Academic journal article The Lahore Journal of Economics

The Endemic Crisis of Federalism in Pakistan

Academic journal article The Lahore Journal of Economics

The Endemic Crisis of Federalism in Pakistan

Article excerpt


This paper looks at the issue of federalism in Pakistan. It begins with an analysis of the conceptual paradigms of federalism and goes on to examine the history of federalism in Pakistan. The paper goes on to discuss the reasons for the failure to develop an organic federal covenant as well as discuss how the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and the 18th Amendment may be indicative of a paradigm shift. The paper concludes by presenting the way forward for federalism in Pakistan.

Keywords: Federalism, governance, Pakistan.

JEL Classification: H77, O2.

I. Introduction

This paper will examine the history of Pakistan's experiments with systems of state governance, with a view to understanding the dynamics of Pakistan's various federal arrangements and their impact over time. In doing so, this paper will argue that Pakistan has failed to establish an effective federal covenant between its constituent units, despite some incremental movements toward regional autonomy and devolution. It will further argue that, in an attempt to shift the focus of the analysis toward the agency of societal forces, the failure to create a workable national covenant has led to what may be called the syndrome of a 'failing society'. This assertion will entail an analysis of contemporary political attempts to rectify the dynamics between federating units, for charting the potential course of Pakistan's future federal arrangements.

Before one can embark on the task of tracing Pakistan's federal trajectory, however, it is necessary to theoretically identify, locate, and explicate federalism in order to comprehend its significance in the context of the Pakistani state.

II. Federalism in Conceptual Paradigms

A Working Definition of Federalism

Ronald Watts (1998) defines a federation as

a compound polity combining constituent units and a general government, each possessing powers delegated to it by the people through a constitution, each empowered to deal directly with the citizens in the exercise of a significant portion of its legislative, administrative, and taxing powers, and each directly elected by its citizens (Watts, 1998, p. 121).

As a normative concept, federalism is the advocacy of a pragmatic balancing of citizen preferences for (a) joint action for certain purposes and (b) self-government of the constituent units for other purposes.

Federalism and Social Capital

Jason Mazzone (2001) argues that federalism promotes the kinds of social relationships that allow citizens to overcome collective action barriers and get things done. That is, federalism has value because it promotes social capital or 'features of social organization such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated action' (Mazzone, 2001, p. 27).

An important benefit of dividing authority between the national government and sub-national units is that such division increases the points of political power over which citizens can exert influence in order to achieve their goals. Rather than facing a single governing entity under a federal system of government, citizen groups (whether ideological, ethnic, civic, or otherwise) can influence political outcomes by directing their resources toward local, state, and national levels. A political environment in which there are multiple sites for influence promotes the emergence of social capital because such an environment is conducive to a large number of interest groups in which citizens actively participate. Thus, federalism provides opportunities for smaller groups of the citizenry to organize and pursue their goals in a variety of settings, rather than relegating vast numbers of citizens to passive roles in a large national advocacy group which pursues its members' interests in the center. In other words, when political power is divided, it is more difficult for any single interest group to dominate. …

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