Constitutional Coup d’etat: Pakistan

 By Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania

A coup d’etat is defined as “a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.” As one looks through all the coup d’etat that have occurred throughout the history in various parts of the world, one can observe that often the protagonists of such events are political enemies, military leaders, or distressed insiders. While it is generally understood that coups are military in nature, however, if we prefix the word constitutional to a coup, then it means a sudden, illegal and decisive overthrow/dismissal of the constituent assembly and targets the constitution which is the basic framework of principles, laws and rules governing a nation.

The first coup in Pakistan was not a purely military coup but a Constitutional coup, since it led to the dismissal of the Constituent assembly (a body constituted to frame the constitution). Governor General Ghulam Mohammad dismissed the Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin’s elected government in 1953 and subsequently dismissed Pakistan’s first constituent assembly in 1954. The backing and support of General Ayub Khan for the governor general started the dangerous precedence of involvement of the military in politics which continues till date.

Pakistan’s constituent assembly met for the first time on 10 August, 1947 on the eve of independence marking an end to the British rule. This first session was held at the Sindh Assembly building, Karachi, on 11th August, 1947. Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was hailed as the Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) was unanimously elected. In his speech to the Constituent Assembly on 14th August 1947, he outlined the ideals and fundamental features on which the constitution would be based. But his untimely death, only thirteen months after independence left the country directionless. With his demise the fate of the constitution making body, i.e., the constituent Assembly also became gloomier.

Hopes of framing a constitution were somewhat revived under the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, whose expertise as a  lawyer and political theorist helped him in his attempts to frame a constitution on the sidelines of the British Westminster system. The Objectives Resolutions were introduced by him and adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 12th March 1949. This resolution primarily stated that Pakistan would be an Islamic, democratic and federal state. It was on the basis of these resolutions that a basic principles committee consisting of 24 members was constituted to prepare the draft of the Constitution.

This committee had an enormous task of addressing number of concerns: rising fear amongst the minorities and East Bengalis with regard to their rights and representation; equally problematic was the issue of division of executive power between the governor-general and the prime minister; distribution of power between the centre and the provinces; the balance of power especially electoral, between the two wings and the role of Islam in government.Coupled with these problems was the main threat posed to Liaquat Ali Khan’s life as exposed by the “failed coup” known as the “Rawalpindi conspiracy”, wherein 14 Pakistani army officers under Major General Mohammd Akbar Khan plotted a coup against him.

Khwaja Nazimuddin was appointed as the country’s Prime minister after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951. Ghulam Mohammad took over as the Governor General. He followed the footsteps of Jinnah in establishing a “viceregal” form of governance. This was not taken well by the people of Pakistan, as a result the Muslim League Party was almost routed in the 1954 elections in East Pakistan. The fallout of this was imposition of Governor’s rule to prevent the winning party i.e. the United Front to come to power.



12 Mar,1949Objective ResolutionSovereignity of the universe belong to Allah, Constitution of Pakistan be framed by the Constituent AssemblyAppreciated by the citizens
7 Sep,1950Interim Report on Basic PrinciplesFederal Govt., Urdu as national language, Objective resolution to be includedCriticized by East Pakistan
6 Oct,1950Interim Report of the Committee on Fundamental rights and Minorities Fundamental right to MinoritiesAdopted by Constituent Assembly
12 Dec,1952Basic Principles Committee ReportObjective resolution to be adopted as preamble, head of the state should be a Muslim with 5 year termCriticized and opposed by Punjab
7 Oct,1953Muhammad Ali formulaeBicameral Legislature with equal representation to provinces, Governor General post to be permanently abolishedAppreciated and gained popularity.
21 Sep,1954Revised Report on basic principles committee Islamic stance was adopted & a board of Ulemas was formed to check the laws.Approved by Constituent Assembly
24 Oct,1954Constitutional Coup led by Governor General Ghulam MuhammadDismissal of the Prime Minister Khawaja NazimuddinFirst Constituent Assembly dismissed

The constituent assembly became the battleground for the tussle of power between the Governor General Ghulam Muhammad and the Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin. On one such occasion, the Prime minister tried to initiate an amendment which led to  curtailment of the power of the governor general by bringing in amendments to the Govt. of India Acts of 1935 and the India Independence Acts of 1947, since these remained the basic laws in Pakistan. But fearing that such changes might lead to further curtailment of  his powers; Ghulam Muhammad dismissed the Nazimuddin  in April 1953 and subsequently  the  Constituent Assembly on 24th October 1954. Thereafter, he appointed his own cabinet. This was the first Constitutional Coup in the Pakistan history, wherein an elected constituent assembly was overthrown unceremoniously by the Governor General.

 This coup thus negated all the efforts of the members of the Constituent Assembly who had been working for seven years for framing a suitable constitution. In fact, the constitutional coup d’etat marked the end of Jinnah’s Muslim League and the beginning of a history of coups in Pakistan.



1. (Accessed April 20 , 2019).
2. Pakistan - Constitutional Beginnings - Country Studies (Accessed April 24, 2019).
3. Sejdiu, Korab R. "A Constitutional Coup!The Take-Down of the First President of the Republic of Kosovo." 76 Academicus - International Scientific Journal (Law Firm “Sejdiu & Qerkini”, Prishtina, Kosovo).
Previous articleIndia’s Saturation Point
Next articleHas Cricket turned to be a Unification force in Afghanistan?
DR. JYOTI M. PATHANIA is working as a Senior Fellow and Chairperson Outreach committee at Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New-Delhi. A doctorate in Political Science, she graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in Political Science (Honors) and secured the Third rank in Delhi University. She obtained her M.A. and M.Phil. degree in “International Politics” from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was selected to go on a scholarship to the European Peace University in Austria, Spain, and Ireland, where she pursued another Masters's in advanced studies in ‘Peace and Conflict Studies. She has over 20 years of teaching, training and research experience in various universities: to name a few; Symbiosis Law College Pune, Amity Law School Delhi, Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies, Jammu University, Jiwaji University Gwalior, St. Xavier’s College Ranchi and also worked as an analyst for South Asian Analysis Group and was also the Assistant Director of the Amity Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has also qualified for National Eligibility Test for lectureship under University Grant Commission. Recipient of various awards and scholarships, to name a few, Prof. Randhir Singh Award for securing distinction in Political Theory, Prof. N. N. Aggarwal Memorial Award, Austrian Govt. Development Scholarship, H.P. State Govt. Scholarship, National Talent Scheme Scholarship, Delhi University. She was also awarded by the Chief Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat for excellence in research and establishing collaboration with international research institutes. She has authored books and written articles for various newspapers and journals both national and international. She is also the founding editor of the Online Indian Journal of Peace & Conflict Resolution. Her book on India- Pakistan: Confidence Building Measures was one of the first few books on the subject. Her areas of specialization are International Politics, Conflict Resolution & Peace, Non-Traditional Security, and South Asia.