Making and breaking the Constitution

The Constitution of the United States of America (USA) , one of the oldest written documents, was formulated during the convention held at Philadelphia from May to September 1787. On April 10, 1973, such an event took place in Islamabad. The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was approved by consensus to be enacted on August 14, 1973, on the day of independence. While the agreement between the rulers and ruled is considered sacred in the USA it is cheated and disregarded in the land of the pure. The irony is that the constitution breakers have now started to respect the makers while defying the document they are required to follow.
An over three-hundred-page book has been published that narrates the story of the Constitutional Convention titled Miracle at Philadelphia written by Catherine Drinker Bowen, a similar publication is required for the efforts of the ‘ constitution makers and to expose the breakers who continue to derail the democratic order after 50 years of the enactment of the constitution of the Islamic Republic Pakistan. Not much has been written about the 1970 elected legislators. It was perhaps the ablest house ever genuinely elected through a free and fair electoral contest. The leader of the house was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) while the legendary Abdul Wali Khan led the opposition. The level of the debates was exceptional from both sides. Having studied in the USA, ZAB desired a Presidential form of government as prevalent there whereas the opposition wanted a UK model of parliamentary democracy. Under the interim 1972 constitution, ZAB was enjoying the powers of the President while Fazal Elahi Chaudhry was the Speaker of the National Assembly. The constitutional building team of experts under imminent legal minds like Muhammad Ali Qasuri and Abdul Hafiz Pirzada had worked hard to prepare the document but could not be approved as there was a serious deadlock. Leading from the front, ZAB decided to seek the help of Abul Ala Maudodi the Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). He arranged a secret meeting at the Maududi residence located at Zaildar Park Ichra. By the time the news of his arrival leaked out and the students of Islami Jamiat-e-Talba could reach the venue, he had left after getting the blessings of the Amir. Within a few days after the meeting, the constitution was approved unanimously on April 10, 1973. Maudodi Sahib lived in Zaildar Park, the headquarter of JI was also located there on his property which was later moved to Mansura after his death. Punjab University (PU) was the major battleground of the politics of the retrogressive right and progressive left. After every university political contest, the victorious side always headed to Zaildar Park to let Amir know about the victory or loss of his student’s wing. Slogans were raised there either praising or condemning the Amir. ZAB’s visit was not taken lightly by either side. But before we could reach there the agreement had been reached.
After its enactment on August 14, 1973, ZAB took an oath of office as the first elected Prime Minister (PM) under the constitution. Fazal Elahi Sahib was elevated as the President. The Senate was also formed as the Upper House, now for the first time Pakistan had a bi-cameral legislature with two houses one on the basis of the population while the other had equal representation of all four provinces. Until 1975 the democratic order remained on track. Finally, ZAB fell into the establishment trap. He dismissed the elected governments of Wali Khan’s party in KP (NWFP then) and Balochistan followed by military action in Balochistan. The constitution breakers finally succeeded in attacking the democratic order from within. It did not end here. Riding on the crest of his popularity ZAB decided to hold elections ahead of time to surprise the fragmented opposition. The day the assemblies dissolved, an alliance of nine political parties was waiting in the wings. With the support of the constitution breakers, PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) succeeded in derailing the political dispensation. On July 05, 1977, Zia took control of the country by suspending the constitution. He promised to hold elections within ninety days but his misrule continued for over eleven years.
After over two centuries of its enactment, the US Constitution is respected as a sacred document today with only a few amendments. No one has ever dared to defy or criticize the ‘miracle of Philadelphia’ while the ‘miracle of Islamabad’ has been kicked around. In the decade of the seventies during the Watergate Crisis, General Alexander Haig the Chief of Staff of the Nixon White House suggested to the President to take control as Commander-in-Chief and sack the Congress but the President refused. Instead, he resigned and went home becoming the first President ever to resign. In the UK during the decade of the sixties, the conservatives were unhappy with the Socialist government of Harold Wilson. Lord Louis Mountbatten suggested the dismissal of the PM through a Royal Decree but the Queen refused. She sided with the forces of democracy in larger national interests. In the land of the pure, the first President Iskander Mirza conspired with the Army Chief to abrogate the 1956 constitution which initiated the break-up of Quaid’s Pakistan.
Disrespect for the Constitution is rampant, which must be stopped. Some lessons must be learned from the cheating of this agreement between the rulers and the ruled.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email:

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