The 18th Constitutional Amendment was nothing short of a legislative revolution, and the most significant move towards the consolidation of democratic federalism in Pakistan’s history. In an ailing polity plagued with civil unrest, ethnic and religious violence, demographic and economic disparities and inter-provincial conflict, constitutional arrangements such as the 18th Amendment promising provincial autonomy and devolved governance offer an opportunity for future peace and stability. Yet, there is a lack of public awareness about this historical constitutional development and few understand what federalism and decentralization mean for Pakistan. Even more alarming is how the core concepts of federalism and decentralization are sparsely taught at the University level in the disciplines of Political Science, Pakistan Studies, Public Administration and Law. Where they are taught, courses are generally tailored around the historical narrative of grievances and lack comparative knowledge about other federally organized countries.
In order to address these deficits and explore possibilities for teaching contemporary constitutional federalism the Centre for Civic Education with support from UNDP organized a five day course for academia. Twenty young scholars and faculty members from various public universities from all four provinces of Pakistan and Islamabad participated in the course, bringing with them a diverse set of opinions and experiences to allow for enriching, meaningful interactions and exchange of ideas.
The course on Pakistani Federalism and Decentralization is part of UNDP’s project ‘Strengthening Participatory Federalism and Decentralization’ aimed at providing support for the implementation of the 18th Amendment by informing, facilitating, and optimizing the process of transition management at federal, provincial and grassroot levels.
It focussed on the concepts, issues and policy options for federalism and decentralization in Pakistan with suggested methodology for embedding these concepts in existing university courses or introducing new courses on the subject at host universities. Renowned academics, policy practitioners and subject specialists including Dr. Jaffar Ahmed, Dr. Muhammad Waseem, Dr. Pervez Tahir, Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Asma Faiz and Mr. Ahmed Mahmood Zahid formed the faculty for this course. Participants dissected the issues highlighted by the faculty in interactive sessions.
Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmed, Professor of Politics, History and Director at the Pakistan Study Centre, Karachi University elaborated on the theoretical concepts of federalism, the historical roots of federalism in Pakistan and the responses of Pakistan’s three constitutions to federalism. Dr. Jaffar also discussed the treatment of provincial aspirations and centrist tendencies during military and civil rules. He said that the military by its very nature is centrist and inclined towards uniformity, and so military rule in Pakistan has led to the stifling of provincial aspirations.
Mr. Amjad Bhatti, National Technical Advisor at the UNDP discussed devolution in Pakistan with regards to local government. He elaborated on the impact of constitutional failure on governance and its contribution to development deficits in Pakistan. He said that the existing local government legislation in all four Provinces is deficient, and not in compliance with the principals of devolution stipulated in Article 140 A of the constitution.
During the final session of the day, Zafarullah Khan the Executive Director of CCEP discussed federalism in the light of the “Raza Rabanni Model of Consensus Building” commenting that the 18th Amendment offers hope as it has strengthened federal democratic institutions through which outstanding issues among the provinces can be resolved amicably and past mistakes can be corrected. He said that political reconciliation is the only viable solution to internal conflicts.
Scholars also covered the theme of Political Economy of Federalism. Dr. Muhammad Waseem, Professor of Political Science at LUMS, discussed the evolution of federalism in a regional perspective and dissected the contents of the 18th Constitutional Amendment. Ms. Asma Faiz, who also teaches Political Science at LUMS discussed social change in Pakistan with regards to federalism. She highlighted the potential of federalism for peaceful management of diversity and also outlined the perils of such a political system. She said that the future of the Pakistani Federation depends on the management of emerging identities, migration, minorities within minorities and the response to demands for new provinces.
On the fourth day, participants discussed the role of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) post 18th Amendment with the Senior Joint Secretary for the Ministry of the Interprovincial Coordination Shahzad Iqbal. Mr. Iqbal said that the 18th Amendment restored the 1973 Constitution in true letter and spirit and empowered the CCI which is now a dynamic body that has been meeting every 90 days and deliberating on key issues. He clarified that through the CCI the constitution has given a say to the provinces over the issues of federal government and not the other way around. Zafarullah Khan, added that the CCI embodies the emergence of spirit of a cooperative federal culture in Pakistan. He covered the theme of governance of federal capitals and in particular issues of representation, finance, local administration and governance of Islamabad.
The themes of Fiscal Federalism and Civil and Military Services were covered on the final day of this course. Ex-Secretary Inter-Provincial Coordination Mr. Ahmed Mahmud Zahid discussed the institutional design of federalism with regards to CCI and IPC. He highlighted the importance of the CCI in the post-18th Amendment Pakistan calling for the need to allow the provinces to use this forum as a platform. He also expressed the need for the CCI to be given its constitutionally mandated secretariat.
In the second session Dr. Pervez Tahir who has served as Chief Economist of the Planning Commision discussed the Pakistani experience of fiscal federalism and took up the case studies of NFC and NEC. Dr. Tahir said that disregard of diversity in Pakistan has led to economic diversity and while the 7th NFC Award has given accommodation to diversity it is not enough to correct past and prevent future disparity, an institutional architecture that is in line with the spirit of the constitution is needed. He said that the FBR needs to undergo structural reform which must be supplemented with provincial control over natural resources. Further, Provincial Finance Commisions must be revitalized to prevent disparity at the local level.
In the final session of the course, Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at the FCC University Lahore discussed the composition of Military in Pakistan and its impact on civil-military relations. Dr. Shafqat said that the historical patterns of recruitment in colonial times based on the martial-race theory led to the creation of military elite in Northern India. This class also contributed to the creation of new elites in Pakistan’s early history, and together they bypassed the provincial and national political leadership in keeping power at the centre, leading to the weakening of democratic federalism. Discussing Post-18th Amendment administrative structures, Dr. Shafqat called for a bottom-up approach to civil service reform in Pakistan with a special focus on Grades 1-16 which is the face of government. Pakistan needs to see the revival of the spirit of public service and develop a modern, citizen-friendly bureaucracy.
The Course concluded in Islamabad with a resolve to make taught courses on political science contemporaneous by integrating studies on recent constitutional developments into the curriculum. It is hoped that such initiatives will encourage academics and scholars to undertake research and teaching on topics of federalism, decentralization and social accountability so that future generations can understand the importance of political expression of diversity in creating a more stable and prosperous Pakistan.