M Ali Siddiqi looks at an extremely contentious Wobbly office of the Prime Minister
The position of PM Shehbaz Sharif has become the Wobbly office of the Prime Minister after the election defeat of his party in Punjab and he may well soon join the long list of prime ministers who were prematurely shunted out of this office. The most complex issue faced by Pakistan is the uncertainty associated with the chief executive of the country that in turn breeds uncertainty in the entire body politic that finds itself rudderless after frequent intervals. With the ouster of PM Imran Khan in April 2022 Pakistani polity yet again revealed its penchant of never letting a prime minister complete his tenure of office. It is a sad spectre to witness that all prime ministers of Pakistan were turned out of office prematurely. It appears that removing prime ministers earlier than their scheduled tenures of office has become a fetish with Pakistani ruling structure and it consequently is neither willing nor prepared to accept that removing the political chief executive is the prerogative of the people through the laid down electoral mechanism.
It is common knowledge that Pakistan follows Westminster pattern of democracy whereby the head of a political party gaining majority in an election assumes office as the executive head of the government. The Constitution of Pakistan decrees holding of office of prime minister till his party retains the majority in the parliament. Since the tenure of an elected parliament is five years therefore it is obviously assumed that the leader of the majority party will be able to hold his office for five years but not in Pakistan. It is ironical to observe that prime ministers are removed before the term of elected party comes to an end. This tradition unfortunately became somewhat permanent and since 1951 no PM was allowed to complete his mandated tenure of office. It appears that this tradition has become deep-rooted and it looks quite difficult to reverse it. A brief recapitulation of the entire process will bring to fore the essentials of this conflicting phenomenon.
The office of prime minister was jinxed from the day its first occupant was gunned down in Rawalpindi on 16 October 1951 after being in office for four years and two months. The cause of his assassination was never determined and culprits behind it never identified. Khwaja Nazimuddin, stalwart of Pakistan movement and former CM of United Bengal, took over as second prime minister but was widely regarded as a weak administrator and was derided as ‘Quaid-e-Qillat’ when he failed to sort out food shortages. He was asked to resign by the strongman governor general Ghulam Muhammad but on his refusal, was thrown out of office after two years under reserve powers granted to governor general under Government of India Act 1935 under which Pakistan was governed as it lacked constitution.
A completely unknown entity, Mohammad Ali Bogra, a small time Bengali politician, was brought in from Washington where he was serving as Ambassador. He acted more as a diplomat than a politician and was dismissed by Malik Ghulam Muhammad in 1954 following which elections were held. The Muslim League suffered a defeat in the polls but Bogra was reappointed as PM of a minority government. He was however ousted after two years and the position passed over to consummate bureaucrat-turned-politician Ch. Mohammad Ali belonging to the Audit and Accounts Service. During his yearlong stay Ch. Mohammad Ali succeeded in formulating the first Constitution of Pakistan in 1956 but he was unable to heal rifts within the ruling Muslim League and resigned from his office as well as from the party.
The situation dictated appointment of first non-Muslim League politician, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrwardy as the prime minister. He had led his Awami League to victory in the 1954 elections to the Constituent Assembly but he could not work with hardened bureaucrat-turned-President Iskander Mirza, a fellow Bengali, and was deposed in October, 1957. Iskander Mirza appointed Muslim League leader Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar as the next PM but the Awami League experiment did not last long. Chundrigar remained PM for only two months before he quit over differences with Iskander Mirza. The road named after him in Karachi is more widely known than him.
Having dismissed four prime ministers in little over two years, Iskander Mirza now appointed his own Republican Party chairman Feroz Khan Noon PM in December, 1957 but by now the army had gained enough confidence to oust both President and PM out of office. This development ended the first episode of democratic rule lasting for eleven years witnessing ascendance and fall of seven prime ministers. Ayub Khan became interim Prime Minister for five days between 24 and 28 October when he forced Iskander Mirza to step down. Then it was curtains for parliamentary democracy in Pakistan as Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law and ruled the country as dictator from 1958 to 1969. Surprisingly he faced no challenge to his singular authority that he shared with no one for more than a decade. It is said that it was the awe and prestige of the armed forces that allowed Ayub Khan to rule unchallenged as the personnel of the armed forces hailed from Punjab and KP as these areas were the recruiting ground of the British imperial army.
There was no prime minister in Pakistan between 1958 and 1973 except for a brief period when Yahya Khan appointed Nurul Amin as PM during East Pakistan crisis but his appointment was a sop to East Pakistanis who did not accept Yahya’s move. After East Pakistan debacle the reins of government were given to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who, after remaining President till the adoption of new Constitution in 1973, assumed the office of PM after a hiatus of 15 years. Bhutto was deposed in a coup d’état four years later in 1977 by military general Muhammad Zia ul Haq, who became the President a year later and outlawed parliamentary democracy for eight long years. Zia was compelled to bring in political elements in running the country and he grudgingly allowed for non-party elections. Muhammad Khan Junejo was nominated as PM in 1985 but could not get on well with Zia and was ousted in May, 1988 after three years. Zia ul Haq died in August 1988 and the new generation of politicians came to the fore.
The same year in December, Pakistan got its only female Prime Minister in Benazir Bhutto, who remained in office for about 20 months as the successor of Zia, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, became the self-proclaimed guardian of the state and removed her on the pretext of corruption. Three months later in 1990 Nawaz Sharif was elected as PM for the first time. About two-and-a-half years later, Sharif government was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan only to be restored after a month by the Supreme Court. But owing to a gridlock both the president and prime minister were forced to resign their respective offices under Kakar formula, the solution suggested by the then army chief.
Benazir came back to power to be ousted this time by Farooq Leghari, her own party man serving as president. Nawaz Sharif also got sacked in his second term when he tried to remove the army chief General Musharraf. In the last 20 years, between November 2002 to April 2022, Pakistan saw eight PMs occupying the top executive office out of which six were turned out before completion of their tenures: hapless Zafarullah Jamali, sly Shaukat Aziz, puppet duo of Yusuf Raza Gilani-Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, contentious Nawaz Sharif, pliable Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ineffective Imran Khan who also failed to complete his term. TW