Passage of the eighteenth amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in 2010 was rightly hailed as a major accomplishment. Not only did it devolve significant powers from the central government to the provinces, it also mandated the formation of local governments to bring government closer to the people. It took half a decade for the provinces to set up local governments—and real decision-making authority and financial resources have been even slower to arrive. In this Special Report, Syed Mohammad Ali takes stock of Pakistan’s devolution process and why its success is critical to the long-term prospects of democracy and the cultivation of new generations of democratic leaders.

Summary

  • Devolution—the statutory delegation of powers from the central government to regional and local governments—aims to make governance structures more efficient and responsive to local needs.
  • Devolution of power to local tiers of government is especially vital in heterogeneous countries like Pakistan, where large segments of the citizenry remain marginalized by centralist and patronage-based governance mechanisms.
  • Pakistan’s experience with devolving power under both its military regimes and authoritarian democratic governments remains lackluster.
  • Since coming into power in 2008, democratically elected governments agreed to devolve power from the federal to the provincial level but slow-walked the formation of local governments until 2015—and they remain reluctant to endow them with significant decision-making power and sufficient resources.
  • The future of Pakistan’s current devolutionary process remains uncertain, especially in light of increasing political turmoil ahead of upcoming general elections (currently anticipated in July 2018).
  • Despite impediments and threats to the autonomous functioning of local governments, support for devolution is of critical importance to the deepening of democratic structures and institutions as well as for the cultivation of future democratic leaders.

 

About the Report

This Special Report focuses on Pakistan’s ongoing effort to transfer power and policymaking authority from federal and provincial levels to local government. Devolution is a vital step for strengthening the democratic process and making governance structures more responsive to the needs of the people. In addition to reviewing the history of Pakistan’s previous devolution efforts and recent legislative changes, the report draws on interviews with dozens of government officials, civil society experts, academics, and others conducted in Pakistan in July 2017 to assess the needs of local government and the future of the devolution process.

About the Author

Syed Mohammad Ali is a development anthropologist with fifteen years of experience working in the international development sector on issues of marginalization and empowerment, provision of basic social services, and governance reforms. He writes a weekly op-ed for Pakistan’s Express Tribune and is currently teaching at George Washington and Johns Hopkins Universities.

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