Purely by coincidence, I read two very closely-related items tonight. The first was this paper (PDF) by Arshad Habib weighing the pros and cons of devolution and local government, specifically in Pakistan. Basically his thesis is that this is a great idea in theory but unfortunately in Pakistan has tended to be a tool in the hands of military dictators to increase their power at the expense of the provincial government. This was particularly true in the case of Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies Ordinance of 1959, which, according to the author ended up being very reminiscent of the colonial rule:
This was the period of high economic indicators in Pakistan whereas political participation was touching the lowest ebb. The absence of common people from politics proved fatal and created one of the greatest instability in the history of Pakistan.
By comparison, Musharraf’s devolution of plan of 2000 was more promising since it involved bringing district administration under an elected representative unlike the four-tiered indirectly elected representatives of Ayub’s time. Other plus points were devolving more expenditure to the local level and reservations of seats for women and other disadvantaged groups. Unfortunately, the major disadvantage was that most of the devolution came at the expensive of the provincial government which made the centre disproportionately strong. That’s what brings me to the second item which was this report in The News of Bashir Ahmed Bilour’s statements today about how he believes that the local government system introduced in Musharraf’s time has been a major contributing factor to the weakness of the current NWFP provincial government:
Speaking as chief guest at a consultation workshop for parliamentarians on local government reforms here Thursday, Bilour said it has been acknowledged that most of the powers and resources of the provincial government were devolved to the lower level, but same was not done in case of the federal government level as per the local government ordinance.
This was interesting to me because usually one thinks of a conflict between the federal and provincial governments, but as it turns out, local government can end up adversely affecting provincial autonomy, as well.
UPDATE: I uploaded this report by The International Crisis Group about the Local Government Ordinance of 2001 (it’s available for free on their website, but requires registration).