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Phase One (1906-1947)

The Muslim League has passed through three distinct phases in its history of almost one hundred years. The first phase began in December 1906, when Muslim leaders from all over the South Asian Subcontinent laid down the foundations of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) at Dhaka to provide a platform for the Indian Muslims to fight for the protection of their rights and interests. Its primary aim then was to secure separate electorates for the Muslims, for which it organized a systematic campaign both within the Subcontinent and in Britain . Its demand was accepted and incorporated in the Government of India Act of 1909. Once that objective was achieved, it moved to forge close relations with the Indian National Congress, which had opposed its demand for separate electorates. Among other motivating factors were the Muslim disappointment at the annulment of the Partition of Bengal (1911), and the British response to the Tripolitan and Balkan Wars, and Russian aggression in Iran . In 1912, the AIML changed its objectives; henceforth, it aimed at the “attainment of a system of self-government” through constitutional means. It was now in a position to negotiate with the Congress on equal terms. The negotiations that were conducted between the two parties culminated in the League-Congress Accord, known as the Lucknow Pact (1916), in which common demands for constitutional reforms were evolved. The principal architect of this Pact was Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), who had joined the AIML in 1913. The Lucknow Pact endorsed the system of separate electorates for the Muslims, and introduced the principle of weightage, i.e. reservation of seats for the minorities more than their proportion in the population of a province warranted. The Government of India Act, 1919, incorporated these constitutional demands in a modified form.

Before the introduction of these reforms, the Muslims were agitated by several developments such as the Khilafat issue, the Rowlatt Bills/Act and the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. Although the AIML was equally concerned about all these issues but it gradually lost the initiative. Many of its leaders wanted to focus on constitutional, issues but their appeals were submerged in the emotionalism that the Khilafat Movement generated in the Muslim community. Other parties whose leaders had once been active from its platform overshadowed the AIML itself. But the Khilafat Movement not only failed to achieve its objectives but it also embittered Hindu-Muslim relations. Its failure was followed by widespread communal riots. The Muslims again turned to the AIML for the protection of their rights. However, before the party could really organize itself, the all-white Simon Commission and the Nehru Report, which had an anti-Muslim bias, caused serious divisions in AIML ranks. The Muslim League adopted the Fourteen Points (1929), drafted by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, which brought about temporary unity but the deterioration that had set in the party could not be controlled, not even by the presidency of Allama Mohammad Iqbal who in his presidential address at its annual session in 1930, advocated the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims. Early in 1930s, quite a few all-India Muslim leaders including Maulana Mohammad Ali, Mian Sir Mohammad Shafi and Raja Mohammad Ali Mohammad of Mahmudabad died or became inactive in politics. Jinnah himself shifted to England . In 1933, the AIML again suffered a serious split, which was bridged only after it elected Jinnah as its President.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah assumed the leadership of the Muslim League on his return from England . The party revamped its constitution and began the process of its organization at the grassroots. Before it could consolidate itself, it participated in the 1937 provincial elections. Despite shortage of time and weak organizational structure, it won 104 out of 489 Muslim seats, and 70 per cent of the seats that it contested. The Congress arrogance especially after it assumed power in the Provinces and its desire to absorb autonomous’ entities by initiating a Muslim Mass Contact Movement rallied the Muslims around the Muslim League. Its attempts to eliminate Muslim cultural identity in the Congress-governed provinces alienated the Muslims throughout the Subcontinent. Such policies strengthened the rising Muslim consciousness of separate nationhood and swelled the ranks of the AIML. After lengthy deliberations, the Muslim League adopted the Lahore (better known as ” Pakistan “) Resolution at its annual session in 1940, demanding a separate homeland for the Muslims in the Muslim majority areas. The Pakistan Resolution fascinated Muslim elite as well the masses, and catapulted the image of the AIML and its leader, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The party organization was consolidated during the Second World War and its proof was demonstrated in the 1945-46 elections. The Muslim League won all the seats in the elections to the central legislature and scored an overwhelming majority in the provincial elections. Even after such a clear verdict, the British still tried to subvert the Pakistan demand by attempting to impose the Cabinet Mission Plan (1946), which proposed a confederal structure for a united India . The AIML had to resort to `Direct Action’ to frustrate this attempt. After prolonged negotiations and great reluctance, the Muslim League demand for Pakistan was finally conceded in the June 3 rd Plan. As a result of implementation of this Plan, Pakistan was created as a sovereign country. Had the Congress and its allies accepted the Pakistan Demand with sincerity, the bloodbath that attended partition might have been averted and more viable steps could have been taken for the protection of minorities in the two countries. The first phase of the Muslim League ended when its all-India Council, in a meeting in Karachi in December 1947, decided to bifurcate the organization into two parties, one for Pakistan and the other for the Indian Union.

Phase Two (1947-1971):

The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) was formally organized in 1948-49. Its governments at the centre and the provinces confronted problems that no other newly independent state had to face in modem times. Observers described its survival as a miracle. The Muslim League organization made it possible under the inspiring leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan with the cooperation of every section of the Pakistani society. No other political party posed any serious challenge to its authority during their lifetime. However, the PML failed to devise a viable organizational structure and ideology after their death. Furthermore, the failure to evolve consensus in the party ranks on such constitutional issues as the form of federalism, the place of Islam in the constitution and the language issue created conflicting factions in the party. The solutions that it worked out of these problems further aggravated factionalism resulting in desertions or expulsions from the party. The Muslim League suffered a humiliating defeat in East Pakistan in March 1954, at the hands of a United Front that was set up by parties founded by former Muslim Leaguers. The PML did succeed in framing the first Constitution of Pakistan in 1956, but within a few weeks of its promulgation, another group of League dissidents founded the Republican Party of Pakistan and dislodged the PML from power in West Pakistan . After this, except for a Muslim League Coalition Ministry at the Centre for about three months in 1957, the PML remained out of power till the promulgation of martial law (October 1958) by General Ayub Khan who banned the political parties.

After the lifting of martial law and revival of parties under the Political Parties Act in 1962, Ayub Khan encouraged his supporters to revive the PML and subsequently he was elected its President. Those Leaguers opposed to him also formed a party bearing the same name. These two parties were referred to as the Convention ML and Council ML; the latter party led the opposition to Ayub Khan and actively participated in the alliances of opposition parties that were formed during his time. The two MLs enjoyed support both in East Pakistan and West Pakistan but they hardly made any serious overtures to each other for unity. Toward the end of Ayub Khan Era, Qayyum Khan who had been president of the PML at the time of military takeover formed his own Muslim League. All the three MLs enjoyed support throughout the country. After Ayub Khan’s downfall, several attempts were made to unite them. But the mutual hostility of their leaders and their desire to head their own parties rather than be part of a united party frustrated every attempt at unity. In the 1970 general elections, they campaigned against one another. The resulting bitterness frustrated the lower rank leaders and workers. Many of them in frustration joined other parties or became inactive in politics. The candidates of these parties neutralized the prospects of one another’s victory. The election results would have been different had they closed their ranks and forged unity even at a late stage. With the number of seats they won, they could not play any significant role in the crisis that developed after the elections. As a result, they helplessly watched the civil war and the dismemberment of the country.

Phase Three (1971-2002):

After the break-up of Pakistan , the Muslim League led by Qayyum Khan allied with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that assumed power in (West) Pakistan . By 1973, the other two Muslim Leagues had merged into one party and elected Pir of Pagaro as the president. The PPP policies to control and suppress the opposition forced the PML (Pagaro Group) to join hands with the other opposition parties to form an alliance, the United Democratic Front (UDF), to oppose these policies. Subsequently, it formed an electoral alliance in cooperation with the other opposition parties, which was called the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). This alliance contested the March 1977 elections against the PPP candidates. The PNA launched a countrywide popular movement in protest against the massive rigging in these elections. The PPP’s delaying tactics in the negotiations with the PNA and the resultant deadlock led to another military takeover.

Pir of Pagaro cooperated with General Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law regime while a small group of Muslim Leaguers led by Khwaja Khairuddin joined the opposition alliance, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). When Ziaul Haq held non-party elections in 1985, a majority of the Muslim Leaguers were elected in their individual capacity. Ziaul Haq nominated Mohammad Khan Junejo as the Prime Minister. Junejo revived the PML and was elected its president. A serious attempt was made to organise the party at the grassroots. But in mid-1988, Ziaul Haq dismissed Prime Minister Junejo. The PML was again split into two factions, the PML (Junejo Group) and PML (Fida Mohammad Group). The latter faction was supported by the then Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, who was subsequently elected its President. This faction was then referred to as PML (N).

During 1988-1999, two political parties, the PPP under the leadership of Benazir Bhutto and the PML (N), wielded power in Pakistan . Each of the two parties was voted into office twice. But they did not let each other complete their terms in office. Once one was voted into office the other would immediately launch a campaign to dislodge it from power. There were no principles involved in this tussle. They would use every tactic and every institution including the Armed Forces against each other. Their mutual hostility hindered the development of a viable political system. The instability and uncertainty that this conflict created affected every institution and blocked economic development. The hope and expectations that the PML (N) landslide victory in the 1997 elections had generated were frustrated when in 1999 all the opposition parties united on a one-point agenda, removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office. The military takeover was a natural consequence of this trend. The Supreme Court gave General Pervez Musharraf three years to hold general elections. The elections were held on time in October 2002, in which the PML emerged as a majority party.

The PML has entered a new phase of its history. It aspires to promote a culture of reconciliation and accommodation in politics. It has launched a massive campaign to organize itself at the grassroots. It plans to introduce reforms in the social, economic and other sectors of the society in order to bring about a real change in the life of the common man.