Unelected rule by Establishments: Embedded in South Asian history?

The administrative structure revolved around the Commissionerate and the Magisterial systems, both enjoyed dominance and influence over the public while the Indian Armed forces provided the necessary support as and when required.

unelected establishment

Students of law and history must master the art of arriving at dispassionate conclusions. This is not an easy task. In doing so they should not expect to be rewarded for their work or appreciated for their effort but must stay prepared for denunciation. An effort to unmask the long unelected rule in Pakistan – of civil servants and the establishment – is no different.

Despite the risks, they must proceed and spell out what others fail to see, the reality – with all its severity like the Siberian winters – cold and unforgiving.

Unflustered by the painful facts and unnerved by the twisted events of the past they must wander fearlessly through the winding corridors of history, blowing away the dust of deceit and scraping fervently through the illegible words till they reach the concealed truth.

What they are looking for may be in sharp contrast with what they actually find, so one must remain observant and tolerant, travel through time with an open mind, always expecting the unexpected.

I, too, ventured into our past to find some raison d’etre behind Pakistan’s many failures on political and social fronts. In this process I came across many events and incidents, recorded but unread, that offered sufficient clues about why Pakistan has failed to prosper as a welfare state.

To put it precisely, Pakistan, a land gifted with tremendous resources – a vibrant culture and a talented human capital – never really untied its umbilical cord. Pakistan is stuck in its past. And that is where I shall start my journey.

Indian subcontinent’s long history of unelected influence 

World War 1 had devastated Europe, the Continent where most of the colonial powers had their centers. Things were changing at an alarming pace. Global colonial influence faced an existential threat. The freedom movement in the subcontinent was gaining strength too. Necessary adjustments had to be made fast.

In 1935 Britain, in an attempt to reorganize its rule in India, passed legislation known as the Government of India Act 1935 which provided for the transformation of British India into a federation and specific provisions were set for the princely states. Legislative assemblies were created thereby allowing local representation.

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However, this legislative representation was merely a clever scheme to offset the gains made by the freedom movement. The British Raj was mindful of the fact that a strong legislative autonomy may lead to a complete surrender of suzerainty over Indian subcontinent. So in order to thwart any chance of the Empire losing its grip over the Indian subcontinent, two essential omnipotent bodies were added to the setup.

Revenue and law and order were controlled by a strong administrative structure and the will of the King was enforced by the office of the Governor-General. It merits mention that the Governor-General enjoyed legislative powers too. Moreover, this office could assume all the functions of the legislative assembly in its absolute discretion or as advised by the King. The Indian Armed forces remained under the command of the British Empire.

The administrative structure revolved around the Commissionerate and the Magisterial systems, both enjoyed dominance and influence over the public. Regular and uninterrupted revenue collection, a source that substantially funded the British Raj, was the duty of the bureaucrats who acted through the offices of the Chief Secretary, Commissioners and their subordinates. Law and order was maintained by civil servants exercising executive as well as judicial powers. These powers were exercised with brute force at times.

Thus under the Act of 1935, we had legislative assemblies purportedly representing the will of the people but simultaneously these assemblies were neutralized by the civil administrative structure and the office of the Governor-General. The Indian Armed forces provided the necessary support as and when required.

Eventually, elected bodies were pitted against powerful unelected entities. With this law, the British Raj tried to quell the freedom struggle by luring the politicians to vie for the coveted assembly seats but only under British patronage.

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On the ground, India continued to be ruled by the colonial masters through the well-entrenched administrative structure, the office of the unaccountable Governor-General and the Armed forces. These three institutional forces represented the King.

Meanwhile, World War 2 ravaged the world once again. Britain was no exception. In fact, Britain had to suffer immensely at the hands of the unrelenting German forces. Death and destruction took center stage. Britain faced a threat it never dreamt of. In 1940, Germany after defeating France had set its eyes on Britain.

While the Europeans were at war, here in the subcontinent the freedom movement was making substantive progress. In 1940 with the announcement of the Lahore Declaration, the freedom struggle for Pakistan gathered momentum. Britain, now fighting for its own survival, was left with no choice. Freedom movement was about to bear fruit. The sun of British Raj was finally setting. But how was this to be done?

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One must remember that in 1874 British East India Company, the ruling body at that point in time enjoying the Royal Charter, was dissolved. In 1876 Queen Victoria legally assumed the title of Empress of India thereby bringing most of the Indian subcontinent under her rule. In this way, the colonial rule over the Indian subcontinent had been legitimized.

Strong, unelected individuals experiment with the nascent state

In the above backdrop, there was a need to undo colonial rule through another legislative instrument. Therefore, in 1947 the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act partitioning the Indian subcontinent and with it the States of Pakistan and India came into existence (originally the new states were characterized as independent dominions).

The Independence of India Act allowed autonomy to the new states with Britain surrendering its suzerainty over the Indian subcontinent. Legislative powers were granted to the new state, Pakistan. This legislature had the onerous duty to give the infant state its first constitution.

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In this way, it functioned in dual capacity, the Constituent Assembly as well as the state legislature. The office of the Governor-General was retained who functioned on behalf of His Majesty, The King of England. It was prescribed that till the framing of the new Constitution, Pakistan was to be governed by the Act of 1935.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor-General of Pakistan as well as the President of the Constituent Assembly. Nawabzada Khan Liaqat Ali Khan became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah continued in this dual capacity till his death in September 1948. After him, Khawaja Nazimuddin took over as the Governor-General.

 

Liaqat Ali Khan continued as the Prime Minister till his assassination in 1951. After his assassination, Khawaja Nazimuddin became the Prime Minister, and Ghulam Muhammad, a civil servant/chartered accountant, assumed the office of the Governor-General. In 1951 another important development took place. Pakistan got its first native Commander In Chief, General Muhammad Ayub Khan.

This is when Pakistan entered its next phase.

What ensued was total political chaos. The unresolved regional, ethnical and linguistic issues between East and West Pakistan that kept quiet during the life of Muhmmad Ali Jinnah slowly erected their heads.

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Religious personalities also endeavored to capture prominence by voicing their concerns about the nature, form and substance of the new constitution. Minorities feared marginalization. Petty personal interests, inflated egos, conspiracies, betrayals, broken promises, unholy alliances, all merged into a political mess.

East Pakistan was clearly not in agreement with the West wing and the divide was constantly growing. The tussle for the upper hand was bringing the country down. The promised constitution was nowhere in sight. Political parties were losing grace and relevance.

The Governor-General was breathing down their necks. The situation was fraught with dangers. The young State of Pakistan was in deep trouble and the political tonic was not working. It was time to reset the course.

It is true if one observes that Muslim League never really materialized into a political party as it lacked a second-tier leadership, maturity and organizational structure to adapt to the new ground realities.

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The only binding force that kept Muslim League alive was the charisma and stature of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and after his death the party lacked leadership, vision or direction to grow its influence over the political horizon of Pakistan. Muslim League’s defeat in the provincial elections of 1954 brought to the surface the deep fissures within the party and its diminishing popularity especially in East Pakistan.

Under these testing times the military-civil administration, both unelected bodies, moved in to steady the rocking boat. It was done in the interest of the State of Pakistan, a phrase that will be repeated over the next 70 years.

India got its first constitution in the year 1950 and saw its first elections as an independent state in 1952. Pakistan on the other hand was entrapped by new challenges. Through unilateral and arbitrary exercise of discretionary powers, Governor-General

Ghulam Muhammad with the connivance of the military-civil administration dissolved the Constituent Assembly. This dissolution was upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan led by Justice Munir in the famous Maulvi Tameezuddin case. Justice A.R. Cornelius, another member of the bench, gave his dissenting view. The military-civil administration nexus found a new partner, the judiciary. All three being unelected bodies hence not answerable to the masses.

Pakistan finally got its first Constitution in 1956 which did not last long. Iskender Mirza, a civil servant cum retired army officer, was the then Governor-General. An interesting historical fact is that between 1956 and 1958, Pakistan had five Prime Ministers and all of them had fallen victim to political expediency, conspiracies and in-house fighting.

After unelected civil servants, the unelected establishment took its turn

On 7th October, 1958, the Constitution was abrogated with the help of the military-civil administration and Martial Law was imposed by Iskander Mirza. General Ayub Khan became the Chief Martial Administrator.

After twenty days on 27th October 1958 Iskander Mirza was relieved of his duties and Commander In Chief General Ayub Khan became the President of Pakistan. General Ayub promoted himself to the rank of Field Marshal so that Lieutenant General Musa could function under his command as the new Commander In Chief of the armed forces.

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In 1962 President Ayub Khan promulgated a new constitution that gave a presidential form of government. He assumed the office of the President of Pakistan under the Constitution of 1962.

The formula to control Pakistan was rooted in colonial times. A strong political dispensation was met with an equally strong nonpolitical force, a balancing act of sorts. This meant that the power structure consisted of two forces. One with more penetration and influence in state affairs was capable of neutralizing the other.

This was seen during the British Raj and also at the time and after the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and continues even today with slight modifications and improvements as per the need of the hour.

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The above history gives us some points to ponder. We can see that death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah left a huge political vacuum. There was no political force that could independently or in conjunction with others fill this vacuum. This situation was ushering the state of Pakistan towards a deep abyss. There was neither political will nor courage to avoid this crisis. But nature abhors vacuum.

The compromised political class left open a wide space that was occupied by “unpolitical forces” like the armed forces and the civil administration. Pakistan has been caught in this snare for the last seventy-odd years. I would like to clarify that historically speaking once an authority tastes power, it rarely overcomes the urge to have it again and again. In fact, it always yearns for more.

The unelected establishment continue to call the shots in Pakistan

Pakistan is facing the same problems today that it confronted in its early days. Notably, the representative form or character of governance, the vision of our founding father, for many reasons, has still not found fertile ground in Pakistan. This has allowed the unrepresentative form of government – the establishment – to assume and assert control over time as the interests of the state could not be left unattended or in incapable hands.

The establishment is an integral part of the power structure and has always been. It would be unwise to consider it a weak link. It is potent, organized, effective and motivated. It finds its origins in the British legacy and has never detached itself with the practices that were used to rule the people. It would not be incorrect to say that actually our establishment calls the shots since our political class is considerably divided and distracted to handle the reins of power in a unified manner essentially in matters that demand national unity and solidarity. The response to the Corona pandemic is one such recent example.

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The picture that emerges after 70 years of Independence is that (a) Pakistan as a state has still not developed a viable truly representative government structure that enjoys stability, certainty, perpetuity, continuity and public support; (b) the political step-up is highly porous, localized, divisive, weak, ineffective and compromised; (c) democratic institutions are poorly structured, corrupt and inefficient (d) judiciary struggles to fulfill its constitutional mandate; (e) the military-civil administration are organized and effective; and (f) The masses or majority of them are not much concerned about their political culture, discourse or direction as long as their interests are being watched. As I said earlier, Pakistan has still not untied its umbilical cord. It is stuck in its past.

Then a fair question arises: what kind of politico-government structure do we have? Well, that brings me to the One State – Two Governments theory.

I have come to realize that Pakistan’s governmental structure has been divided into two components; political and nonpolitical, as was done by the British Raj. The political government with autonomy in defined spheres continues to function with the support of the nonpolitical forces.

The apparatus of the state or the state machinery remains under the control of the nonpolitical forces and is allowed to assume such responsibilities from the political government that is necessary to keep it afloat and running. It must be remembered that a power structure with multiple players is effective only if the scale is tilted towards one of them.

Establishment does not want instability. It prefers to work from the shadows but does not mind showing its muscle once in a while. The establishment understands that power can be exercised remotely with the same level of success and influence can be exercised vicariously while drawing direct benefits.

So, one can see that the establishment has rallied with the politicians when required. It has found support within the judiciary when it desired. Media too has redefined its limitations in line with its interests. The religious parties become more tolerant of them. With this strategy, our establishment has survived many challenges and as a major player in our national affairs, it has amassed considerable clout.

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Things are progressing smoothly for now. The problem may arise when the establishment, the nonpolitical component, feels that its space is being invaded or squeezed by political forces. That is when the events of Pakistan from 1951 to 1958 are likely to resurface albeit in different shades.

All the above facts are part of our history. We may approve them or we may disapprove them. However, we must assess these facts honestly and try to arrive at some dispassionate conclusions.

Faisal Zaman is a legal expert with more than 25 years of experience in corporate,  constitutional and regulatory issuesHis practice involves transactional & contractual work, mediation, advisory and research assignments within multiple jurisdictions. Faisal Zaman can be contacted at faisalzamanadv@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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