Politicians’ ever-changing posture to national institutions | By Brig Muhammad Asif (R)

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Politicians’ ever-changing posture to national institutions

WHILE blaming solely the military establishment for political instability, a few important factors, i.e.role of politicians and judiciary, must be taken into consideration.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, Governor General, Khawaja Nazimuddin, appointed a civil bureaucrat, Malik Ghulam Muhammad, as the Governor General, in a bid to become the Prime Minister himself.

This was the first political blunder committed by a politician that proved to be a fateful turning point to derail the political process in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly was widely criticised for its incompetence by politicians. Even some of the elected members of the Assembly demanded its dissolution arguing; it wasn’t a democratic parliament.

Making such demands a pretext, the Governor General dissolved the Constituent Assembly on October 24, 1954.

The dissolution of the Assembly was challenged in the court by its President in the famous case of Federation of Pakistan vs Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan.

The Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice Muhammad Munir, invoked the “Doctrine of Necessity” to validate dissolution of the Assembly.

During his stint as the Governor General, Malik Ghulam Muhammad besides dissolving Constitutional Assembly, removed two Prime Ministers, before he was replaced by another civil bureaucrat, Iskandar Ali Mirza as the Governor General of Pakistan in 1955, before his election as the first President of Pakistan by the second Constituent Assembly, which promulgated the Constitution of Pakistan on March 23, 1956.

President Mirza dismissed four prime ministers in a period of two years before finally imposing Martial Law on October 7, 1958 after abrogating 1956 constitution.

Within a couple of months of the imposition of Martial Law, the Commander-in-Chief (C-n-C) of Pak Army, General Muhammad Ayub Khan, removed Iskandar Mirza, who he himself had virtually handed over the reins of government to the C-n-C by appointing him as the Martial Law Administrator.

After serving in Ayub Khan’s cabinet for nearly eight years, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967 to act as the opposition leader.

In October 1968, Bhutto launched agitation against Ayub Khan, who had to resign after handing the reins of government to General Yahya Khan on March 26, 1969.

After General Yahya Khan assumed charge as the Chief Martial Law Administrator, Bhutto fully supported his undemocratic decision of not handing over the power to Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, who had won overall majority seats of national assembly in general elections held in 1970.

Due to Yahya Khan’s refusal to hand over the government to Sheikh Mujib, East Pakistan was separated from Pakistan on December 20, 1971.

After East Pakistan’s debacle, Yahya Khan handed over the government to Bhutto. After coming to power, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made an agreement known as the ‘Constitutional Accord’, with the members of parliament to.

A bill to provide a constitution to Pakistan was introduced in the Assembly on 02 February 1973.

The Assembly passed the bill nearly unanimously on April 10, 1973. The constitution came into effect on August 14, 1973.

On the same day, Bhutto took over as the Prime Minister after appointing Fazal-e-Elahi Chaudhry as the President.

Bhutto ruled Pakistan for five and half years from December 20, 1971 to July 5, 1977. As a ruler, he will be remembered for positive as well as negative policies and achievements.

The major factor that contributed towards Bhutto’s fall was his style of ruling, and treatment meted out to his political opponents.

As a result of the agitation launched by opposition parties against Bhutto, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), imposed Martial Law on July 5, 1977.

The promulgation of Martial Law was challenged in court. The constitutional petition was filed by Begum Nusrat Bhutto under Article 184 (3) against the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), challenging the validity of Martial Law promulgated by COAS.

A nine-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice, dismissing Begum Bhutto’s petition, justified Martial Law on the basis of “Doctrine of Necessity”.

Three months after the death of General Zia ul Haq in an air crash on August 17, 1988, general elections were held on party basis after more than eleven years.

The eleven-year civilian rule from December 1988 to October 1999, besides four general elections, saw both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif ruling Pakistan as the Prime Minister alternately for two terms, each.

The breakdown of working relations between the PM Nawaz Sharif and General Pervaiz Musharraf COAS resulted in military take over on October 12, 1999.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan led by Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui yet again validated the military takeover under the “Doctrine of Necessity”.

Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal as the Prime Minister in a military coup, which was validated by the Supreme Court, served to bring about a perceptible change in the outlook of politicians as a whole to the national institutions.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in July 2017 that disqualified Nawaz Sharif from holding a public and political office further reinforced the change in the outlook of politicians.

After the judgment of the Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif and his family chose to politicize a legal issue by mobilizing people of Pakistan against the state institutions.

Former Prime Minister, Imran Khan, despite his harsh criticism against the military establishment and judiciary till 2018, was reportedly supported by the state institutions in his manoeuvres to become the Prime Minister after 2018 elections.

Resultantly, national institutions remained the target of harsh criticism by all political parties (less PTI) throughout Imran Khan’s 4-year tenure as the Prime Minister.

However, after the success of the vote of no confidence (supposedly due to the neutrality of the institutions) against Imran Khan on March 9, 2022, the posture of political leadership to national institutions witnessed a dramatic U-turn.

The ouster of Imran Khan from the corridors of power, while making him and his supporters hostile to national institutions, changed the stance of Nawaz Sharif and his family (who had been blaming and hurling threats to the military leadership and judges since his disqualification in July 2017) to national institutions.

Interestingly, PPP also started wooing the military leadership and judges after the success of the vote of no confidence.

—The writer is contributing columnist based in Islamabad.