Will devolution make Pakistan stronger?


Dr. Farid A Malik |

Devolution is as important as freedom. Unfortunately for us only the seat of power moves while the rulers remain. From Delhi it came to Karachi, and then Islamabad and now after the 18th amendment four centers have emerged (Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar). Somehow the concept of local government is not fathomable despite the constitutional requirement. In 1973 provincial autonomy was a big issue.

In order to obtain consensus 47 subjects were placed on the concurrent list to be devolved in ten years. Also included in this was article 25-A which declared literacy as a right of the citizen to be provided within ten years. By 1985, every Pakistani had to be literate, Zia removed the time limit by inserting an amendment, “Within reasonable time”, which meant never, and yet he was allowed to live and rule.

My friend Mian Saqib Nisar the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) has vowed to defend the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This is not a small undertaking as most CJP’s before him have succumbed to pressure starting from Justice Muhammad Munir all the way down to Iftikhar Chaudhry. I am sure when Mian Saqib comes home by the end of the year we will once again play friendly cricket matches and discuss our innings.

Read more: The end of Jinnah’s Pakistan?

It is indeed interesting that dictators have always tried to develop a local government system. Ayub Khan in 1959, Zia in 1979 and Musharraf in 2001 but it was mainly for personal legitimacy and to create a bridge from federal to district to local level. The 1973 constitution required devolution in steps; first from centre to provinces and then all the way to Districts, Tehsils and Union Councils (UCs). The 18th amendment has restored the 1973 constitution and Islamabad has been cut to size, but the power has not moved down from the provincial capitals, somehow it has stuck there.

It is indeed unfortunate that adhocism prevails in the country. The 47 concurrent subjects remained with the centre even after the passage of three decades. Finally the axe came. Under the Chairmanship of Comrade Raza Rabbani, the 18th amendment was passed with no preparatory framework in the provinces resulting in serious issues of governance. There was a time that Lahore had only one Grade 22 officer, who was the Chief Secretary now it has five to six yet the level of performance has dropped tremendously and there is no serious effort to devolve power below to where it rightfully belongs.

It is indeed interesting on a personal note that I came to know about the concurrent list in 1976. As a student leader I interacted with Hafiz Pirzada who was then the Minister of Education and Inter Provincial Coordination. There was an office of this ministry on Main Boulevard Gulberg very close to Kasuri House. On inquiry I was told that this ministry was responsible for transfer of power to the provinces as envisioned in the 1973 constitution. Barrister Pirzada being the most trusted and able member of the cabinet was assigned this task. Zia’s martial law in 1977 derailed the entire process.

Twenty four years later in the year 2000, I was invited by the Chairman of National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) which was tasked for preparing devolution plan under Musharraf. I was asked for a professional opinion, which the General did not like. My approach was that the plan and its implementation mechanism should be prepared together. According to him he was only required to make a plan rest was the Chief Executives responsibility. I then asked him how it will be implemented, he said through the bureaucracy.

Musharraf’s NRB was a disaster, after the General left, his blue eyed boy Daniyal Aziz became the Chairman, year later I interacted with him and asked him about his credentials to head such an important organisation. He replied that his was a political appointment. It seems no one is serious about devolution of power as everyone wants to hold on to it. Since 1977 it has been a political circus in which several jokers and clowns were introduced. There should be a national referendum on devolution of power.

Read more: Harnessing Pakistan’s maritime opportunitie

Democracy calls for participation not exclusion of people. Decentralisation is the pillar of modern management that has been denied to the people of Pakistan despite constitutional guarantees. The American colonies revolted against the British Crown on the principle of ‘No taxation without representation’.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished here with author’s permission.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here