As the committee for drafting a permanent constitution started working, some apprehensions surfaced. This time it was between the Law Minister, Mian Mahmood Ali Kasuri and President Bhutto. Kasuri was an open-minded person and a freethinking lawyer who believed in true democratic values. Bhutto had planned to introduce a dual political setup in the country i.e., presidential form in the centre and parliamentary system in the provinces. Defence of Pakistan Rules (DPR) also continued in the country, which created a certain restiveness in the political atmosphere.

The committee had begun its work and after holding two preliminary meetings on April 18 and May 22, 1972, expressed confidence in Mr Kasuri. But seeing that Bhutto was not prepared to pay any heed to his suggestions, he resigned from the committee in mid September. Initially Bhutto declined to accept his resignation but did not offer any compromise either; to make matters worse Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the governor of Punjab, issued a statement claiming that Kasuri’s displeasure was based on flimsy grounds and that if he did not behave he would face serious consequences. When Kasuri again sent in his resignation on October 4, 1972, Bhutto accepted it and asked Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, Minister for Education and Information in his capacity as a lawyer, to take over and complete the task.

Relations with Kasuri deteriorated further and he met with his friends for consultations. This created an impression that he might be planning to form a forward group and challenge Bhutto’s authority, which was, in fact, untrue.

A few weeks later Bhutto convened an all party conference on the constitution issue. To give it a wider spectrum, Bhutto called leaders of all political parties including NAP, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Muslim League (both factions) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. This was held on October 17. Suggestions for the constitution were incorporated in the constitution bill. On October 20, after three days of deliberations, there was a general consensus on the character of the constitution. On that day the accord was signed by all participating political leaders. This was, for the first time in the country, that a constitutional accord had been arrived at among all important political parties.

As the process of constitution making was in full swing, the coalition government of Balochistan was dismissed. Mufti Mahmood’s government in NWFP resigned in protest in February 1973. A boycott of opposition parties began. The all-party accord was about to collapse when Bhutto again intervened and saved the accord. The opposition ended the boycott and the constitution work resumed.

The constitution bill was passed almost unanimously (the only two dissentions were by Wali Khan and Mir Ali Ahmad Talpur) by the National Assembly on April 10, 1973, and was promulgated on August 14, 1973. The original constitution carried a preamble, 280 articles and six schedules. Looking at the history of constitution-making in Pakistan, this was prepared in the shortest possible time. On April 7, the constitution was unanimously passed and on April 12, Speaker Fazal Ellahi Chaudhry presented the authenticated copy to President Bhutto, making it the first unanimously accepted constitution of the country.

The constitution, besides upholding the Islamic injunctions, provided a Senate or the Upper House, giving equal representation to federating units in the house. The parliament had been provided the power of impeachment of the president who could be removed by two-thirds majority of the total membership. Against Bhutto’s initial intention to introduce a dual government system, the constitution provided a federal parliamentary system. An important provision had been made in the constitution to form a National Finance Commission which aimed at deciding the policy of distribution of finances between provinces and the centre.

The constitution laid down many important guidelines for governance and fundamental rights. For instance, it included promotion of local government institutions, full participation of women in national life, protection of minorities, promotion of social and economic wellbeing of the people. An important feature was the guarantee of fundamental rights which included security of person, prohibition of slavery and forced labour, freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom to profess religion, safeguards to religious institutions, promotion of languages, script and culture. In Pakistan’s history this was the first constitution approved by consensus though at one stage Bhutto had warned the opposition that he would bulldoze the process by his majority.

Since the enactment of the 1973 Constitution a number of amendments have been brought in as various parties have felt necessary. Ziaul Haq’s draconian changes have been undone and the near original constitution has been restored by the present government. Thirty-nine years after the passage of the constitution, the Supreme Court in 2012, while hearing petitions against framing a contempt of court law passed by the parliament, paid a tribute to Bhutto for achieving a unanimously adopted constitution.

shaikhaziz38@gmail.com

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