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Initiating Devolution for Service Delivery in Pakistan: Ignoring the Power Structure: Local Power in Pakistan

 Local Power in Pakistan G K Lieten Any book with a title that refers to democracy and to the devolution of political power in Pakistan will lead to raised eyebrows. In its long post- independence history, moments of democracy in Pakistan have been very few. It took 10 years for a constitution to be framed but the first military coup by Ayub Khan ensured that it was not promulgated. The first constitution which he promulgated in 1962 was more secular than Islamic, but it also adopted the principle of partyless democracy and elections could not take place. One decade later, elections landed Pakistan in a turmoil, with Mujibur Rahman leading east Pakistan with a landslide victory to independence. After the formation of Bangladesh, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the remainder of Pakistan (i e, west Pakistan) could not remain in power for long. A public hanging brought an end to his populist rule, a rule which was left-leaning in its public messages and conservative in its policies.

BOOK REVIEW

Local Power in Pakistan

G K Lieten

plan of the government of Pakistan), which was officially aimed at building an institutional model that empowers the poor and increases efficiency and transparency, was based on subsidiarity, i e, delegating

A
ny book with a title that refers to democracy and to the devolution of political power in Pakistan will lead to raised eyebrows. In its long postindependence history, moments of democracy in Pakistan have been very few.

It took 10 years for a constitution to be framed but the first military coup by Ayub Khan ensured that it was not pro mulgated. The first constitution which he promulgated in 1962 was more secular than Islamic, but it also adopted the principle of partyless democracy and elections could not take place. One decade later, elections landed Pakistan in a turmoil, with Mujibur Rahman leading east Pakis tan with a landslide victory to indepen dence. After the formation of Bangladesh, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the remainder of Pakistan (i e, west Pakistan) could not remain in power for long. A public hanging brought an end to his populist rule, a rule which was left-leaning in its public messages and conservative in its policies.

The stage was set for a new period of dictatorship, this time by Zia-ul-Haque in close cooperation with the US and in confrontation with the communist regime in Taliban. It was the period, particularly from the mid-1980s onwards, when the madrasas were pampered, and all varieties of Muslim orthodoxy were financially and militarily supported. Massive support was routed through bin Laden, the scion of a prominent Saudi family with intimate ties with the then Bush senior administration in the US. Pakistan was a frontline state in the fight against communism. Democracy was a hindrance.

When finally around 1990, after widespread agitation, elections were organised again, Pakistan reeled under the inefficient, corrupt and undemocratic regimes of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who both came to power twice but who both even on the second occasion had not learned the lesson of their previous downfall and continued an autocratic rule. Pakistan in all these years, except for the 1990s, did not do badly economically.

Economic & Political Weekly december 22, 2007

Initiating Devolution for Service Delivery in Pakistan: Ignoring the Power Structure

by Shahrukh Rafi Khan, Foqia Sadiq Khan and Aasim Sajjad Akhtar; Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2007; pp 273, $ 8.99.

In terms however, of human and cultural develop ment, it was kept on a slow and reactionary track.

Devolution and Democracy

Democracy thus has not come easily to Pakistan. When Pervez Musharraf came to power, he was known as a military commander and as a coup leader. Nevertheless, he went around collecting some of the more progressive and socially more committed public leaders as advisors and ministers, along with a retinue of conservative aristocrats. One of the untainted and progressive public figures was Omar Asghar Khan, who became minister of local government and rural development and with whom the writers of the book under review were associated. Under the new dispensation after 1999, new life was given to elections, particularly to local elections. The new government considered the devolution of power to the grassroots level as the answer to failing democracy. Community empowerment is generally supposed, as the authors argue in the introductory chapter, to lower transaction costs, to increase accountability and to harness local involvement in state structures. The book deals with this aspect of Pakistan. The issue is dealt with on the basis of empirical evidence. The authors should have also examined the devolution of power elsewhere in the world, parti cularly in India.

The question is whether devolution of power will increase democratic participation and whether it will deliver. The authors rightly argue that any analysis of the devolution of power in the first place has to address the question of power itself. The book starts with an indicative model of successful devolution, a model which is only one of the many that have been constructed. This model (the devolution the state functions to the lowest possible level. Elections on a party basis, service delivery committees, accountability at the village level, empowering poor people, local justice at the doorstep (insaf committees) and sufficient finances through state provisions and local taxes formed the basic elements of the new model.

The authors had argued in the introductory pages that such a model could not possibly work unless land reforms were implemented. A separate chapter is devoted to the chequered trajectory of land reforms. Reforms are not only a matter of the transfer of land from the big landowners – 1 per cent of the farms of 10 hectares and more cultivate 18 per cent of the land

– but particularly of the wider issues involved in a successful and comprehensive land reform policy. Distribution of land, of which there has not been much in Pakistan, on its own would not lift the masses out of poverty. Only much more radical and comprehensive reforms would allow the millions of small peasants to achieve sustainable livelihoods. More state support was needed in the form of social justice and economic efficiency. Since this has not happened, the outcome of the investi gation of the functioning of local democracy, which follows in the next chapters, is a foregone conclusion.

The main chapters of the book are based on empirical studies of the election procedures, election results and characteristics of the stakeholders in the 2001 local elections. The purpose of the research was to do a field-based investigation of the influence of landed power on local elections. The local government elections in 2001 were conducted in different stages. In the first stage (chapter 5) different tehsils in Larkana (Sindh) and Muzaffargarh (Punjab) were studied. In later stages (chapter 6), Khuzdar (Baluchistan) and Mansehra (NWFP) were also included.

A statistical model was developed, although quantitative data were not considered appropriate for this type of analysis and a quantitative research was done. The quantitative model, to which

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various quantifiable variables as well as This is a recurrent finding. The power less quantifiable variables (e g, intimida-pyramid was still in place but it was less

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tion, political capital) were plotted, does not add to the analysis, and actually is hardly used as a tool of analysis. The book could have done very well with only the qualitative matter. Both the substantive chapters start with an analysis of the qualitative findings of the district and then move on to give a detailed picture of how elections were conducted in the different tehsils. It makes interesting reading, if only for the fact that this is one of the few first-hand sources on (local) elections in Pakistan. But it is also interesting because it shows a varied outcome.

Land Determines Votes

In Muzaffargarh, a fairly developed agrarian district in the Punjab, landed income was the main source of income of the candidates and they wielded enormous power, but, in general, poor voters were aware of the options and consequences. They voted with these options in mind, even though the options had to be exercised within the elite power dynamics. In Larkana, the seat of the Bhutto family and other feudal families, people did not vote independently. Land played a crucial role since a big landlord was also the ‘wadero’ (head) of the ‘biraderi’ (community) and the local leader of a political party. Politics was based on a classic pattern of patron-client relationship. Sharecropping, poverty and disempowerment contributed to the influence of big landowners. The landed class was not only a source of livelihood for the rural poor people, but it also mediated between the state bureaucracy and the poor. It exerted power and mediated in the delivery of services. Both in Muzaffargarh and in Larkana the powerful landed families within the biraderi called the shots.

In the two other provinces, the sardari system and the quom and biraderi system were determining the election outcomes. Land in the Baluchi and NWfP areas is not scarce, but the power of the syeds and the tribal chief to regulate social order and to control access to the land remained important. However, the authors note that in this area too, the expansion of the economy and diversification have made the household less dependent and less in awe of the village notables.

absolute and people knew that they could make independent decisions, and often did so. Intimidation and vote fraud were not uncommon, but at the same time, the voters were satisfied with the freedom of choice and with the democratic nature of the elections. This throws a different light on what is usually referred to as the Musharraf dictatorship. The study also illustrates the basically secular character of Pakistani society. The candidates did not benefit from association with a prominent religious person or organisation. The control of land and money was so much more important. Elections, that is the general conclusion, did not help to diffuse power and bring the development extension services closer to the rural poor.

Inclusive Study Needed

A separate rather longish chapter is devoted to the functioning of the local courts. In society, the poor (and women) were systematically discriminated against. Whereas “the poor shunned the police and the courts, … the rich were more likely to engage the formal system as a mark of their status, and because they could purchase justice” (p 233). Devolution of the political system thus in any case would also need an involvement with the judicial system and a confrontation with the feudal entrenchment.

The chapter on the functioning of the courts, and the book generally, provides good material on how devolution in Pakistan was taken in hand, how elections were organised and how the institution failed to deliver. But the study that one is still waiting for is a study of the impact of devolution. The authors claim that the limited devolution did not work because the elite has captured the local councils and that land reforms would be a necessary prerequisite for a more democratic involvement at the grassroots level. Land is one crucial factor, but politics is an interplay of many other crucial factors. Those other factors have not been included sufficiently in this study. When Pakistani scholarship comes to maturity, more substantive studies around this issue may be expected.

Email: g.c.m.lieten@uva.nl

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december 22, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly

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