of very lengthy, repetitive and often irrelevant speeches from both sides of the house, the PPP extolling, the opposition denigrating the draft Constitution, and little being done to prepare the way for some sort of constructive consensus or compromise. Notwithstanding the development on the Constitution making continued.

The opposition’s cooperation for the strength of the Parliament cannot be ignored because they continued the support for the institution of parliament in formation of the Constitution, despite manuverings of the government outside the NA. A Presidential Ordinance of March 8, 1973, amended the Interim Constitution so that Central and Provincial Ministers who were not MNAs were able to retain their posts until August 14, 1973, instead of April 21, as was originally stated in Articles 63 and 104 of the Interim Constitution. This meant that Central Ministers J.A. Rahim and Sherpao had a further four months’ lease of life. Aziz Ahmad, Mahmud Ali and Akbar Khan were not MNAs, but they were Ministers of State and thus not threatened by the original time-bar. These were extra-parliamentary functions.

The activities in the corridors of the NA during the days of constitution-making as well as on the day of adoption of the Constitution marked that it was the parliament, and not any other institution, that was in focus. It was never in doubt that Bhutto would be able to pass the Constitution with the support of the large majority, which he commanded in the National Assembly. However, it was very uncertain that he would be able to gain the assent of the opposition. They had contested nearly every clause of the Constitution in its passage through the Assembly.

In a house of 144 members, the Constitution was approved by 125 votes out of 128 present and voting. On that occasion, the Law Minister moved a motion: “that this Assembly resolves that steps be taken to enable Members of the Constituent Assembly to sign the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the purpose of its being deposited in the National Museum.” Afterwards, the ceremony of the putting signatures on the historical document of the Constitution took place. In that ceremony 137 members signed the original document of the Constitution. Nine members of the Assembly who did not take part in the voting also signed the approval of the Constitution. This fact proved that there were less controversies in the final adoption of the Constitution. However, eight members remained aloof from the document in respect of putting signatures. They were Ali Ahmad Talpur, Abdul Hameed Jatoi, Abdul Khaliq, Mahmood Ali Kasuri, Ahmad Raza Kasuri, Makhdoom Noor Muhammad, Nawab Khair Bux Mari and Abdul Hayee Baloch.

The ruling PPP felt miraculously lucky to get unanimous authentication of the Constitution. It was the fifth to be drafted, the third to be adopted with no opposing vote and with the support of all but three of the members of the opposition group.

Adoption of the new Constitution became the occasion for nationwide celebration. April 12 and 13 were observed as public holidays; and Pakistani missions abroad remained closed on those days. Official workers throughout the country received two days paid holiday. In the course of the national rejoicing Bhutto visited Lahore and Karachi laid a wreath on the mazar of Iqbal, and mazar of the Quaid-i-Azam. Bhutto took price in this achievement his biographer Stanley Wolpert writes: “Zulfi fondly hoped that his most impressive political achievement to date would long outlive his own tenure in high office, ten more years seeming to him at this time perhaps all that remained for his enjoyment.” Bhutto’s claim was not without substance. However, the endorsement of Bhutto’s claim does not lessen the achievement of the parliament.

As far as the sovereignty of the parliament during the period discussed above is concerned, it is easy to conclude that the NA proved a sovereign body at least during these fateful years. The parliament was a success in the real terms, as it determined the fate of all of the institutions of the State of Pakistan in the Constitution. It was an assembly that gave constitutional recognition to all the institutions of the state including the executive, the army, the judiciary and even the state itself derived its sovereignty from the sovereignty of the assembly.


The writer is Associate Professor, Department of History, Punjab University, Lahore.