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Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression?
Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Building a Just Peace for Women in Pakistan’s Tribal Belt
Building a Just Peace for Women in Pakistan’s Tribal Belt
Report 77 / Asia

Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression?

Pakistan's military government launched a campaign for political devolution in 2000 that it said was aimed at transferring administrative and financial power to local governments.

Executive Summary

Pakistan's military government launched a campaign for political devolution in 2000 that it said was aimed at transferring administrative and financial power to local governments. The scheme was to strengthen local control and accountability and, according to President Pervez Musharraf, "empower the impoverished". In practice, however, it has undercut established political parties and drained power away from the provinces while doing little to minimise corruption or establish clear accountability at a local level. The reforms, far from enhancing democracy, have strengthened military rule and may actually raise the risks of internal conflict.

Under the Devolution of Power Plan announced in August 2000, local governments were to be elected on a non-party basis in phased voting between December 2000 and July 2001. District and sub-district governments have since been installed in 101 districts, including four cities. Operating under its respective provincial Local Government Ordinance 2001, each has its Nazim and Naib Nazim (mayor and deputy mayor), elected council and administration.

Like previous local government plans, Musharraf's called for re-establishing elected local councils at district and sub-district levels. It promised substantial autonomy for elected local officials and, most notably, placed an elected official as overall head of district administration, management and development, reversing a century-old system that subordinated elected politicians to bureaucrats.

Musharraf's scheme ostensibly aimed at establishing the foundations of genuine local democracy. However, the main rationale for devolution was and remains regime legitimacy and survival. Aside from the widespread allegations of rigging and manipulation that have shadowed them, the non-partisan nature of the local elections has exacerbated ethnic, caste and tribal divisions and undermined the organisational coherence of political parties.

Devolution, in fact, has proved little more than a cover for further centralised control over the lower levels of government. Despite the rhetoric from Islamabad of empowerment, local governments have only nominal powers. Devolution from the centre directly to the local levels, moreover, negates the normal concept of decentralisation since Pakistan's principal federal units, its four provinces, have been bypassed. The misuse of local government officials during the April 2002 presidential referendum and the October 2002 general elections has left little doubt that these governments were primarily instituted to create a pliant political elite that could help root the military's power in local politics and displace its traditional civilian adversaries.

Friction is growing between various levels of government, especially since the military transferred power, at least formally, to the central and provincial governments that were formed after the 2002 elections. These tensions are partly the result of the manner in which the devolution plan was devised and implemented in the absence of elected officials and against the strong opposition of the major political parties, civil society and media.

Despite its lack of domestic legitimacy, the devolution plan has considerable support from donors, who mistakenly believe it is advancing democracy and building down military rule. For now, the military's backing as well as this external support works in its favour. But low domestic acceptance undermines its long-term prospects, and the military's political engineering that accompanies it is widening divisions at the local and provincial levels. Some of these could well lead to greater domestic violence and instability.

Islamabad/Brussels, 22 March 2004

Op-Ed / Asia

Building a Just Peace for Women in Pakistan’s Tribal Belt

Originally published in The Diplomat

The renewed militancy prompted by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan threatens hard-won gains for the women of northwest Pakistan.

While the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan made headlines all over the world, one consequence of their return to power has received much less publicity: the resurgence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in neighboring Pakistan. Also known as the Pakistani Taliban, the TTP has multiplied attacks on Pakistani security forces in recent months, often from Afghan soil.

This renewed militancy could have particularly grave implications for women and girls in Pakistan’s Northwest, bordering Afghanistan. Defying all odds, women in this deeply conservative region have in recent years made major strides in gaining access to justice, and toward political and economic empowerment.  But much as the Taliban authorities are rolling back women’s rights in Afghanistan, the TTP’s re-emergence as a prominent actor in the area could soon jeopardize these hard-won gains.

Women’s activism within the region’s civil society-led social movements contributed to the July 2018 passage of the 25th amendment to the Pakistani constitution, integrating the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The amendment granted residents of the former FATA full constitutional rights and judicial protections, and ended the separate constitutional status of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA).

Read the full article on The Diplomat's website.