Decentralization in Pakistan

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Department of Political Science University of the Punjab

Decentralization in Pakistan

Theoretical and Historical perspective

Submitted to: Dr. Irum Khalid Submitted by: Muhammad Saqlain

Roll no. : 04

Class: Mphil Political Science


Decentralization essentially connotes the division of power and responsibility from higher echelons to the lower tiers. Decentralization invariably increases the power of sub national governments. It empowers to invent new and ingenious way, commensurate with their indigenous needs and vernacular traits. It devolves the power and authority whereby now institutions are flourished under the auspices of system of local governance.

Devolution is a step further than delegation. Delegation may be an arbitrary assignment for an ephemeral period of time to solve the outstanding predicaments; delegation can be withdrawn by the delegated authority in case of abuse or overstepping in the exercise of authority. It can also be declared null and void, if it runs contravene and inconsistent with the constitutional provisions. However, devolution is a legally approved and legitimate mechanism which enjoys the sanction of the constitutional body; it cannot be struck down on whims and fancy.

Different theories postulate different models, keeping in view the prevalent practices. The sequential theory defines decentralization in three main characteristics: one, it envisages decentralization as the process, two, and it take into account the territorial interests of the bargaining actors.1 It also assimilates and incorporates the policy feed work effects. It conceives the process of decentralization as a chain event, which slowly and imperceptibly unfolds.

Theory of divisional structures suggests that organizational hierarchy can deliver properly when the roles and responsibilities are relatively re-aligned on recurring basis. It assigns different functions and roles as per the accepted parameters. Such division significantly improves the service deliver and yields economic dividends besides social harmony. It also enables the stakeholders to improve the proficiency and plug the loopholes in the system.

Decentralization promotes greater diversity of government services and more opportunities to the citizens to influence the government in the process of decision making; new experiments are launched.2 Richard Goodish in his magnum opus “Reflections on 1968 Elections” opined that the notion of decentralization empowers the general populace whereby they hold accountable the activities of the state and its functionaries.

It ushers well in the policy payoffs in local government.3 The input of the local people provides a vantage point to evaluate and formulate the policies as per the public aspirations and longings of citizenry. In system of local government, it is nearly impossible to install a policy that has been dismissed by the local elites and their affiliates, as it will yield unsavory results. An unpopular and largely disapproved policy will inevitably invoke resistance.

Besides when fiscal decentralization is carried out at extensive level, resultantly it is associated with higher level of per capita income, because the economic activities are initiated and resultantly economic growth is accelerated which inevitably paves the way towards prosperity and amelioration.4 Cartelization of government extravagant expenditures significantly inhibits the intergovernmental competition, because it makes governments more homogenous, monotonous and static. Only the fiscal decentralization seems panacea of the economic woes of the local people. Had decentralization not been occurred the plight of downtrodden people would not have been improved.

Allocation of resources and exploitation of existing resources is ensured with the experiment of local self-government.5 Hitherto unexplored resources are tapped, the local people are well aware of the treasure trove thus they zealously participate and generate economic activities thereby. Besides this it also circulates the income and avoids concentration of wealth merely to the privileged few.

The theory of fiscal federalism suggests that a system in which pure local government raises pure local taxes and undertakes pure local expenditures with the intervention and meddling of the central government.6 It significantly bolsters and increases the revenue targets and makes the tax collection an easy task. It enjoys the whole hearted approved of the indigenous people, because they themselves are the architects of that system and therefore readily contribute. It thus triggers the cycle of growth.

The theory of autonomy vis-à-vis decentralization is premised upon two cardinal principles: immunity and initiative.7 Immunity enables the local tiers to function free from the over-arching and extended oversight of the central government. It enables them to enjoy a functional autonomy, where dictation and influence of the federal state is thwarted and initiatives bolsters the localities to legislate and regulate the behavior of the citizens. It opens new vistas and ingenious ways and means for economic growth and social stability. Thus people invent the ways which can best serve their purpose within the legal framework.

Decentralization has its own flip side; there is always danger of overlapping roles and responsibilities. It results into fragmentation of growth due to multiple local governments and wasteful resource allocation.8 They insist that it is an extravagant exercise which only adds to complexity of roles and duplicity of work. Thereby it breeds inefficiency and mismanagement.

The adversaries of decentralization also stubbornly insist that it precipitously increases disparities. The economic differences are yawned, which paves the way for social cleavages and foments centrifugal tendencies. It gradually rips apart the social fabric which is neatly and meticulously woven. Besides this it jeopardizes stability; the fruits of decentralization are not evenly distributed rather they are unwisely allocated due to leakages, overspending and under-spending. It also undermines efficiency; the service delivery is not liquidated as it ought to be. There is also apprehension that it will pave the way toward social malaises like corruption and appropriation of resources.

Electoral politics have symbiotic relationship with the application and success of local government experience.9 It is an established fact that if local self-governance beings the deterioration of civic culture and decline in the social capital. Therefore, the grass root democracy is still at the electoral stage and yet not properly matured. It necessitates further consolidation so as to firmly establish itself. It will not naive to expect that it can yield its result overnight or instantaneously. It is a gradual process, which is evolved by and by. Any endeavor to install a system, where people are not accustomed to, is always an exercise in futility.

The foreseeable future unequivocally anticipates that local government is inching toward local governance where it will have adequate autonomy for functional responsibilities.10 It will have its own domain and sphere of influence, which will be operated without any intervention. The centralized tenets of federalism, which are authoritarian in nature, will be liquidated and thereby the domain and realm of local bodies will be enlarged. This paradigm shift will be brought by many internal and external factors. The external factors include increasing economic interdepence, process of ever increasing and proliferating globalization and changing technologies with their ubiquitous usage and across the board application. Nonetheless, internal factors are also partly responsible behind this ensuring phenomenon; these include privatization of state services, restricting of local system of governance and changing inter-governmental relations. Due to these factors the system of local self-governance is creating its relevance and flourishing.

The logic behind this sanguinity is grounded in reality; it is an evident truth that human resource management is best undertaken in local system of governance. Only local self governance carves a niche for local electorates and their so-called spokesmen to have a say in the system. The Westphalia model of state with strict demarcation of boundaries and rigidly defined role is depleting fast and being replaced by loose federation and extended autonomy with local system of governance. Therefore the future of local self governance is promising.

Due to ever growing complexity and ever increasing population, power and authority can be exercised effectively when it is derived to the local tiers. Excessive concentration invariably leads towards abuse of power. The notion of local government hammered into existence so as to ensure transparency, efficiency and prompt service delivery. Local government experiment entails diversified objectives, but the touchstone is the expedition’s service delivery without undue and unnecessary delay.

Local government ensures proper safeguards against the despotic predilections and arbitrary exercise of power by the public servants. Lord Auction opined, “Power corrupts everybody and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Therefore, it is a considered opinion that of one who is invested with power is very likely to abuse it. The experiment of local government effectively bulwarks such tendencies. The public servants are held accountable to their deeds and actions. They cannot work on their wishes and fancies rather they are obliged to follow the prescribed rules and laid down procedures. The system of accountability checks these temptations.

Besides this, the conception of local government also carries broad-based and larger public participation. The masses directly participate in the state affairs. It enriches the ownership vis-à-vis state; they zealously participate in the administration of affairs. Greater public participation is also instrumental in the achievement of the targets. As the problems and challenges that crop up are indigenous in nature; therefore a vernacular and localized remedy will be more suitable. Thus public participation brings harmonious relationship between citizens and the state functionaries.

Political consciousness among the citizens is infused through local body system. The electorates are trained when they exercise their right of franchise; likewise it acts as a budding nursery for the future politicians. The counselors attain the mandatory training is the process of electioneering at the local level, and then they aspire for higher offices. Punjab have witnessed plethora of instances, when local leaders transform into national leaders; it drastically changed their stature. Thereby it evolves mature, equipped and seasoned politicians.

Local bodies also harbinger speedy and expeditious redressal of grievances at the grass root level. The localized issues are dealt at local level; the complainants can reach to the concerned quarter without any hindrance. The work is judiciously shared and all the factors are taken into account.

Local government, ipso facto, results into better policy formulation at national level; only the mature politicians will be longing for the slot at national level. Those who are carried away by ravenous appetite of power and authority will not go beyond the politics of municipality. Thus policy level talks, which essentially, calls for deliberation and accruement is exclusively undertaken by mature and seasoned politicians.

Besides this it augers well in financial stability; local taxes are levied, and cesses also contribute in the overall revenue generation. Collectively, the collection of tax gives financial stability. Local system of governance is a cardinal feature of the good governance. Governance, in true sense, necessitates devolution and delegation of power and authority in political, administrative and fiscal terms. It allows a nation to experiment with public progression, on a limited pilot basis to accurately gauge that which work is undertaken at a broader level.

The local system of governance acts as a change agent for social transformation; it does not chip away the long established values, tradition and customs, but rather it will graft new ethos of progress and development, where the rustic and regressive practice will wither away. The society, by and large, assimilates new ideas with seemingly intractable challenges at local level. Thus it shapes the contours of the society.

Local system of governance commences the beginning of development work with proper supervision, over hauling, monitoring and vigilant surveillance of the indigenous people. The areas of less attention and least importance also manage to receive due share. As the indigenous people partake in these endeavors, therefore they are well conversant of the needs and also mindful of the challenges. Though at times the developmental work is orchestrated and engineered keeping in view the parochial political needs. However, it is not consumed in the cold storage of the bureaucracy.

Another hallmark and distinctive feature of the local government system is that it ushers close co-operation between public servants and the common masses, relegating the erstwhile colonial practices to the back burner. The ordinary citizen feels that they have say in the system, and they are responsible to shape the system. They actively participate in the affairs, by plugging the loop holes and enhancing the capabilities. This sense of ownership significantly enhances the trust; resultantly the cause of national integration and nation hood is strengthened.

The accountability system is far better in this system; it is subjected to dual accountability; the elected representatives examine the utilization of funds closely and sharply. Similarly, the public accountability system also works on parallel lines. It produces more transparency and effective and proper management of the resources.

The study of existing stock of knowledge is sine qua non to understand the varied aspects of the underlying problem. The literature review enables the researcher to delve deep and understand the raison de etre. It helps the researcher to contribute in the realm of knowledge while following his predecessors. With this the gaps in the study are identified, and the researcher devotes his attention to focus on these areas. The study of literature review enables the researchers to explore new dimensions and discover new vistas in the realm of knowledge. In a nutshell, the study of literature review is essential for the justification of the research.

The history of Pakistan bespeaks that the non-democratic regimes have been eagerly enthusiastic in the experiment of local system of governance. These regimes had their own axe to grind than their manifest claims of devolution of power: they wanted to seek political legitimacy so as to expand their political clout. On the other hand, the democratic regimes have been shying away from this experiment throughout political history of Pakistan. Local government is, in fact, the logical collar of the democratic dispensation; but they political governments fall prey to the political expediencies and relegate this issue to the back burner.

Local government is a phenomenon that has gained currency in the modern political age; in this era the centrist tendencies have been declared redundant. The essence of democracy is reflected when power and authority is devolved at grass-roots level. In Pakistan different experiments of local government have been conducted. Each aimed at political legitimacy. But Mushrraf’s devolution scheme was launched after a laborious work of deliberation. It ostensibly viewed as an attempt to redefine the existing structure, and bring about structural changes in the existing institutional arrangements. This adventure left a series of impacts on the political, administrative and social culture of the polity.

Different analysts have trenchantly studied the occurrence of this phenomenon from their own viewpoint. They have spelled out their own observations, which are based on their own perspective. They have studied the rationale behind this intervention and the motivating factors that hammered this idea into existence, in the first place. Few commentators have delineated the historical perspective in a chronological way so as to draw a comparison between previous practices and recent trend. There were some who devoted their energies to assess the impacts that this system generated on the different levels.

Mushrraf’s devolution plan was a novel intervention; therefore it invoked the interest of considerable scholars to study this phenomenon. The study under this dissertation encompasses the Mushrraf’s devolution plan; which has been analysized with the perspective of its impacts on the social culture of the Punjab. In order to accomplish this scholarly endeavor, different books, articles, journals, commentaries, bare acts and newspapers have been consulted. Each writer tried to explain this phenomenon in its own way.

Shahrukh Rafi Khan in his magnum opus, “Pakistan under Mushrraf” stated that the devolution plan that Mushrraf orchestrated completely lacked the transition of power from the centre to the federating unites.11 He lamented that therefore it could not yield its desired results. He further pointed out different lacunas in the devolution plan. He suggested that the land reforms are pre-requisite for the success for devolution experiment. He contended that the feudal lords act as straitjackets in the decentralization of power and authority. He further pointed out as long as the feudal system remains intact and embedded the prospects of successful devolution scheme would be bleak.

Mushrraf, the chief architect of this scheme in his famous book, “In the line of fire” opined that it was an unprecedented transformation from sham democracy to the real democracy, where the local representatives would have power and legitimate authority with the devolution of power at the grassroots level. He also boastfully narrated that we have discarded the colonial vestiges and initiated a new era with renewed spirit and new institutional arrangements.12 In his book, he tried to provide justifications of his new institutional mechanism in which devolution plan was the single most intervention. He described it as a significant departure from the past practices. He elucidated that the structural changes were inevitable to ensure service delivery at grassroots level.

Dr Muhammad Waseem in his book, “Democratization in Pakistan: a study of the 2002 election” shed light on the process of democratization in the Pervez Mushrraf’s regime. This book is divided into different parts which tell the ascendancy of Mushrraf and its pre-elections and post elections impacts. He remarked that any radical restructuring which is planted in the existing setup seldom enjoys continuity.13 He even predicted that this system will not withstand the torments; as it is highly novel, which has brought cataclysmic changes in the overall administration. Even this scheme, he contented, lacked effective constitutional protection. He described the pivotal role of bureaucracy that will be instrumental in its demise. He even vehemently lambasted that the main objective behind this entire scheme was to prolong the rule of Mushrraf than service delivery and decentralization.

M.P. Singh and Veena Kukreja in their book, “Pakistan, Democracy, Development and Security Issue “, underscored the reasons behind this experiment of local government. They contended that General Pervez Mushrraf had two pronged objectives in his mind: first, he wanted to seek political legitimacy so as to garner the support of international community. Second, he wanted to seek concessional assistance so as to ward off from economic collapse. 14The manifest claim of devolution and decentralization was essentially a political gimmick. In fact, he had his own purpose to serve. They have substantiated their argument on the basis of the policies that Pervez Mushrraf adopted subsequently. They have analytically observed this phenomenon and tried to development a correlation between democratic process and developmental work.

David Wilson and Chris Game in their joint venture, “Local Government in the United Kingdom” described the theoretical perspective of local self governance. They presented the evolution of local system of government and how successively it underwent through different stages.15 They described the organic growth of local bodies as the consequences of complex machinery of the government. Besides this, they also highlighted different theories and varied perspectives.

Dr. Inayat Ullah in his compiled work, “A Reader in Basic Democracy” outlined the various features of basic democratic scheme, which was the brainchild of another undemocratic regime with somewhat identical objectives16. He, in his scholarly book, delineated the theoretical basis on which the local system of government is premised upon. He book is the collection of different essays which tell the varied description of this phenomenon.

Hary J. Friedman in his book, “Basic Democracies and Development Administration” opined the perspectives to make an experiment of local system of government as a success. He emphasized that the launch of pilot project is a mandatory requirement; it gives an opportunity to evaluate it properly.17 Moreover, he insisted that it should arise from the indigenous need, rather than imposed by the outside. He feared that it would roll back the entire exercise in this way.

Devolution or Decentralization is the balancing and counterbalancing of the pendulum of power and shifting of its position. It swings between those who are ruling at the helm of affairs and those who are vying for to attain that coveted place; it oscillates between these positions.18Many countries, both developing and developed, have launched the experiment of local bodies; it was conceived as an instantaneous response to overcome the monumental challenges that these countries confront. These problems are social and economic in nature. Due to the pervasiveness of these problems the economic and social growth has stalled. These problems include punishing poverty, deeply permeated corruption; bad and inefficient system of governance, growing unemployment, wasteful utilization of resources and gender inequality19. In this regard different conceptual basis have been analyzed .According to Rondinelli’s definition, such transformation takes place when a strong central government with centralized tendencies tend of shift control of management; the overall decision- making authority and delegate the financial power to local government through statutory provisions in a constitutional way20. It clearly spells out the devolution, in its true sense, is a means which in utilized to bring people closer to government working and functioning process. It involves people in the planning process whereby they offer their input in policy formulation and in the financial powers where they participate in the budgetary allocation and above all in the decision making process where they decide their own fate. In order to ensure participatory government where the people themselves are stakeholders, the local system of governance seems the only viable solution21. The Pakistan’s experiment bespeaks the process of decentralization is manifested in the devolution of power and authority. An analytical study is required to trenchantly observe the phenomen of local system of governance with reference to Pakistan. Because the three different experiment launched were motivated by a bid to ascertain legitimacy so as to perpetuate the rule. It was introduced with a top-down approach in which the authoritarian role was the beneficiary; it used it as leverage for its own political purposes. Therefore, these had defined objectives to serve. Apparently, these interventions were introduced on the name to devolve the power and authority at the grass roots level, but in fact, these were designed in such a way to further accentuate the centralization of power under the non-representative centre. Subsequent developments vindicated this contention that it was a bid for legitimacy which resultantly consolidated the power of centre. The history of Pakistan reveals that such adventures lacked the political will, because these were motivated by political expediencies. Therefore, it is an established fact that the devolution schemes under the military regimes were practically military dogmatism for political legitimacy.

Devolution in Pakistan 1958: An Experiment

The notion of local government is not a novelty in the chequered political history of Pakistan. History bears out that it has been a political ploy to perpetuate the rule of a non-representative centre; the colonial practices of the British were also somewhat similar22. After the rubbles of World War 1, the British government in order to maintain her political control devised a new contraption; it granted limited autonomy and allowed political parties to participate in the political process. It was a rarity in the iron-fist colonial rule. They rightly observed that the increasing centralization results into the weakening of the local governments which consequently pave the way to the aggrandizement of military and bureaucratic role.23. After the end of colonial exploitation, it was generally believed that the erstwhile relic of past would be relegated to the back burner. However, the history repeated itself; the first bold experiment under 1958’s Martial law in Pakistan’s history with respect to the local governments was witnessed by disbanding national and provincial assemblies. Thus General Ayub Khan put the colonial machinery into practice, and considered local bodies as the only viable, legitimate and suitable mechanism of representation. He, with complete impunity, dissolved all the higher cadres. He considered only local bodies befitting for the level of representation. Hence, the edifice of new system of local government was constructured under the provisions of Municipal Administration Ordinance 1960 and the Basic Democracies Ordinance 1959. It put the all tiers in a hierarchical way. In this way, few indirectly elected members at were chosen by these directly elected members at the top level. Similarly, the government nominated certain persons and these appointees were later on chosen as Chairmen. The union councils had pivotal position by virtue of its representative character. It was placed at the bottom in the local bodies’ hierarchy. Union council would give legitimacy to those who were at the higher echelons. On the basis of adult suffrage, union councils were composed of elected members and who, in succession, subsequently would elect a chairman out of them24.

The administrative structure of the government was a continuation of the imperial traditions; the role of the bureaucracy was key and central, they would invariably adhere to the administrative norms of the colonial period. The controlling authority of the bureaucracy was quite evident. They would enforce the writ of the government, and extend unconditional loyalty to the incumbent government, which was non-representative and authoritarian in nature. In this way, the commanding authority was instrumental to put up the resolution in case of political upheaval. Besides this, it would take coercive measures and stringent action against the local tiers, if the need arises. It would forfeit the proceedings of any action initiated to be done. The woefully pathetic state of governance in the garb of democracy was tantamount to authoritarian rule at the local level. Even if the mechanism developed conferred certain regulatory measures and upshot functions to the councils, at the lower cadre particularly; and at the district plane, certain functions could be executed owing to a severely curtailed fiscal capacity25. The most controversial aspect of Ayub’s local government set up was its use or rather abuse to sanction his essentially unitary Presidential Constitution (1962); which was tailor-made for his rule. It would subsequently provide the armed forces with an effective and coercive state power by the office of the President. Therefore, the Constitution of 1962 became a bridge for the election of the office of the President. In this envisaged scheme, the newly created elected bodies and the respective national and provincial assemblies by announcing 80, 000 BD’s as the Electoral College for the political legitimacy of General Ayub Khan. Therefore, the very notion of devolution was discredited and dashed to ground. In part, the system was designed and put in place to serve the vested interests of a non-democratic ruler and for the political life of his rule. Ayub’s brainchild of “controlled democracy” apparently appeared as a step to further promote the colonial heritage of paternalistic notion of “guardianship” by which the colonial bureaucracy was speculated to assist the politicians while withstanding their grim and rigid influences. The rationale behind this sharing of power between political role as well as bureaucratic working was only to secure a mandate and seek legitimacy for the distribution and allocation of resources and political patronage for General Ayub Khan26. Hence, a delicate balance was struck and a legislative divide was carefully maintained at the level of local government27.the division between the rural and the urban areas was conspicuous as it would through the Basic Democracies Ordinance (1959) were governed. The local council would be responsible for rural areas and the urban areas came under the ambit of municipal committees. However, like the colonial Britishers’, the share of rural areas in the allocation of resources at both federal and provincial levels was significantly increased by Ayub as these were the areas where his main political support base was hinged upon. The proportions greatly inversed the remarkable urban unfairness in federal and provincial developmental budget that later on came to light during the 50’s. The representatives at the rural level were greater in number and formed a majority in the local government system as major parts of the country were rural associated with agrarian activities; as a result rural representatives28, were coupled with various projects and certain development plans and at the local level both on the basis of program design and due of course to their decisive significance in the electoral system and the larger state apparatus29.

Failure: The notion of ‘Basic Democracies’ hammered into existence by Ayub Khan was rather more basic and far from being democratic in its true sense. It further paved the way for nefarious activities where the voters were buyed and wooed for political purposes in the Electoral College. In return the President reaped enormous political benefits by this engineered system in terms of security to his presidency but his claims, according to his vision, to cultivate a political system remained largely unfulfilled. It further accentuated the colonial practices and bureaucracy wielded more powers. This of course was not envisioned in the experiment of Basic Democracies. The debilitated structure of local system of governance with curtailed powers and ceremonial face sadly failed to deliver for the common people of Pakistan. There was no institutionalization of the political system in that period, neither major change occurred. The politicians vehemently criticized that via Electoral College population has been deliberately denied the basic right to elect their President and elections in this way could be bribed and paid easily. Although, in reality, it was an attempt to decentralize the authority but in fact it was to extend centralized control through grass root level institutional arrangements.

Devolution in Zia’s Regime
Local governments system was re-introduced by Zia ul Haq after the democratic break of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto from 1972 to 1977. Zia ul Haq used the same strategy as his military predecessor did to earn legitimacy. He used local governments to consolidate his rule. Zia adopted different strategies to concentrate power in his hands. He held the constitution of 1973 in abeyance from 1979 to 1985 in order to centralized power in his hands. To Zia, the constitution was a piece of paper. He imposed Martial Law and tailor made the constitution with 8th amendment in 1985. The constitutional arrangement was a unique in the sense that the president could dissolve the assemblies and dismiss the government by the draconian clause of 58 2 (b). It was a unique type of indirect military rule combined with Ayub’s presidential system.30 It was against the parliamentary spirit of Westminster model of democracy enshrined in the constitution of 1973.

In 1979, and later in 1980’s the local governments were proclaimed and local bodies were established in the four provinces. It is the tendency of military dictators that they divide the politicians and rule over them. Zia followed the same strategy. He created a competing class of collaborative local politicians.31 The peculiar discontinuity with the system of local governments was that it was not followed by the devolution of administrative powers. If the arrangements of Zia and Ayub are compared with each other, striking similarities between Basic Democracies Ordinance 1959 and Local Governments Ordinance 1979 can be observed with regard to the allocation of economic powers at the grassroots level.32 Hence the much debated importance of the local governments was not realized in both the regimes. It was just a sham. It was nothing else than consolidation of supremacy of both the military regimes. The local governments faced restraints like the paucity of charter protection and a considerable amount of control was exercised by the provincial governments vested with the powers to suspend the weak powers of the local bodies.

However, Zia’s LGO 1979 has some different aspects from Ayub’s BDO 1959. Zia intentionally swept the democratic arrangements of Bhutto made in 1972 and 1975 under the carpet. Zia abolished the representation of civil bureaucrats in the local administration and filled the power vacuum with the elected chairmen. They were elected by the direct franchise locally.33 Moreover, the provincial governments had retained the powers to suspend or quash the local bodies’ resolutions and the proceedings adopted by the local councils. In this way the provincial governments practiced control as the local governments lost control.

It was reclaiming of the grounds which were lost during the agitation at local level during the 60’s and 70’s. Although Zia retained the basic principle of retaining local elections on the non-party basis, he paid lip service to the real purpose. It is the enigma of local governments politics that non-party based local government elections were demanded in the pre-partition; however the non-party based elections in Zia regime were staunchly opposed and they were considered the robust blow to mass-based political parties. During the course of time political parties had emerged at the national arena. But Zia propagated the idea of localization and personalization of politics at the local level.34

The measures resulted in a rural-urban divide at the level of rural or district councils, committees and corporations, town and municipal and further progression between the British, Ayub and Zia’s legislations. Besides this, as rural-urban coordination was the responsibility of district (rural) councils; Zia further dented it by abolishing it since this council was responsible only for governance in rural domains. However, urbanization, demographic mobility, population and commodity flow to the cities created rise in per capita income and changed the overall character.

Moreover, the regime of Zia stood out with the rural-urban split that meant an increase in per capita income of urban councils disinclined to share this with their remote areas. Prior to this give the impression that Zia’s policy was to oblige the urban middle class during his early period. Thence, the fundamental of anti-Bhutto movement paved its way into the society. And it seems that the decision to go with this divide at the moment when income of urban local councils were increasing, offered the state to give space to a political movement against Bhutto from urban middle class by giving them hold, albeit circumscribed, over funds that could be used for the entrenchment of localized clientelist networks. Contrary to this, the lack of essential financial sources with rural local councils vindicates that their capacity to deliver even their minor contents rested limited. The dwindling state of revenue of rural local councils unified with a legislative rule that spanned the access of rural areas to urban revenues displays a dismal state of affairs. Resultantly, these areas became increasingly hooked on the provincial level to deliver satisfactorily.

Revival of elected governments in 1985 at both provincial and federal level was a step to strengthen the localization of politics which saw a great rise through the local bodies’ election in 1979. This strong fabrication hence, helped to graft the culture of local body politics at both levels; provincial as well as at national levels35. This inclination was heightened by the non-party basis governments of 1985, in which ministers tried to utilize development funds through personalized patronage to increase their individual chances of reelection as well36.This personalization of politics, moreover, took deeper roots in the political system in spite of the re-establishment of party-based assemblies and governments in the year of 1988. Due to adverse de jure and de facto measures grounded in politics of the country by the Zia and Bhutto regimes; this endured propensity impinged the political culture and resulted weakening party organizations.37. Furthermore, the non-party basis politics was an outcome of absence of weak political linkages between different tiers of government. Hence, a state of tension was created between local and provincial administrators with the local tier being viewed as a competing structure of ‘patronage’.


Consequently, absence of ‘political ownership’ in the local government cadre was a natural concomitant. ‘Discretionary’ special development programs became safe havens for politicians of both houses to hold a sway over developmental allocations at local level without scrutiny38. So, the concentration of financial powers in the hands of the Federal and provincial governments constrained the capacity of local governments thus prompted the Provinces to play an ever increasing role in service provision, especially post 1990 political scenario. Resultantly, this drift between local and provincial administrators further lead to the temporarily break of local bodies in 1993 and 1998 respectively and the political vacuum remained as serious as before the time of independence. Interestingly with respect to functions and financial powers of the local government, there seemed no difference between Ayub’s BD (1959) and Zia’s LG (1979) set up. Thus decentralization was never translated into true empowerment of local governments as well as democracy.

Third Attempt toward Devolution

General Pervaiz Musharraf was the third patron of local government structure. He gave his famous Devolution Plan to the nation in 2000 and it was established after the election in 2001.

National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) envisaged the Local Government Plan of 2000.General Naqvi, another military man, was the head of NRB at that time. He premised upon the idea that the bureaucracy at the both divisional and local level (district and tehsil), governed by the provinces, be made accountable to the local representatives. Moreover, National Reconstruction Bureau regarded bureaucracy as the main culprit behind the apologetic state of affairs at the local level. It identified that the over concentration of authority and power in the office of Deputy Commissioner (DC) is the major cause for the rural-urban divide and argued that such concentration of power is fatal for development at local level. Moreover, such concentration of power invites manipulation of authority and creates a colonial relationship of subject and ruler. It also “diffuses operational focus and results in the expedient handling of routine functions through crisis management”39. Devolution Plan of 2000, under which local governments were established for good governance, transparent service delivery through institutionalized participation of the people at grass root level was a step toward restructuring of power.


Following are the principal objectives of the Devolution Plan of 2000;

  1. The first and foremost objective of this plan was to empower the people at the grass root level

  2. To develop the service delivery

  3. To frame laws about, labor rights, property and local economic management are determined

  4. To grant access to justice

To accomplish the above mentioned objectives, the five “D” Principles of Devolution were set which are as follows:

  1. For the devolution of political power, three tiers of elected leadership of district, tehsil/town and union level were introduced.

  2. Administrative authority was decentralized by giving more operational autonomy to the departments at district level and elimination of divisional row of administration by handing over most of their functions and powers at the district level.

  3. Decentralization of management functions by adopting a more focused approach and sense of responsibility commensurate with the capacity to perform.

  4. Distribution of resources at the level of districts through the capability to increase taxes locally.

  5. Dissemination of power-authority nexus through the active monitoring bycitizens and increase in the involvement of elected representative in the developmental projects.

Thus, by the initiation of local government plan of 2000,an effort was made to change the power structure and redistribute the authorities between local and provincial governments. Three tier governments scheme introduced a new government at the district and sub-divisional level i.e. union and tehsil council. District Nazim, an elected representative would be the executive head of the district government and district administration headed by the senior bureaucrat. Deputy Commissioner (DC) was renamed as District Coordination Officer (DCO), who would report to the Nazim. Previously, the DC used to report to non-representative provincial secretariat. Moreover, Deputy Commissioner was no longer the District Collector or District Magistrate. Under the new police order, District Police Officer (DPO) was made responsible for law and order. Citizen Community Boards (CCBs) were established toappreciate participation of community for development of locality, progress in service delivery and building social capital at the grass root level. Theoretically it was an endeavor to authorize the communities by devolving development planning, and creating a new sense of possession to ensure better quality of service through non-elected citizesns, and self-help initiatives. The immersion of CCBs as such was intended to bring accountability and transparency in the process of development. Apart from these, the local government plan of 2000 also provided quota of about 33 % for women in all the three tiers of the proposed local governments40.

The devolution plan of Musharraf regimeguaranteed huge potential for the local governments becoming the locale of innovation and citizen participation as well. The proposed devolution plan got great importance with respect to opening remarkable opportunities to suggest solutions to local hitches at the grass root level. As both solutions and problems are fundamentallyconnected with the political commitments of the central government41, the program requires an impartial and critical estimation. Though, Local Government Plan 2000, claimed to address the basic issues like transparency,accessibility of services to people, empowering the citizens, and many more but still a careful investigation of that devolution exercise exposedslight change beyond the cosmetic one, where real authority and power still rested in the hands of very few, which are distant from common people.

Critical Analysiss

If devolution is a panacea of ills of Pakistan then why was it not introduced in the capital territory i.e. Islamabad or the military cantonments in the country? The ill-conceived decentralization Pakistan made working of local governments more problematic than in a centralized set up, where local governments were not expected to perform and deliver in absence of resources, appropriate autonomy and capacity. With a lack of just legitimacy and absence of consultation with the stakeholders-provincial governments, political parties and civil service-the present system was also destined to meet a failure in achieving the said objectives. Due to its inherent complexity, it is difficult to identify clear lines of responsibility and accountability within the local government system. However, the local government system seems to have created a vacuum in revenue administration, law and order and regulatory functions pertaining to price control, food safetyand hygiene. In addition to all these, the interference of the feudal in molding administrative system to safeguard their interests, skewed priorities; voting behavior of rural voters 42 and capacity of local governments; fiscal decentralization could well be ascribed as factors in destabilizing situation of Pakistan in respect to LGs to work properly. Although local governments have not delivered best as expected yet it is believed that decentralization does have the potential to promote democratic governance. Hence, it provides opportunities to the poor not only to improve their lives43 but also to become a stakeholder in the government though at a very basic level. An analysis of Pakistan’s experience with devolution plan provides important insights about the factors imperative for strengthening decentralization. One such factor is an understanding of the local context. Models do not work unless they fit the local context. Central and provincial levels of government in Pakistan also need to undergo a reformation and restructuring process in line with decentralization process. Community participation is vital in a true spirit of democracy and must be reflected at all levels of election. Accountability as a critical and important condition for any decentralization process to strengthen democratic governance must be ensured at all costs. It is important to note that no action on the basis of audit of local governments in Pakistan has ever been taken which is a testimony to the fact that corruption is non-existent-an unbelievable proposition in the context of Pakistan as not only the local but the international monitory bodies decry. Decentralization demands consistency and should be viewed as part of a larger process of the social construction of citizenship44. Devolution in Pakistan has been primarily a top down political strategy are a subject of the provincial government. According to the article 140-A of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan; it should be left up to them to design and plan local government system. Hence, it will promote and strengthen democratic governance according to their local needs and context.

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5Vernon Bogdanor, “Politics and Reform of Local Government”,Oxford Review of Education 2 no.1 (1976): 3-15.

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11Shahrukh Rafi Khan, Pakistan Under Mushrraf 1999-2002 (Lahore: Vanguard Books, 2004), 14.

12Pervez Mushrraf, In The Line of Fire (London: Simon & Schruster Publisher, 2006), 165.

13Muhammad Waseem, Democratization in Pakistan: A Study of 2002 Elections (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 66.

14M.P.Singh and Veena Kukreja, ed., Pakistan, Democracy, Development and Security Issue (Karachi: Paramount Publishing Enterprise, 2005), 65.

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19(Steiner 2007)

20Oxhorn, Philip.,Tulchin, S. Joseph. &Selee, Andrew. D. (2004) (Eds) Decentralization

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44Oxhorn, Philip.,Tulchin, S. Joseph. &Selee, Andrew. D. (2004) (Eds) Decentralization

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