The Parliament of Pakistan:
A History of Institution-Building and (Un)Democratic Practices, 1971-1977
by Prof Mahboob Hussain
Oxford University Press 2020, 332pp

Reviewed by: Prof Philip E. Jones, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
8 October 2021
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Mahboob Hussain’s new book on Pakistan’s Parliament breaks new ground in scholarship on Pakistan, focusing on a dimension largely passed over by the many general studies of the country’s history and politics. As such, it is a nice companion to the recent book on political parties in Pakistan (Mariam Mufti et. al., Pakistan’s Political Parties, Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2020), both studies demonstrating the arrival of a new generation of Pakistani scholars who are examining the specific institutions that make up the wider political story of Pakistan. Hussain’s work is well-researched, well-written, and solidly sourced. By concentrating on the period of rule by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it opens a path for further research on the evolution of Parliament under the various regimes after 1977.

In a literature review section, Hussain presents institutionalisation studies as the basic framework for the book. This springs from the seminal work of Samuel P. Huntington, who studied in detail the relationship between institutions and political mobilisation in his Political Order in Changing Societies. Hussain follows the more recent work of Nelson W. Polsby and Kevin T. McGuire, who posited that an organisation becomes institutionalised when it becomes differentiated from its environment, gains durability, and achieves autonomy in effective policy making. Following Polsby, the author argues that the institutionalisation process can be defined by how an institution differentiates itself by gaining boundaries that establish its distinctiveness, growing its internal complexity through a committee structure, and developing universalistic as opposed to particularistic rules for decision making. Durability means the ability to persist in its goals while adapting to change. To be autonomous is to have “some degree of independence in making its own decisions without dictation from outside actors.” Hence, the author adopts for his study an analysis of five different criteria: differentiation, durability, autonomy, growth of internal complexity and development of universalistic rules. Each chapter of the book largely focuses on one of these criteria.

As noted above, the focus of the book is on how Hussain’s five criteria can be brought to bear to understand the role and workings of Pakistan’s parliament during the Bhutto years, 1971-1977. During this period, the country’s political system in formal terms was governed first by the existing Legal Framework Order (LFO) and then by the interim constitution put in place in April 1972 and which then gave way to the permanent constitution in May 1973. Lacking a chronological core, the author’s analysis of his criteria in these three periods may leave the reader who lacks grounding in Pakistani political history somewhat at sea. While this approach does not vitiate the author’s analysis, it does give the book a sense of jumping here and there and back again. For example, Chapters Three and Four both cover the negotiations over the interim and permanent constitutions, as well as relations between Bhutto and his cohorts and the opposition. Chapter Four on the sovereignty of parliament does this more intensively, but one needs both chapters to get the whole view.

After introductory chapters on the parliamentary history of Pakistan, Chapter Three on formation, complexity and differentiation begins in the Yahya Period and covers Yahya Khan’s Legal Framework Order, East Pakistan crisis, the ascent of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the constitutional negotiations and Bhutto’s governance through to his fall in 1977. The constant focus in this book is necessarily on Bhutto and perhaps less so on those who did the work of pulling together the principles, rules and procedures of parliamentary government, including the ever-loyal fellow Sindhi, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, and, initially at least, Mahmud Ali Kasuri, one of the best legal minds of his generation. Hussain recognises Bhutto’s presidency (December 1971 to May 1973) as the period of his most historic and lasting contributions, including holding the country together after defeat in the Bangladesh War and his subsequent negotiation of the Shimla Agreement with India. On the domestic front, Bhutto restarted Pakistan’s political processes by summoning the National Assembly that had been elected in 1970, providing it with an interim constitution and then a draft Constitution Bill for a permanent constitution. Using the PPP’s majority in the National Assembly plus a coalition of fragments of the Muslim Leagues and some Independents, Bhutto managed the fractious but ultimately successful negotiations with great political skill, eventually winning a unanimous vote for the Constitution Bill. Although amended subsequently more than twenty times, the 1973 Constitution remains in force today, undoubtedly Bhutto’s most enduring legacy.

Hussain writes that the PPP majority, its coalition with ML fragments like the Qayyum Muslim League, which held nine seats, and Bhutto’s charismatic stature strengthened the differentiation of Parliament during the implementation of the interim constitution, giving the legislative body both boundaries and distinctiveness in the political system. The author suggests that this shows how charismatic leadership can advance institutionalisation, much as Max Weber postulated. To function as a differentiated institution Parliament needed a body of complex rules to define parliamentary powers and govern its procedures. Under the interim constitution the National Assembly’s power to legislate was constrained by the president’s power to legislate and to amend the constitution as long as the country remained under the Emergency. Bhutto used this power to enforce his economic and social reforms, including the nationalisation of industry and administrative reforms to curb the power of the bureaucracy, to name the most far-reaching. This power lapsed with the lifting of the Emergency on 31 March 1973, after which many of Bhutto’s reforms and martial law orders (for example, land reform) were sanctioned through legislation, which bolstered the differentiation of parliament from the executive and gave the former a measure of autonomy.

In Chapter Three Hussain also includes various measures of complexity, including a discussion of the changing social and professional backgrounds of members of Parliament, their ages, genders and education. He further observes that “the complexity of the institution was established during the formulation of rules for the smooth functioning” of the National Assembly in its Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 1973. In discussions of how rules of procedure were interpreted and enforced throughout the book, Hussain argues the aim must be for the establishment of universal rules to allow the legislative process to continue without too much interruption and to deal fairly and consistently with (largely) opposition tactics such as privilege and adjournment motions. In addition to all this, the author also notes the creation for the first time of a bicameral parliament in the 1973 Constitution. The addition of the Senate as the second house greatly expanded the complexity of the institution. The formation of the indirectly elected Senate and the working relationship of the two houses and their parliamentary committees in the passage of legislation are discussed in some detail. The author also examines how the speaker of the National Assembly and chairman of the senate used the rules to manage their respective houses. On the whole, with regard to the formation and composition of Parliament from 1971 to 1977, the author concludes “that universal rules were utilised for its foundation” and, further, that the adaptation by Parliament of such rules and regulations “brought about complexity within the institution” and enabled it “to achieve a greater degree of differentiation.”

In Chapter Four, Sovereignty of Parliament as a Constituent Assembly, the book provides a more detailed analysis of constitutional development from the LFO to the 1973 Constitution, all within the context of Pakistani politics. Hussain accepts Mohammad Waseem’s characterisation of the early period after the separation of East Pakistan as one where the unicameral National Assembly envisioned by the LFO and elected in 1970 “enjoyed substantial sovereignty, both legally and politically”. The election clearly gave Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party political supremacy over non-elected and now discredited institutions—the military and bureaucracy—while Parliament could be said to have de jure sovereignty. However, despite Bhutto’s strength, the PPP’s position was not absolute. It had won convincingly in the two most populous provinces, Sindh and the all-important Punjab, but had only one member of the National Assembly from the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and none from Balochistan. A two-party coalition represented both these trans-Indus provinces, namely the National Awami Party (Wali Khan Group) (NAP-W) and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). While Bhutto did not suffer the opposition gladly, and had fractious relations with the NAP-W and JUI combined, he knew a final vote on the Constitution Bill needed to be overwhelming, if not unanimous, to give it both domestic and international legitimacy. Hence, although Bhutto got most of what he wanted, he always managed to negotiate a settlement whenever there was a stalemate. The author presents the politics of constitution-making in considerable detail, starting with the Tripartite Agreement to call the National Assembly and lift martial law and then moving to the 20 October 1972 Constitutional Accord that settled the main controversies over the interim constitution and opened the way to consideration of the permanent constitution by a 24-member Constitution Committee.

The Constitution Committee faced at times violent controversies, including the choice between a parliamentary and presidential system, the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments, the powers of the head of government and Islamic provisions in the constitution. The last few miles in the march to a constitutional agreement were not easy ones. The president dismissed the NAP-JUI Government in Balochistan in February 1973 and sent the police to crush an opposition meeting in Rawalpindi resulting in bloodshed. The opposition formed the United Democratic Front (UDF) and then boycotted the Constituent Assembly setting off a constitutional crisis. Bhutto embarked on a series of compromises allowing for amendments to the bill by both the UDF and PPP members. The constitution bill was passed on its third reading by 125 of 128 members present in the house of 144 members. In the end, 137 members signed the original document of the constitution, representing all political parties in the National Assembly. Hussain argues rightly that all the compromises in effect strengthened the autonomy of the parliament. He writes that the “formation of the constitution may be called one of the most brilliant successes of the parliament, despite disputes and controversies.”

Chapter Five, Parliament’s Durability, brings the reader to the role of Parliament largely between 1975 and 1977, when the 1973 constitution was in force. In 1973, with the implementation of the 1973 constitution, Bhutto left the presidency—now a ceremonial office—and was elected Prime Minister. In negotiating the permanent constitution, he had ensured that what powers he relinquished with the lapse of martial law and the LFO would be matched with his constitutional authority as PM. Indeed, as Hussain notes, the position of Prime Minister in Pakistan was superior to any other such office anywhere. Using his majority Bhutto managed to dominate the decisions of the National Assembly, winning, for example, an extension of the Emergency—Shimla and the recognition of Bangladesh were still in the future—several amendments to the constitution, and other controversial policies. The one issue on which Parliament had a free hand was the constitutional amendment to declare the Qadianis non-Muslims. Despite Qadiani (aka: Ahmadiyya) support for the PPP, Bhutto knew how politically volatile this issue was for the orthodox ulama and preferred that Parliament take it up. On his criterion of durability, the author concludes that parliament “could not assert its hegemony in the face of other forces, particularly the government when various vital issues were at hand.” The institution was allowed to discuss various issues, but not decide on them. This was different only on the Qadiani question, but here parliament was used to shelter the executive on this extraordinarily sensitive issue. “On all other issues, the parliament was clearly following the executive, and was definitely not a decision-making entity free from external influence.”

The focus in Chapter Six, Establishing Autonomy, is squarely on Bhutto. The author grants that from 1972 no one in Pakistan could challenge him for leadership. The army’s political role was muted by its defeat in East Pakistan and the removal of senior generals who might have challenged him. Moreover, Bhutto had gained superior constitutional authority over the military and actively involved himself in promotions to senior ranks. One of these was of a relative non-entity, Lieutenant General Zia ul-Haq, whom Bhutto regarded as subservient, to the key position of Chief of the Army Staff. The autonomous bureaucracy had been brought to heel by his administrative reforms. A dependency of the Prime Minister, the Pakistan People’s Party had never been in a position to challenge him and did his bidding without compunction. Bhutto took no steps to strengthen the organisation of his party, dropped his original party-founding colleagues (J.A. Rahim, Mubashir Hasan), and brought in members of the old landed class, the zamindariat, the “feudals” as they are called in Pakistan.

Concomitantly with the promulgation of the permanent constitution, as the author notes, Bhutto’s extraordinarily constructive contributions gave way to a darker, more destructive, more authoritarian Bhutto, consumed by his drive for power. By early 1975, the Prime Minister was considering the options and timing for the next elections. Bhutto would use all the tools at his command, legal and illegal, to dominate the political landscape. One of these was the Federal Security Force (FSF), a kind of paramilitary police, established ostensibly to keep the military out of law-and-order duties, but also used to do Bhutto’s covert dirty-tricks. The FSF was established by executive ordinance without reference to Parliament. Despite his comfortable majority, Bhutto “adopted the technique of ruling the country through ordinances” rather than allowing Parliament to do its job of making the law of the land. Indeed, as Hussain notes, between 1972 and July 1977 he signed 219 ordinances, about one per week. Having made the bureaucracy subservient to his government, the Prime Minister turned to experienced bureaucrats and officers on special duty to run the government and prepare for the 1977 elections—without much distinction between the PPP campaign and the nuts-and-bolts of managing an election. He turned to the security services to keep tabs the activities of the opposition candidates and parties.

In all of this, there was not much of a role for Parliament, except to be pressed into doing the Prime Minister’s bidding, or to be strong-armed when reluctant. The author analyses several of Bhutto’s major moves, including having Parliament revise the Political Parties Act so that he could outlaw the opposition NAP-W. Parliament did not present itself as a separate autonomous institution in the period after May 1975. From time to time, opposition parliamentarians were arrested on the orders of the executive. Moreover, the speaker of the National Assembly was summoned to sit with Bhutto and members of the cabinet in political strategy sessions, a commingling of branches that normally are kept independent. Further, in parliamentary government, “ministers are supposed to be answerable to parliament,” to be present in parliamentary sessions, and to be available to answer questions from the members. However, neither ministers nor members were assiduous in attending sessions. Although there were many bright leaders in both the government and opposition, the author bemoans the education, experience and capability of the average parliamentarian, hoping perhaps that with the growth of the middle class and improvement in education, future members will have stronger skills.

In his short conclusion, Hussain claims his study has filled in many of the gaps left in the political history of the Bhutto period. His focus on the relationship of Prime Minister Bhutto and Parliament, and his analysis of the former’s actions that reflected that relationship, is indeed a major contribution. Not surprisingly, his study shows that Pakistan’s parliament is well short of genuine autonomy or sovereignty. But it is durable because it is still in existence and evolving. Certainly, the Parliament under the interim constitution can take some credit for the 1973 constitution. At the same time, more a talking shop than a separate maker of the law, the Parliament between 1971 and 1977 provided a means for the opposition to make its voice heard against a powerful executive. Hussain’s most important contribution is to have made space in Pakistan studies for institutional studies of this kind. Pakistan has come a long way since 1977 and the field is open for a new generation of scholars to tackle more recent developments. The book is very well done and is to be recommended to students, scholars, diplomats, policy-makers, journalists and members of the reading public interested in South Asia.

© Bloomsbury Pakistan 2021


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