|Devolution at last
Daily: The News
Federalism is a concept in which authority is divided between the centre and the constituent
units. The existence of a federation is recognition of the fact that the state concerned is
constituted of diverse units. A federation is a political attempt to bring the units together in
the formation of the state.
The first phase of the federal history of Pakistan, from 1947 to 1970, was encumbered with
efforts to introduce a unitary form of system of government. Both the bureaucracy and
military played their roles to deny representative democracy to the people of East and West
These attempts were contrary to the pre-Partition pledges and expectations that the
political structure of Pakistan would be federal.
The second phase of the federal history of Pakistan, from 1971 to 2007, was full of a sort of
conflict between civilian politicians and the military over who would hold the reins of power.
In this phase, the bureaucracy played second fiddle to whoever ruled in Islamabad.
The main contenders for power remained civilians and the military. Civilians asserted their
supremacy by enacting the Constitution in 1973 and thereby denied any role to the military
in national affairs. The martial law of Gen Ziaul Haq in July 1977 was an aggressive reaction
to that attempt by the civilians. As well as the civilians, Pakistan paid the price for that
From civilian ranks, primarily the religious parties propped up the military to let it perpetuate
its rule. The consequent mullah-military alliance deferred the obligation of the abolition of
the Concurrent Legislative List (CLL) of the Constitution in the 1980s.
Instead, a solution was sought through projection of Islam as a unifying force (and the
theory of pan-Islamism as an alternative global order). In short, the slogan of Islam was
considered a surrogate for a constitutional obligation.
Moreover, it was assumed that Islam would overwhelm the heterogeneity of society rooted
in various identities ranging from language, ethnicity to clan and caste.
Gen Zia had to rely on the 8th Constitutional Amendment to reconfigure the Constitution by
incorporating Islamic provisions in it, besides including Article 58 (2) (b) to empower the
president vis-a-vis the prime minister.
In the era after Ziaul Haq’s death in 1988, the politicians did not pay attention to the need
for provincial autonomy. They squandered their energies on chipping away at the powers of
The political system suffered another setback in the takeover by Gen Pervez Musharraf in
In May 2006, the heads of the PPP and the PML-N signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD)
in London. Clause 5 of the charter was on the abolition of the CLL. It was a long-standing
provincial demand, in the formula of a weak centre and empowered provinces.
The third phase of the federal history of Pakistan, starting in 2008, is marked by devolution,
the obverse side of which is provincial autonomy. While the 7th NFC Award signed by the
chief ministers of four provinces in December 2009 empowered provinces financially, the
enactment of the 18th Constitutional Amendment in April 2010 empowered the provinces
The CLL was finally abolished through the amendment. Subsequently, the process of
devolution was completed on June 30, 2011, and all 17 federal ministries identified earlier
for devolution were made provincial subjects.
On July 1, the federation of Pakistan entered the post-devolution phase. Devolution has
enhanced the stakes of the provinces in the political system. It is hoped that the provinces
will be able to improve the quality of governance and make it difficult for the military to
intervene on the pretext of “saving the country.”
Back to columns in 2011