Experiments in Constitutional Design: East-West Symbiosis in United Pakistan

32 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2022

See all articles by Maryam S. Khan

Maryam S. Khan

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: July 27, 2022


In this paper, I attempt to recover, in some measure, the complex history of the relations between the 'two wings' of Pakistan in its first decade of independence. I argue that the politics of this era, driven by the objective of maximizing political representation at the center, was marked by a deep interlocking of the East and West regions of the country. In many ways, this was in direct contrast to the late 1960s, when the political cords between the two regions snapped after a steady deterioration of inter-wing relations under a military dictatorship. The ensuing autonomy politics of the late 1960s, which found a powerful vent in the first general election of 1970, and the subsequent attempt by the victorious Awami League in the East to shrink the center, turned the integrationist politics of the 1950s on its head. This is the hindsight temporality through which I approach the subject of the first decade of united Pakistan, because although my analytical focus remains on the 1950s, my larger purpose lies in provoking a critical reassessment of the linear trajectory of Bengali nationalism that has come to define the story of the making of Bangladesh. In order to appreciate the cross-wing dynamic of the first decade of united Pakistan, I use the lens of the constitutional contestation over the shape of the Pakistani federation, with a specific focus on the 'One Unit'. The One Unit was a constitutional plan to merge together provinces and states in the West wing in the 1950s. Contrary to common assumptions about the merger being a purely internal matter for the West, the One Unit was motivated by a broader reconfiguration of center-province as well as East-West relations. Indeed, no single issue in the making of the federation better illustrates the cross-cutting cleavages between East and West than the politics leading up to and culminating in the creation of the One Unit, as well as the East-West bridges that the widespread opposition against the One Unit inspired. I argue that this empirical experience of the politics of constitution-making around the One Unit demonstrates the ruptures within both the East and the West on salient issues of constitutional design, but also the many alliances and bridges that emerged across the regional East-West binary on the basis of shared goals, strategic coalitions, and political leveraging.

Keywords: Constitution-making Constitutional design Constituent Assembly Decolonization Dominion Constitutionalism

JEL Classification: K40: Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

Suggested Citation

Khan, Maryam, Experiments in Constitutional Design: East-West Symbiosis in United Pakistan (July 27, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4174393 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4174393

Maryam Khan (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

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Madison, WI 53706
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