Research Papers

Local Governance in Pakistan-Historical Review (1947-2018)- Fasiha Maryam


This paper highlights the evolutionary achievements in local government in Pakistan. Of course, these developments are nothing special, but still to some extent different governments have played their part. These modest developments at the grassroots level or at the district and provincial levels have gradually strengthened Pakistan’s local government. The same activities and improvements are mentioned in this paper. In this paper, the improvements made so far since the independence of Pakistan have been discussed respectively. Many different acts was passed for organizing the local governments, like Sindh Local Authority Service Act 1947, Baluchistan Municipal Act 1946, N.W.F.P Municipal Act 1950, Town Improvement Act 1953, Village Aid Programme (1954) and many other till 2018. And this study will also introduce the structure of local government in Pakistan at its grass-root level. Most importantly, this study will critically evaluate the role of very recent government of PML(N), that how it took steps for its successful growth.


Central government and provincial governments have their own broad goals and targets to achieve in the light of their given powers. Because of their heavy duties, they have no required knowledge to manage the local issues and not able to deal with grass-root level. Therefore, there is need to an authority to deal with these issues, formed local government. Local self-government refers to manage the local affairs; like villages or towns by elected local representatives.

SIDGWICK, says that the term local government means the organs, which though completely subordinate to the central legislature, are independence of central executive in appointment and to some extent in their decisions and exercise a partially independent control over certain parts of public finance.” (Khan)

As Maciver says, local government plays three types of functions to fulfill its goals. First, to develop standards of community and to enhance national importance, this is belonged to central government. Second, to fulfill the needs of community and to improve their universal character, this is related to provincial governments. Third, some functions to improve local issues of society concerns, like streets, transports and sanitary etc.

After the partition of sub-continent, as becoming newly independence state Pakistan inherited the interim constitution by amending the India Act 1935. In light of Indian Act of 1935, Provinces were responsible for the local governments, and the responsibility of Cantonment boards of cantt areas was given to the central government. This condition was continued till 1958, before the first Martial-law enforced in Pakistan.  

In 1958, after the enforcement of Martial-law, General Ayub Khan was introduced the ‘Basic Democracy’, which is at the door steps of the people. During the period of 1972-75, when East Pakistan separated from West Pakistan, the urban local governments was effected badly and ignored by government because of disturbed authorities.

In 1977, Zia-ul-haq enforced Martial law again and re-energized the local government’s policy. He introduced the ‘Local Government Ordinance of 1979’, which provide the four-tier structure for urban areas and two-tier structure for rural areas. During the period of 1988-99 many different authoritative figures implemented the local government system in accordance to its needed. And then, in 1999 martial-law was again enforced by General Pervez Musharraf and he was immediately introduced the seven-point agenda and later in 2000his government introced the ‘Devolution of Power Plan’ for local governments. The recent government of PML’N also worked for local self-government, and was introduced the ‘Local Governments Act of 2013’ and ‘Sindh Local Government Act 2013’.

Keywords: Local Government, Early Independence Acts, Ayub era, Zia era, Musharraf era, Recent Government

Structure of Local Government

Local government is a body, which is a form of public administration, active for a small and specific geographic area, like city, town or village. It works like national government, but only on a smaller scale. There is no country, which have not its local government. In some countries the term is used ‘Municipal government’ for local government. But in Pakistan it is known as ‘District government system’. There are two types of local government.

 1-Loacal Government: It is served by appointed bureaucrats.

2-Local Self-Government: It is served by elected representatives. (Bhutto, 2016)

Structure of local government in Pakistan;

Figure.1 (Waseem, 2016)

In Pakistan, local government plays its role in different eras with its developmental progress. The detail of history of local government in Pakistan is given below.

Local government in Pakistan (1947-54)

Newly established state faced many difficulties to administer its system. But it is not fair to say that Pakistan was failed to overcome the situations. Immediately, it took many steps to stable its government, not only national level but also struggled to overcome the local issues at city and village level.

Sindh Local Authority Service Act 1947

Under this Act Sindh government appointed some authorities on the key posts for Municipal Committees and for some other local bodies.

Baluchistan Municipal Act 1946   

Baluchistan introduced this Act for Municipal Committee Quetta in 1946, to regulate the local system of Baluchistan.

Manifesto of 1948

In 1948, Muslim League’s manifesto was gave birth a policy, which is based on the models of parishes and communes of United States. “The spirit gradually penetrated in to the government’s policy and its main points were:

  1. Adult franchise was introduced in local bodies.
  2. Nomination of members to boards and committees was abolished and elections were introduced.
  3. The office of the chairman was made open for election.
  4. A village or group of villages with the population of not less than two or more than ten thousand was to have a village council”. (Khan)

N.W.F.P Municipal Act 1950

Under this Act, the government of N.W.F.P was introduced some changes in previous local system. The elections of local bodies were held on basis of adult franchise, moreover also introduced a change in Act that the Ward-Person were appointed in Place of elected members of local government.

Town Improvement Act 1953

This Act was passed by East Pakistan for the development of big cities, like Dacca and Naraingunj.

Later in 1956, Mr. S. D. Khan was come as an officer of secretariat group and re-organized the East Pakistan’s local system. He organized three tiers of local governments.

  1. Union boards
  2. District Boards
  3. Municipal Committees or Town Councils

Village Aid Programme (1954)

In this programme the administrator was responsible for five wards of rural areas. His duties were to maintain roads and improve health and educational departments, etc.

Ayub Era (1958-69)

In 1958, there was imposed Martial-law in Pakistan by Ayub Khan. In 1962, as the president he introduced ‘Basic Democracy’ in which he created local bodies under the 80,000 Basic Democrats.


‘Basic Democracies’ has two basic principles, (i) coordination and (ii) integration.

  • Coordination

All the local bodies would be working in coordinative environment and all local governments would be working very close to each other and look like one of the whole system.

  • Integration

It means the local, central, and provincial governments would be working in cooperative and friendly environment for the public welfare and organized and integrated system.


The structure of ‘Basic Democracies consists on four tiers;

First Tier: the first tier is based on the following organs;

  • Union Council for Rural areas
  • Union Council for Urban areas
  • Town Committee

Second Tier: the second tier is based on the following organs;

  • Tehsil Thana council for rural areas
  • Municipal committee for urban areas
  • Cantonment Boards for cantt areas

Third Tier: the third tier was consisting on District Council, which has 50% official and 50% unofficial members.

Fourth Tier: the fourth tier consists on Divisional council. It has also 50% official and 50% unofficial members, who are supervised by Divisional commissioners.

Pakistan People’s Party era (1970-75)

In 1970 elections, PPP came into power and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto has his revolutionary manifesto which re-organized the structure of local government.

He organized two groups of local structure.

  • Local government for rural areas
  • Local government for urban areas

Rural Local Government: consists on Dehi Council, Halqa Council and Zila Council.

Urban Local Government: consists on Town Committee, Municipal Committee, and Municipal Corporation.

Pakistan People’s Party was also introduced a scheme named as People’s Work Programme, which was organized for the welfare of people and furnished basic human facilities. (Aziz, 2014)

During separation of East Pakistan

1971, the year of heavy loss for Pakistan, when outbreak of war between India and Pakistan, and separation of East Pakistan. At that time the system of government and environment of country was fully stressed. So, the system of local government was also shattered because of totally ignored by government and local bodies. The structure of local government was destroyed at rural and urban level. The administrative authorities and local bodies were abolished.   

Zia-ul-haq Era (1979-85)

After the decline of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, local government was re-arranged by Zia-ul-haq. Under his military regime, he consolidated the political centralization at federal level. The local government introced by Zia-ul-haq was different from the system of Ayub khan. He demolished the bureaucratic control and declared ‘Elected House’ as controlling authority. This is totally different from Ayub Kahn’s ‘Basic Democracies’. He introduced the Deputy Commissioner as controlling authority and executive head of ‘District Council’.

He introced an autonomous local council for urban areas, and which was the diversion from ‘Basic Democracies’. The district council has representatives for both urban (municipal committees) and rural (Tehsil councils) coordination.

Zia-ul-haq introduced the ‘Local Government Ordinance 1979’, which is also known as Sind Ordinance. Following are the hierarchical division of administrators to arrange the local self-government. (Cheema, 2003)

Local Government Ordinance, 1979

“In 1979, Zia introduced identical Ordinances for four Provinces on the local government repealing the previous enactments on the subject. These were very elaborate statutes and were generally welcomed as these statutes created a hope amongst the people for resolution of their daily civil problems at local level. The new legislation provided for civics bodies both for rural and urban areas with enhanced fiscal responsibility. The law also provided the concept of metropolitan corporations. The local councils were empowered to levy taxes and duties, cause removal of encroachments and nuisances as well as to initiate prosecution of the delinquents. The new legislation certainly empowered the local government institutions to manage their own affairs, particularly in matters relating to previsions of civics services. It was considered that the new laws undoubtedly had taken positive steps towards devolution of powers to the lower tiers of democratic institutions. Elections were also held in all the Provinces under the new Ordinances, but these statutes were strongly criticized for having too much official interference in the affairs of the civics bodies.” (DTCE, May,2014)

The division of the local governments under Zia regime is based on four tiers.

  1. Town Committee
  2. Municipal Committee
  3. Municipal Corporation
  4. Metropolitan Corporation

To deal with rapid and lower level issues, introced ‘Panchayat’ system. Panchayat was actively did its duties. Society was represented including women, laborers, farmers and minorities. These were elected by concerned council, while the minorities had their separate electorates.

Musharraf Era (Devolution Plan)

In 1999, once again the military regime immediately took over the control in its hand. General Pervez Musharraf came with his ‘seven point agenda’. This agenda has the following points:

  1. Re-building the national confidence and morale
  2. Strengthening the federation, while removing inter-provincial disharmony
  3. Reviving and ensuring investor confidence
  4. Ensuring law and order and dispensing speedy justice
  5. De-politicizing state institutions
  6. Devolving power to grass-root level
  7. Ensuring swift and across the board accountability

National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB)

National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) is constructed the devolution plan, which has ‘5Ds’ model. The 5Ds model explains below:

D means devolution of political power: It has three tiers, mission, vision, and goals. Power devolved these three tiers.

D means decentralization of administrative authority: The District level departments were decentralized by operational autonomy.

D means de-concentration of management function: An approach would be focused on meritocracy, performance based appraisal system, specialized versus generalization, recognition and reward.

D means distribution of resources to the districts: Taxes and incur the expenditures were raised by district government.

D means diffusion of power-authority nexus: It is monitored by civilians and elected bodies and civil society involvement in developmental work for effective check and balance.

According to Plan, “the system is designed to ensure that the genuine interests of the people are served and their rights are safeguarded through an enabling environment, people’s participation, clear administrative responsibilities without political interference and making it answerable to the elected head of the districted. At the same time it promises checks and balance to safeguard against abuse of authority”. (Khan D. S.)

Nawaz Sharif Era (recent government)

Punjab Local Government Act, 2013

Under the Act, the lowest tier of the local government is the Union Councils, both for the rural and urban areas. Each Union Council would have one Chairman and one Vice Chairman.

All Chairmen of the rural Union Councils shall be the members of the District Council along with the following members indirectly elected on the reserved seats:-

  • such number of women members, not exceeding five, as the Provincial Government may notify on the basis of number of Union Councils in the District Council;
  • such number of peasant members, not exceeding three, as the Government may notify on the basis of number of Union Councils in the District Council;
  • one technocrat member;

(iv)      One youth member; and

  • Such non-Muslim members, not exceeding five, as the Government may notify for each District Council.

The members of the Municipal Committees would be elected their Chairmen and Vice Chairmen as joint candidates from amongst themselves, by majority votes of the members present and voting.

  1. such number of women members, not exceeding five, as the    Government may notify on the basis of number of wards in the Municipal Committee;
    1. such number of worker members, not exceeding two, as the
  • Government may notify on the basis of number of wards in the Municipal Committee;
  • one youth member; and
  • such number of non-Muslim members, not exceeding three, as the Government may notify for each Municipal Committee.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2013

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2013, contains quite a few provisions on the lines of 2001 Ordinance relating to decentralization of several Provincial administrative offices, in particular Health and Education, to the elected representatives of the local governments. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2012, which is based on 1979 Ordinance, is still in force. Even otherwise, no efforts for holding local government elections are in sight. Nor in this regard, any tentative date for such elections has been indicated.


The local governments system of Pakistan is developed step by step and passed through many phases. At the time of early independence, Pakistan faced many difficulties to overcome the week structure of the state. In that days, administration of state was survived through some short and temporary policies or acts.

In 1959, Ayub Khan took over the power and first time he organized the local government as a regular authority. He introduced ‘Basic democracy’ in which describes the local structure for local bodies. After him, Pakistan People’s Party came into power by winning elections, and introduced some new reforms to improve local government. But, in 1971, India attack on Pakistan and war was out-break, and Pakistan faced a heavy loss, and also lost East Pakistan.

So, in 1977, Zia-ul-haq imposed third martial-law and became president. Once again, he was re-energized and re-organized the local government, and introduced the ‘Local Government Ordinance’.

Later Musharraf came into power with his seven-point agenda. He introduced the 5Ds model for re-construct the local government. The recent government was also improved the local government with its new plans and reforms.


Aziz, F. (2014, November). World Times. Retrieved from Jahangir’s World Times:

Bhutto, P. (2016, April 12). Local government system in Pakistan. Retrieved from in-SlideShare:

Cheema, A. (2003, October). Decentralization in Pakistan:Context,Content,Causes. p. 8.

DTCE. (May,2014). Analysis of Local Government Statues of Punjan and KPK province. US.

Khan, D. S. (n.d.). Local Government in Pakistan. Lahore: GF Printers.

Waseem, S. (2016). Local Governance system in Pakistan; A Case Study of Metropolitan city Karachi.


Fasiha Maryam is pursuing her Mphil in Political Science from UMT,Lahore.

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