Failure of Leadership in Pakistan

Review by Azhar Ali Shah

In oder to understand the root causes of the failure of leadership and parliamentary democracy in Pakistan, I will be sharing some important articles, for your comments and interaction. The idea is to detect the main causes of the faults and propose the remedy based on consensus of all of us. At the end we would try to synthesize these discussions in the form of a publishable document which could provide the bases for starting a public campaign for the implementation of political reforms in Pakistan.

To begin with, I am presenting my review of the Khalid bin Sayed’s article (Click here to read, COLLAPSE OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN ). This article provides some of the description of political setup during the very 1st decade of Pakistan and observes that it was Punjabi Machiavellianism (the political doctrine of Machiavelli: any means (however unscrupulous) can be used by a ruler in order to create and maintain his autocratic government) that caused the collapse of parliamentary democracy. The author then comments on the performance of the military regime and how it was dealing with politicians, civil servants and common people. The whole article is worth reading and is available online a: .

Collapse of Parliamentary Democracy in Pakistan

Kahild bin Syed, Middle East Journal,Vol. 13, No. 4, Autumn, 1959

Review by Azhar Ali Shah
This article begins with the description of parliamentary democracy and its success in homogeneous communities. The article questions whether democracy could be a way of life in a country like Pakistan (consisting of heterogeneous communities)? It cites examples of Pakistani leaders (both at center and provinces) who flouted democracy and took arbitrary actions but there was no rally by any party/leader to defend the sovereignty of parliament!

The article then observes that though there was no dearth of strong leaders in Pakistan but what lacked was the loyalty of these leaders to any ideals/principles or even the country. All of these leaders were only concerned for themselves, their families or at best their provinces and fought each other in their struggle for power.

Having described the state of leadership, the article then analyses the state of parties and observes that even the main parties (e.g., Muslim league, which claims the credit for establishment of Pakistan) had neither any program nor any organization and were just alive because of their leaders (please see the above paragraph for the state of leaders!)!. After the death of Mr Jinnah, the party left its influence in Sindh and NWFP and was limited to the coalition of some Punjabi-Bengali groups.

While, the death of Mr Jinnah caused the party to lose its influence in Sindh and NWFP, the assassination of Mr Liaqat Ali Khan (1951) caused the continuous conflict between Punjabi and Bengalis. During this fight, though Bengalis had majority in Muslim league as well as they had secured support of Sindh and NWFP, the civil servants and the governor general were on the side of Punjabis! The Punjabis through their governor general (Ghulam Muhammad) resisted Bengalis in making any constitution that could delimit the influence and power of Punjabis! This resistance/fighting went on the level that the governor general (who used to invite Ayoub Khan to take over the country in order to get rid of Bengalis) had to over step his normal constitutional authority in order to dissolve the Constituent Assembly and in doing so he also sought the support of Army. Dawn reported this event as:

There have indeed been times—such as that October night in 1954—when, with a General to the right of him and a General to the left of him, a half-mad Governor general imposed upon a captured prime minister (Khwaja Nazimuddin) the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the virtual setting up of a semi-dictorial Executive.

Now in order to fight with Bengalis, the Punjabi group (under the leadership of Choudry Mohammad Ali, Gurmani and Doultana) came up with the idea of an INTEGRATED WEST PAKISTAN (The One Unit Scheme). The draft of the One Unit scheme (authored by Daultana) shows the explicit version of the Punjabi Machiavellianism (the political doctrine of Machiavelli: any means (however unscrupulous) can be used by a ruler in order to create and maintain his autocratic government) as is clear from its following extracts:

In fact the real merit of the present regime is that it can hold a pistol to achieve political, constitutional agreement. ….. It would be fatal to launch our political campaing if, or a period, opposition is not effectively stilled, and a time gained for our voice to gain volume amidst surrounding silence. …. Punjab must be kept quite. The folly of our friends (Bengalis) must be cheeked. At a later stage Punjab will have to take the lead. At that time I hope an effective intelligent Punjab leadership will have been put in place both at the Center and at Lahore.


Doultana along with Ghulam Mohammad, Gurmani and Choudhry Muhammad Ali used all the force to get the consent for One Unit and make the opposition stilled. They dismissed the Chief ministers of Sindh  and NWFP and declared Lahore as the capital of West Pakistan. This resulted in further conflict between Sindh/NWFP and Punjab.

After creating the West Pakistani Province (to make Bengalis in parity), Punjab got its majority and Choudhry Mohammad Ali became successful in presenting the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan in March 1956. This constitution left many of the major problems of Pakistan unresolved (e.g., Bengali demand of provincial autonomy and equitable distribution of financial resources). Worst of all, the constitution gave authority to president to appoint/dismiss the prime minister!

The formation of constitution was followed by disintegration of Muslim league into two factions of landlords.  Backed by Governor general Iskinder Mirza and Governor Gurmani, the Muslim league Chief Minister of West Pakistan (Dr Khan Sahib) formed the Republican Party. This disintegration brought the Punjabi majority down once again and G.M Syed (leader of the National Awami Party, Sindh) and his supporters from NWFP offered to support any of the two factions who would agree to break up the One Unit! The Muslim league accepted the demand and hence the Government of the Republican Party lost its majority. However, in order to avoid the breakup of One Unit, President Mirza imposed section 193 (allowing president to assume direct rule in province). When after some time the Republican Government was restored, they got prepared to accept G.M Syed’s demand. This caused further conflict between two rival groups (i.e., Muslim language and Republican, both willing to break One Unit in order to get hold of power!). The rival groups started offering ministries, import licensees (irrespective of whether the member was a trader or not) and many other things as a source of bribery to get support of members.  The One Unit continued!

The article then presents the counterpart situation in East Pakistan which got united to fight with the exploitation of West Pakistan. It also tells how the Hindu members in of the East Pakistan assembly (who used to send millions of capital to their families in India) threatened to withdraw their support to government if the border smuggling (to India) is stopped by Army through Operation Close Door! Moulana bashani also  parted the Awami League (under Sahrwardy) because of the later’s pro-western foreign policy (please remember that Moulan Bhashani was aka Red Moulana and had support of USSR and India). So east Pakistan was also divided into pro-west and pro-east factions as well. This fight resulted in removing the speaker physically from the house and beating the deputy speaker to the level that he died on the 2nd day as a result of the injuries.

The situation in center the central government was not much different. The Republican party parted its ways with the president Mirza who then sought other means to get himself elected for next tenure (he was fond of being a permanent president indeed). Indirectly referring to president Mirza, Fatama Jinnah had once observed that there was a hidden hand which guided Pakistan’s politics!

The article then mentions an important point that though both Central as well as provincial governments were based on coalition, never ever any opposition group/party asked for vote of no confidence. The reason, according to author being the fact that the coalition government could easily get support by offering more ministries, import licenses etc. The main reason behind two many unnecessary/redundant ministries both at center as well as at provinces lies in the fact thee used to be created and offered as bribery to get support for holding government! Let me reproduce an extract from the article:

Offering ministries was not the only way of obtaining political support. Mr M.A Qazilbash, the chief minister of west Pakistan, blaming the Muslim league for having started the political bribery by issuing permits and import licenses to its supporters, admitted on the floor of the House that “now, from top to bottom, there was hardly a person, who was not corrupt” .


Having depicted the causes and level of corruption in the parliamentary system, the author of the article then turns to relate the corruption to the bureaucracy (unelected officials) of the country. He observes that it is not only the corruption that had infected the ranks of the civil service but there was an inverted phenomena in terms of their role with respect to parliamentarians! Let me quote the author verbatim:

Ministers, instead of framing policies, were busy administering departments – transferring civil servants who, they thought, were not likely to be useful in forth coming elections and granting import licenses to traders in lieu of bribes they offered or the contributions they made to the party. Civil servants, on the other hand started formulating the policies of their departments. But the corruption started by the politicians became so rampant and tempting that many civil servants could not resist it!

The article then describes that this corruption lead to the division of top civil servants based on their party/regional/provincial affiliations and created a situation where both the politicians and civil servants failed to provide leadership to the country and hence the ARMY (Ayub Khan) took step to seize the power. It was in March 1956 that the Army abrogated the constitution and declared all political parties as illegal!

There was no civil resistance to Army and the Martial Law was welcomed all over the country! Army started investigation of corruption cases against politicians and the stories of these cases were enough to amuse the public and justify Martial Law! Not only this but the Army established special military courts all over the country to punish the people who did not follow the Martial Law regulations! The Military regulations were so designed that not only the corrupt politicians but leaders like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Moulana Bhashani were also arrested and subject to electoral disqualification for decades and hence they could not participate in the millitary’s newly introduced system of local bodies (Panchayat, District and Divisional Councils).

Having described the role of military in dealing with the politicians, the article then turns to the dealing of military with the civil servants! It observes that the military regime significantly reduced the privileges of the civil servants both at central and provincial level. The military accused the civil servants of having colonial outlook which was more prone to concentrating on law and order and collection of taxes related functions than to conduct actual welfare related administration. The military regime setup Screening Committees which dismissed/fired as many as 1,662 civil servant based on various charges.

The article mentions that in oder to justify itself in the eyes of common man the military regime also reduced the prices of daily edibles (rice, oil, wheat, sugar, bicycles, tea, cigarettes etc.) and started implementation of some land reforms as well.

– Dr. Azhar A. Shah, Computer Scientist-cum-Technologist, Academician & Social Critic.

Source – Pakistani e-lists/ e-groups, March 25, 2011.

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