Hafeez Pirzada, Pakistan’s Madison

Published in The Express Tribune

During the Constitutional Convention – when America’s framers were, well, framing the Constitution – Georgia’s William Pierce didn’t do much. But Pierce’s character sketches of the other delegates have stood the test of time – especially when it came to James Madison, the Constitution’s key author.

‘He blends together the profound politician with the scholar,’ wrote Pierce. ‘…[Coming] forward the best informed man of any point in debate. [Madison] is about 37 years of age, a gentleman of great modesty…with a remarkable sweet temper.’

That Pierce could have been describing Abdul Hafeez Pirzada nearly 200 years later is unusual. That Mr. Pirzada was also around 37 when he gave this country its Constitution, is nothing short of stunning.

Easy to forget, perhaps, now that the Constitution of ‘73 has become the lifeblood of the law. Or that the first Constituent Assemblies sat on their hands for nine years without penning a single sentence.

Easy to forget, also, our dirty early drafts: that first attempt in ’56, before the field marshal took a whack at it in ’62. That got us Basic Democracies: democracies so basic, they cut the electorate to 800,000 voters. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would call it Basic Fascism (as ex-Minister for Basic Democracies, he was qualified to say so).

In a way, Mr. Bhutto’s entry on the scene was down to another Pirzada’s exit: when Iskander Mirza declared martial law in 1958, much of the old guard turned away in disgust. That meant fresh faces, and the Sindhi void left by Pirzada Abdul Sattar – Abdul Hafeez’s father – was filled by thirty-year-old ZAB.

But by then, Sukkur had already crossed paths with Larkana: in Dingomal’s law chambers in Karachi, where Messrs Bhutto and Pirzada were both barristers fresh from Lincoln’s Inn.

And when Mr. Bhutto rose and fell the first time – tried for conspiracy by the field marshal’s men – it was the firm’s rising star that came to the rescue (the first of many such rescues). Barrister Pirzada got the charges quashed. ‘Then we became very, very close friends,’ he remembered.

Thus the bond over a teeny criminal case – misusing government tractors on Larkana lands – ended up giving the state its sacred text.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. With the dawn of the People’s Party, Mr. Pirzada was a sohna munda in more ways than one; for a time, all he touched turned to gold. Whereas General Zia spoke of his team’s opening batsmen, Hafeez Pirzada was the Chairman’s only all-rounder.

He was the only information minister to care nothing for party posturing. He was the only finance minister to tax agricultural income, whatever the feudal fatties said. After a while, Mr. Pirzada was piling portfolios; from education to provincial coordination to parliamentary affairs. After a briefing on the Tarbela Dam, Robert McNamara was convinced the man was a hydro engineer.

Of course, all of which brings us to the law ministry. There’s no two ways about it: Hafeez Pirzada was to creating the Constitution what Sharifuddin Pirzada was to killing it: vital to the operation.

An operation almost stillborn. Today, we associate the PPP with Asif Zardari: sleazy centre-partings and black cash galore. But back then, the party was a broad church: the good (Meraj Khalid), the bad (Kausar Niazi), and the ugly (Mustafa Khar).

That meant approval from everybody: from taking up the Rahims and Ramays in the left, to taking on the Muftis and Maudoodis in the right. While Mr. Bhutto tangoed across the aisle, begging and bartering, Mr. Pirzada was left with the lonely task of making all these ideas cohere in law: a Constitution that, in the disgraced Mirza’s words, fit the genius of the people.

And like Madison, who cried for compromise between the states and the centre, Mr. Pirzada also weaned the Chairman away from his beloved French presidency, steering him toward a parliamentary federation. Mr. Bhutto, who’d already sacrificed Law Minister Kasuri on the altar of a strong centre, listened. We’re thankful he did.

Thus the minister from Malir met his moment in history. Creating the Constitution of a country just 26 years old (and in another, tragic way, just two years old), Mr. Pirzada achieved what no man has done, and what no man has yet managed to undo.

A high point that segued into struggle: no longer a French prezzie, Mr. Bhutto became a Borgia prince instead. Elections were rigged, PNA men picked up, and martial law imposed in three cities in ‘77. Abandoned by all, the Chairman turned again to Mr. Pirzada.

The last sane voice remaining, Mr. Pirzada had the PM lift martial law and reengage the PNA. Pitted against the opposition’s Nawabzada Nasrullah and Professor Ghafoor, he would be the last surviving member of the emergency meeting that July.

Remembers Benazir the night of the coup, ‘[Hafeez Pirzada] had left my father just a few hours ago after celebrating the agreement with him. I had seen the glow of their cigars and heard their laughter on the lawn.’

It was Mr. Pirzada, and no one else, that led the party when the junta took hold. But the Chairman passed the mantle to his wife and daughter instead, and Mr. Pirzada publicly renounced his claim in favour of House Bhutto. In an alternative reality, one may wonder what might have been.

Mr. Pirzada returned to Sindh a confederacy man. And he recommitted to his first love, becoming the foremost lawyer of his generation.

That meant steamrolling the NRO in Mobashir Hassan, arguing for the privatization boys in Pakistan Steel Mills, debating economic activism in Gadoon Textiles, believing in the merits of a ‘living Constitution’, and making the case for the PTI before the judicial commission – as much in the eye of the storm in 2015 as he was in 1968.

And at age 80, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada was a human dynamo at the rostrum; weaving impossibly conflicting procedure and precedent into the same, simple argument. Even in a lawyer’s basic black tie, his dress sense was meant for the movies – lapels two inches wide and pocket squares four folds deep. Young lawyers crowded around him in the Lahore High Court, and he was gentle and generous with his time, the law’s grand old man to the end.

James Madison once said, ‘The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.’ By leaving us his Constitution, Mr. Pirzada lays claim to being the greatest guardian of all.