Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Playing with basic law: Devolution Plan of Musharraf - 1

BBC's Tim Sebastian had ruined Tanveer Naqvi Lt. General [General Musharraf's National Reconstruction Bureau's Chief Planner] and his so-called Devolution Plan in one of his program Hard Talk. One must have joined issue with Lt.-Gen (Rtd) Tanvir Naqvi when he says that the army has ``the right`` to amend the Constitution. Speaking on the BBC, the chief of the National Reconstruction Bureau, however, tried to soften the impact of his remarks by saying that the government was not going to amend ``the whole Constitution.`` This evades the real issue, which is: does the army have a right at all to amend the nation`s basic law?

As per Daily Dawn Columnist Mr Ayaz Amir [dated 21 April 2000 i.e. One year after Illegal Martial Law Regime of General Musharraf and Co] had written on the cronies in General Musharraf's Cabinet


But to return to the wizards of this dispensation, the strangest case is that of Lt-Gen Tanvir Naqvi and his district devolution plan. No kidding, Gen Naqvi is a bright officer. Whoever heard him speaking during the Zarb-I-Momin military exercises when General Aslam Beg was army chief came away greatly impressed. But the profession of arms is one thing, politics quite another. Has he ever cast his vote in an election? Has he ever been near a village polling station in his life? I doubt it. If a delegation of NATO commanders were visiting Pakistan the best person to address them from the present crop of serving or retired generals would be Gen Naqvi. But if an election plan were being put together I would keep Gen Naqvi at a distance of a hundred miles.

SDPI Research and News Bulletin

“Greater Provincial Autonomy”

During 2004 ANP Senator Asfandyar Wali said when Gen Pervez Musharraf assumed power and presented his seven- point agenda, there was a little hope as it contained the issue of provincial disharmony. However, he said, the devolution plan presented by Lt-Gen (retired) Tanveer Naqvi even snatched a little bit autonomy which the provinces had been enjoying. He said the devolution should be from federal to provinces and then from provinces to districts. By putting the districts directly under the federal system for six years, the provincial governments have been made post offices and the chief ministers should be called postmasters general, he added.


Lets have a look at the so-called Refroms thrusted down the throats of 170 Million Pakistanis by A MARTIAL LAW REGIME during 1999-2007. International Crisis Group had published a detailed and an impartial report in 2004. For kind perusal

Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression? 22 March 2004



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.


To the Government of Pakistan:

1. Demonstrate a commitment to real political devolution by:

(a) placing the Local Government Ordinance (LGO) before each provincial government for review to create the necessary political acceptance of the scheme;

(b) holding local government elections on a party basis, with direct polls for district officials; and

(c) refraining from imposing political discipline on local officials and misusing them for political ends such as partisan electioneering.

2. Take steps toward decentralisation from federal to provincial levels by:

(d) reducing the number of federal ministries involved in and hence capable of exercising control over local government; and

(e) allowing the representation and participation of provincial and national assembly legislators in key local government bodies such as the district development advisory committees.

3. Devolve administrative and fiscal powers to local units, in particular by:

(f) giving district governments greater control over budgetary resources and increasing allocations for development, especially in poorer districts; and

(g) linking provincial population-based fiscal transfers to each district's level of poverty, fiscal
and development needs.

4. Improve the delivery of justice in local government through security sector reform, notably by:

(h) expediting the formation and operationalisation of district, provincial and national safety commissions and police complaints authorities; and

(i) allocating more resources and staff to the district police.

To UNDP, the international financial institutions and key donor governments, including the U.S.:

5. Encourage the Pakistan government strongly to devolve political, administrative and financial
responsibilities to the provinces.

6. Re-evaluate and reorder devolution program assistance in order to emphasise sustained help for wider institutional reforms that address the longstanding problems of poverty, economic growth, public sector corruption and inefficiency.

7. Link support for devolution to progress on police reforms and provide budgetary support and other assistance to improve service incentives and conditions and build capacity for investigation and prosecution functions.


On 14 August 2000, President Musharraf unveiled his government's Local Government Plan, intended to build genuine democratic institutions and empower the people at the grassroots. The main stated objectives are political devolution, administrative decentralisation, and the redistribution of resources to local governments. In his words:

The basic issue is to empower the impoverished and make the people the master of their own destiny. We want to introduce essence of democracy and not sham democracy, which promotes the privileged. Devolution will bring far-reaching consequences and will change [the] fate of the country. In reviving local governments, Musharraf was following in the footsteps of his predecessors. Successive military rulers have typically instituted lower tiers of government as a
substitute for democratisation at the provincial and national levels. Local governments have mainly been used to:
(1) depoliticise governance;
(2) create a new political elite to challenge and undermine the political opposition;
(3) demonstrate the democratic credentials of a regime to domestic and external audiences;
(4) undermine federalism by circumventing constitutional provisions for provincial political, administrative, and fiscal autonomy.
Like his predecessors, Musharraf quickly seized upon local government. Within a month of his coup, he set up a National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) under a retired general to develop a scheme for devolution. Drafted with technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the "Local Government Plan 2000" (LG Plan 2000) called for reestablishment of elected councils at the sub-district and district levels just like President and Field Marshal Ayub's Basic Democracy and President and General Zia-ul-Haq's local bodies. But unlike previous systems, Musharraf's plan promised to vest extensive political and administrative authority in district and sub-district governments by providing for matching federal and provincial grants to help them fulfil their new responsibilities. Each level was to have an elected nazim and naib nazim (mayor and deputy mayor), elected councils and administration. For the first time in Pakistan's history, elected officials were to be placed at the apex of district government, with executive powers and responsibilities for law and order to "ensure the supremacy of the political leadership over the administration" . While the ostensible aim of Musharraf's devolution scheme may be the transfer of administrative, political and financial authority to the lower tiers of government, the reality is starkly different. Local governments in fact exercise only nominal autonomy with respect to administrative and financial matters in their respective jurisdictions. Sweeping as it looks, the new system's telltale mandate is in the requirement that all local elections must be partyless. Local governments have proved to be key instruments in the military's manipulation of the Pakistani polity to ensure regime survival. District nazims (mayors) used public funds and other state resources to stage pro-Musharraf rallies during the April 2002 presidential referendum and to support the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam) (PML-Q)'s parliamentary candidates in the 2002 national polls. Local governments have also had significant utility for the military's divide-and rule tactics. By juxtaposing more than 100 new local governments between it and the provinces, the centre, where the military continues to maintain its grip on the levers of state power, has been strengthened at the cost of Pakistan's four federating units. If Pakistan's chequered political history is any barometer, the question of devolution cannot be addressed in isolation from the larger issue of provincial autonomy. Devolution of power, authority and resources is central to the viability of any multi-ethnic, multi-regional state. Although the federal principle is enshrined in the 1973 constitution, Pakistan's civil-military ruling elite has been averse to devolving powers to the provincial level. Instead, it has often used the administrative and coercive powers at its disposal to extend the centre's control over the provinces.
Since military-inspired devolution is directed to local levels, it enhances tensions between the centre and the provinces. Such schemes undermine the very concept of federalism and increase ethno-regional rifts. This centralisation of power and authority led to Pakistan's break-up in 1971, when the East wing rebelled against the centre's political control and fiscal exploitation. In present-day Pakistan, ethnic tensions, fuelled by bitter resentment against a Punjabi-dominated military, are rising in the smaller federal units of Sindh, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). In the Punjab itself, Pakistan's largest province, the military has bargained opportunistically along biradari (caste, tribal, sub-regional) lines and unleashed equally divisive forces by deliberately suppressing party politics. This report examines President Musharraf's devolution scheme in relation to its stated political, administrative, financial, and law enforcement objectives and assesses the impact on political stability, federal-provincial relations, and ethno-regional relations.



While rudimentary forms had existed in parts of British India, the colonial state's need for centralised, authoritarian rule mitigated against the development of any real elected system of local government. Pakistan inherited the British system in which the deputy commissioner (DC) (administrative head of the district) virtually controlled all facets of district government: administration, development, revenue and criminal justice. Upon assuming power in 1958, Pakistan's first military ruler, General Ayub Khan, opted for an elaborate, though nominally empowered, local bodies scheme. Having suspended the constitution, the regime needed for its survival to create at least a semblance of democratic representation at some level. In 1959, Ayub formally introduced his "Basic Democracy" (BD) plan, declaring that the nation was not yet ready for full democracy. "The scheme of Basic Democracies" , he said, "has been evolved after a careful study of the experience of other countries and of the special conditions prevailing in our land". Under Basic Democracy, the country was divided into 80,000 wards (single member constituencies of 1,000 to 1,200 people each) to elect a "Basic Democrat" on a non-party basis. Local councils were created at the district and sub-district levels of union, tehsil (West Pakistan) and thana (East Pakistan). Roughly half the members of local councils were officially nominated, not directly elected. While these councils received state funds to perform municipal and civic functions, the district administrative bureaucracy retained virtually total authority over them, including the powers to overrule council decisions and suspend the execution of their orders. Besides serving on the local councils, Basic Democrats constituted the Electoral College that selected the president. In 1960, Ayub used this new institution to have himself confirmed as president for five years through a referendum that gave him a 95.6 per cent vote. Having abrogated the 1956 constitution, Ayub promulgated a new one in March 1962. Federal in principle, it established a unitary, presidential government. As president, Ayub arrogated to himself unchallenged executive powers and the authority to dismiss the national and provincial legislatures.

Provincial autonomy was circumscribed further through the appointment of governors, answerable to the centre. Basic Democrats were retained as the Electoral College for both the President and members of the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. In creating these local bodies, Ayub's intent was not to decentralise or democratise authority but to extend centralised control over the federal units through a new grass roots political base. The scheme was remarkably well orchestrated for extending direct patronage to, and manipulation of local power structures. Controlling access to the state's resources, the district bureaucracy was able to
penetrate and manipulate local politics by dealing directly with the new elite, bypassing politicians and political parties and thus isolating them from the general electorate. In this way, governance was depoliticised and localised under the control of centrally appointed bureaucrats. At the end of his presidential tenure in 1965, Ayub sought re-election in a contested poll. While he defeated his principal civilian opponent, Fatima Jinnah, allegations of electoral rigging and manipulation from the opposition further weakened the declining credibility of his local government system. The denial of provincial autonomy and systematic suppression of political views fuelled domestic dissent and, combined with skewed economic policies that mostly benefited a small industrial elite, exacerbated polarisation along regional, class and ethnic lines. In East Pakistan, resentment over denial of economic and political autonomy by a Punjabi-dominated civil-military establishment galvanised a popular movement for provincial autonomy under Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's Awami League. In the western wing, lack of opportunity for political participation and coercive authoritarian rule bred alienation and frustration among ethno-regional groups, urban intelligentsia, students and labour unions. By 1969, violent protests and countrywide strikes crippled Ayub's authority. As it declined, the military high command withdrew its support and handed power to his army chief, General Yahya Khan. One of Yahya's first steps was to scrap "Basic Democracy". Lacking legitimacy and public sanction, Ayub's discredited system did not survive its creator. But Ayub's political engineering, aimed at legitimising the military's control over politics at every level, undermined federalism, exacerbated regional frictions and culminated in civil war and dismemberment of the Pakistani state.


In July 1977, the army under General Zia-ul-Haq deposed the elected Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Ironically, local government had remained defunct during the brief democratic interlude from 1972 to 1977. Although the PPP government promulgated a People's Local Government Ordinance in 1975, the elections were never held. Like Ayub, Zia saw merit in instituting local bodies in order to cloak a highly centralised, authoritarian system of government under the garb of decentralisation. In September 1979, he revived local governments through provincial ordinances. Unlike with Ayub's BDs, some functions of provincial governments were delegated to local bodies but they were to operate under provincial control. Zia established three tiers of local government in rural
areas: union councils (consisting of villages), tehsil (sub-district) committees and zila (district) councils. In urban areas, town committees were established for towns with populations between 5,000 and 30,000; municipal committees for towns with a population up to 250,000, and municipal/metropoli tan corporations for major cities (Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi) with populations in excess of 250,000. Elections to union councils/town committees were held in 1979, 1983, and 1987 on a non-party basis, with 80 per cent of members elected by universal adult suffrage and 20 per cent reserved for peasants, workers, tenants, and women. Councillors served as the electoral college for choosing the heads (chairmen and vice chairmen) of zila and tehsil councils.
The main responsibility of the local councils was to manage small-scale public welfare and development activities (water supply, sanitation, maintenance and management of hospitals and schools) in their jurisdictions. The list of council functions was extensive but the revenue base was limited despite the delegation of some taxation powers by provincial governments. The bulk of their funds came as federal transfers and to a lesser extent allocations from provincial Annual
Development Programs (ADP). Similar to the BD scheme, Zia's local councils were not entrusted with general administration, law and order or policing, which were retained by civil bureaucrats (commissioners and deputy commissioners) who also served as ex officio, non-voting, members of these councils. Unlike the BD system, Zia's local government officials did not form an electoral college for provincial or national assemblies or the presidency. In the first local bodies elections, in September 1979, the Awam Dost (Friends of the People) group, a cover name for the Pakistan People's Party, secured significant representation. Their success was a rude shock to the military government. To forestall their victory, Zia postponed indefinitely national elections scheduled for 17 and 20 November 1979. The primary motivations for Zia to create local bodies was to legitimise the military government, broaden its support base beyond the military, and use the newly created and pliable local elite to undermine its political opponents. In essence, the local bodies provided the "civilian base of his military government, supporting it in return for economic and political benefits". Gradually, these local governments became a vast mechanism for extending state patronage to pro-military politicians, providing the military government with ample scope for staging favourable, non-partisan elections. In due course, the new local elites formed the core of Zia's rubber stamp parliament, elected in non-party national elections in 1985. But these local bodies could not assuage popular demands for participation or bestow any lasting legitimacy on the military government.

Eventually, a revolt within the parliament triggered by the military's refusal to share any meaningful authority with elected politicians led to dissolution of the democratic façade it had so assiduously manufactured. Tainted by its association with a military dictator, Zia's local government scheme was allowed to decay under elected governments in the 1990s. Local bodies were dissolved in the NWFP in 1991, in Sindh in 1992 and a year later in the Punjab province. While corruption and mismanagement were often cited, the primary reason for scrapping these local bodies was almost always political. Wary of the electoral influence of local officials, elected governments preferred to run local councils through appointed administrators, regular federal and/or provincially appointed civil servants. "Unfortunately, elected governments were at loggerheads with local bodies", says a senior PPP politician, "because they wanted to keep local politics under control for fear of losing out to their rivals".


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