Mar 29 - Apr 4, 2010

Right from the beginning, Pakistan has been facing big challenges but the most difficult one has been the establishment of a true democratic system of governance. Democracy has not taken firm roots in Pakistan because of several factors and one of these is that our democratically elected governments did not ever pay proper attention to the local government institutions.

Since independence, we have been living in the environment of turmoil and uncertainties in which no government did authorize the local bodies with the administrative powers pertaining to the inhabitants of particular area. Local government institutions were always neglected by the elected governments of Pakistan.

Our rulers wanted to acquire extra-ordinary powers to centralize practically all policy matters in all spheres of the State and there was little or no scope for the local bodies to exert their control. Despite knowing the fact that democracy can not be ensured without decentralization of power, political leaders of Pakistan did not encourage the decentralization of power which, in turn, misbalanced the democratic system in the country.

It is more or less axiomatic that the local government institutions had received great attention by military governments rather than by the democratic governments. If we analyze the system under Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq, we can say that they had made serious attempts to establish local government institutions. Ayub Khan provided institutional framework to the local government institutions by promulgating the "Basic Democracies Order" and he established 80,000 rural and town wards through a four tier system. Zia-ul-haq also held the election of local bodies according to the Local Government Ordinance 1979 but the myth of the democratic nature of these local bodies had exposed very soon. In reality, military rulers wanted to strengthen one-man rule under the garb of democracy. They gave minor, petty and ceremonial powers to the local government institutions. The main objective of the military dictators was to achieve firm control over the country.

In 1999 (COAS) Pervaiz Musharraf had taken over the government. He established an institution National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) which launched the "Local Self-Government Plan 2000. This plan was trumpeted to bring about a major transformation in Pakistan's system of local government, especially at the grass-root level. This plan had been much talked about and discussed a lot in the country. NRB proposed a three tiers system comprising: union councils, tehsil councils and the district governments. One of the major changes in district administration was the reduction in the powers of bureaucracy. Most of the powers were transferred from bureaucrats to the elected Nazims.

Despite these revolutionary reforms, this system had not produced positive results. General Musharraf introduced the so-called, unprecedented reforms in the administrative field to reduce the influence of bureaucracy and made it public-friendly but in reality, it had increased the cost of local government manifold. It was a point to ponder that a mere matriculate District Nazim dominated the well-trained bureaucracy. Under this plan, the basic aim of the military government appears to be targeted so as to take the powers (authority) away from the provincial governments, the political parties and the bureaucracy; its main political nemesis. This would give the impression of political participation by the citizens of the state without causing a dent in the centralized concentration of powers at the centre. In reality this exercise could be termed as a political mirage.

As a result of this constitutional trapping, the bureaucrats, under the shadow of provincial governments, had started to regain their lost powers because the provincial authorities had begun to reassert their control over the lower tiers. All this did not help the democracy to flourish in the country. This cosmetic arrangement had no bearing towards practicing democracy. We may conclude that the military dictators brought the democracy to its knees because true sprit of democracy, decentralization of power, was nonexistent in their systems.

On 18th Feb 2008, President holds countrywide general election. As a result of the election, the main winning parties i.e. the PPP (in centre), having clear mandate, PML (N), ANP and MQM have formed the coalition governments. At last this matrix raised the hopes for democracy among masses. Finally, Pakistan has a civilian democratic set-up in the country which is a thumping defeat for Musharraf's dictatorship and triumph of democracy. So far, even after the nearly two years of its existence, our civilian democratic leadership has not shown any significant semblance of change in their approach towards local self government or return to sound democratic values at grass roots level in our society.

Democratic forces are still struggling to attain the legal autonomy for local bodies. To establish a democratic system, decentralization of power at the grass root level is necessary provision which has been clearly compromised by the present government. They just want to strengthen the hold of their party on governmental machinery. That's why they did not encourage the elections of local bodies and centralized the whole structure of government. Our politicians are playing a double-game whereby they pretend to be with the people working for their good but in reality they are struggling every minute for their own well-being and political longevity. This game has been played by all the high and the mighty of Pakistan since 1947. That is why democracy could not take firm roots in Pakistan. The present democratic setup is likely to, yet again make the country fractured and fragile. This is a fatal blow to democracy.

We must think that what democracy needs the most in Pakistan are not more experiments but proper attention to the basic principles of democracy. The basic pillar of democratic dispensation is decentralization of power that must never be lost the sight of. Otherwise the price to pay for such political delinquencies may be unacceptably high. It is advised that the present government has to give proper attention toward the local bodies elections and it must endow these local political institutions with complete legal autonomy to ensure the functioning of democracy in the country.