Pakistan: Principles Of Federalism – OpEd



Amongst many challenges, which Pakistan is facing, adversely affecting, the quality of governance, the problem of federalism and provincial autonomy according to the true spirit of constitution is the most critical one, threatening the stability and integrity of the state. In spite of the bitter experience of the past i.e. separation of east Pakistan, which was not a movement of separation in its early days but, was surely an issue of provincial autonomy our politician and establishment have yet not resolved the problem of provincial autonomy and federalism.

The problem of Federalism in Pakistan is compounded and complex having multiple dimensions and reasons. During the course of research it is observed that the essentials of federalism are mostly missing in our system of government which has put the country in the state of chaos and confusion. The public at large have lost their confidence in the state and leadership.

The problem of  federalism and  provincial autonomy which raised immediacy after and independence of the country has not received serious attention of the academics and policy makers of the country, due to prolong ignorance of this sensitive issue of provincial autonomy under the concept of federalism the country has failed to achieve political harmony leading to stability, progress and prosperity.

The foremost reasons for the poor federalism in the country during the research study have appeared as prolong constitutional in consistency, political instability with weak political culture. The poor role of army, and civil servants which instead of playing their constitutional role and obligations have acted beyond and have weakened the political institution and the development of the democratic political culture. The judiciary has failed to uphold the supremacy of constitution in the country.

On the critical issue of federalism and provincial autonomy Pakistan has taken half step forward with two steps back ward and several steps side way from the track to attain the goal of true federalism as enriched in the content of Pakistan resolution of 1940 and as embodied in all the three constitutions of Pakistan.

The trends of centralization  has not only remained the policy of the military ruler but also the so called democrats have followed the same track over a period of time and due to consistency of the policies of centralizations a state structure As emerged that that has remained unable to comprehend the problems of smaller units and the growing divide between the federating units and the federal government and to deal with the same according to the spirit of federalism which is source of policy in the affairs of federation,

Discussing such a large agenda thread barely and suggesting concert, workable recommendations within the limited available time is honestly beyond the scope of this paper however, attempt is made to discuss the issue of federalism and provincial autonomy in the country and its impacts on the federation. The writers have also attempted to offer / suggest honest and workable proposal to address the problem of federalism in the country.

The study and research on the problems of federalism and provincial autonomy has become more important in the present day circumstances because of certain internal and external dynamics in the face of changing geo-political and geo-strategic situation around us.

The study and research carried out for the young civil servants and the common readers to understand the federalism, the constitution and the issues of provincial autonomy and system 1 pattern of the government that has worked in the country in the past impeding harmony and between the federating units and the federal government ultimately weakening the federation.


The study of federalism is of enormous importance for the policy maker to understand federalism as a political system and also to appreciate the problems of governance in the heterogeneous societies having multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural dynamics, so that these peculiar problem are attended and addressed according to the true spirit and principles of federalism to ensure peace, harmony and stability in the country.

Federalism has been defined by different writers on the subject with slight variation in the meaning of the words and terminology used, but majority of the political scientists, constitutional experts and research scholars have a consensus opinion and concept of the federalism as political system.

KC Where, one of the leading authorities on federalism defines the federalism according to his perceptions.

“The federal principle denotes the division of powers so that the central and regional governments are each within one sphere, politically and economically coordinate and corporate with each other but at the same time maintain their independent status”.

He further explains that in a Federal System there are factors/elements of unity as well as diversity.

Common historic experience, the desire for independence from colonialism, economic benefits and common religion are factors towards unity. On the other hand ethnic or linguistic differences and the desire to retain local autonomy have been termed as divisive forces.

According to Livingston an expert on the subject of Constitutionalism

“The essence of federalism lies not in the constitutional or institutional structure but in the heterogeneous and Floristic societies itself”.

C.J Friedrich another expert on the subject argues that:

“Federalism is about achieving union of group which interact with each other in the affairs of collective security and to gain political and economic interest but at the same time the groups maintain their own identity””.

Whereas, Dicy a leading expert on federalism says that:

“An acceptable distribution of power between the center and its units is the essential feature of federalism. He further says “Federalism requires for its formation two condition i.e. on the one hand the federating unit must closely connected by locality, by history, by race having sentiments of common nationality. On the other hand there must exist a peculiar state of sentiment and desire amongst the inhabitants of the federating units to stay in a common union maintaining their own political identities”

Thus Federalisms is commonly defined as political system of governance, where two or smaller states willingly join and create bigger political union to safeguard their security, political and economic interest, but at the same time the federating units maintain their own political, social and cultural identity. The relationship between the federating units and the federation are explicitly defined through well debated and mutually consented formula which specifies the role responsibilities and authority / area of the operation of federating units and federal government. The former division of powers and functions between the federation and federating units in black and white is one of fundamental principle of federalism and federal form of government

Federalism in other word is an agreement of consensus between the two or more smaller states to constitute a relatively big, strong and resourceful union to ensure their safety, security and socio-economic development by sharing resources and responsibilities but simultaneously the constituent states strongly desires that their

Political, cultural entity and independence shall not be overwhelmed by the federation or any other federating unit.

In Pakistan conceptually by federalism, we mean a federally government with the limited constitutional, administrative, financial power and authority, having supervisory role and powerful federating unit with the maximum provincial autonomy this concept of federalism is enriched and strongly advocated by the Pakistan resolution of 1940, the objective resolution and in all the three constitution of the country.

Through all the arrangements and policies in a federal system of government are mutually agreed and approved by the federating units, yet these arrangements and policies are regularly reviewed collectively from time to time and updated to adjust and make in line the same with the changing circumstances and requirements of the federating units.


The different countries of the region identifying themselves as federal states though more or less differs from one and other to some extent however, the federalism and federal states have certain common characteristics and pre-requisite of federalism, which follows as under: –

  • Written constitution
  • Supremacy of constitution
  • Independent Judiciary
  • Decentralization
  • Conflict Resolution


All the federal states have a consensus written documents of constitution which is given the status of supreme law of the land and source of guidance in handling the affairs of federation and federating units. All the relation between the federation and the federating units are governed through a written constitution. The rights and responsibilities of all the units of the states are well defined and protected under the constitution. The written constitution outlines the way power is divided and share between the federating unit and federal government in a just a fair manner well acceptable to all the constituent units of the federation.

The written constitution clearly specifies relationship between the federal government and the federating units so that neither of the governments interferes in the specified sphere of the other.


The constitution in the federal state is supreme law of the land and in a true federal state the constitutional rights of the constituent units are fully protected by introducing a strong mechanism for the amendment of constitution by involving the federating units in the process of amendment so that the constitution could not be easily amended by the federal government against the interest of the provinces so as to protect the constituent states from arbitrary abuse of powers by the federal government. In some of the ideal federal states the federating unit enjoys maximum independence to legislate their own substantive and local and special laws according to their own environment, culture and civilization.


In a federal state the independence of judiciary is ensured by the constitution. The constituent federating units usually varies in their size, population, resources, geography and ethnicity therefore, conflicts amongst the federating units and with the federation over issues of mutual interest is usual / common phenomenon. Good federal system under the guiding principles of federalism provides and effective mechanism of conflict resolution amongst the federating units and that arising with the federal government. The federal constitution ensures the independence of judiciary which plays just and efficient role in adjudication of the disputes amongst the federating units and that with the federation and upholds the supremacy of constitutions.


Decentralization is the essence of federalism. The federal state diffuses power and authority to the federating units. Federalism ensures political, administrative and financial independence of the federating units and none of the powers of the federating units can be taken by the center without their consent. Maximum powers and responsibilities are devolved to the provinces through a well debated and mutually agreed formula based on ground realities looking after the interest of federating units as well as that of the federation.

Under the true federalism sincere policies and efforts are made to make the federating units economically self-sustained and avoid any feeling of economic, political and administrative disparities leading to deprivation and alienation of the federating units.

In a federal decentralize states national integrity is strengthened by giving more representation and participation to the federating units in the decision making process and formulation of national policies. Federalism through its just and fair policies creates ample opportunities for all the federating units for participation in the mainstream national politics, which ultimately promotes national integrity and stability.


Financial decentralization is the most sensitive issue in the federal state which is attended and addressed quit carefully and judiciously. In a federal state financial decentralization is viewed in the back drop the economic development plans of the federating units and their commitments and obligation of social services to their masses. In a ideal federal state under the policies of federalism a well debated and mutually consented formulae of resource collection and distribution is worked out to make the federalism flourish and success leading to the strengthening and federation. Otherwise if any unjust formula is imposed for the generation and distribution of resources it may pose potential threat to the working relationship to the extent which might be detrimental to the stability and existence of federation.


Under the federal system and policy of federalism the issue of generation of resources through imposition of taxes by the federal government and federating units is settled judiciously through extensively debated and mutually agreed mechanism. The diffusion of revenue generation authority to the federating units is ensured to enable the federating unit to generate their resources to sustain their economic development and remain less dependent on the federal government for carrying out their socio-economic plans. The decentralization of the revenue of generation mechanism also raises the level of responsibilities and accountability amount the federating units and further enables its fail investment to improve the public service delivery common masses in their respective areas. 

In ideal federal states, the federal and provincial areas of taxation are defined in a balanced manner, in some of the federal states taxes are co-opted by the federal and provincial government in their respective jurisdictions, enabling both the federation and federating it to generate revenue in a disciplined and harmonized fashion though mutually consented formula.


There is hardly any federation in the world where all the federating units have equal size, population, resources, identical geography and ethnic composition. The different federating units usually have their own peculiar characteristics differing from one and other. Under the principles of federalism the federating units with the above characteristics differing from one and other. Under the principles of federalism the federating units with the above characteristics join and stay in a bigger union to safeguard their political and economic interest. In a federal state the resources and revenue generation capacity of the federating units usually varies but, under the principles of federalism in a good federal state a mutually agree, workable principles of federalism in a good federal state a mutually agreed, workable principles and formulae for the distribution of financial resources amongst all the stakeholders is devised and followed.

The underdeveloped units expect much more resources and support than the comparatively resourceful and developed one. The development of the smaller and the less resourceful provinces mostly hinges upon their share fixed in the national resources therefore, the federal government remains concerned about the less developed provinces and under the principles of federalism. The4 issue of revenue is efficiently resolved in a judicious manner and equitable distribution of resources amongst the federating units and the federation is ensured.

In federal state working under the concept of federalism the federal government remains responsible for the expenditure on account of defense, debt servicing, foreign affairs, and communication and for the federal administrative structure wheres rest of the resources are distributed amongst the federating units on the basis of just and equitable formulae acceptable to all the federating units.

In ideal federal state under the principles of federalism a multi-dimensional broad based formulae for the distribution of natural resource is adopted giving equally consideration to impotent aspects and the distribution of resources is usually worked out and approved on the basis of population, area, relative economic development and tax collecting capacity. So that appropriate resources are ensured and equal opportunities of progress and prosperity could be availed by all the federating units.

The federal form of government under the guiding principles of federalism device a fair and equitable mechanism of resource distribution, helping all the federating units to avail uniform opportunities of progress and prosperity, which ultimately brings


In the federation of Pakistan under article 184 of the constitution 1973 the supreme court of Pakistan is empowered to adjudicate upon the disputes amongst the federating units and that with the federation. The constitution of 1973 under article 158 also provides for another effective conflict resolution mechanism through council of common interest. The council of common interest has been raised to address the grievances of federating units and safeguard their interests of the federating units against any misuse of authority by the federal government.

The independence of the council of common interest is ensured by the constitution. All the federating units are given equal representation, where the aggrieved unit can voice its grievances and seek remedy. The aggrieved unit to harmonize the relationship amongst the federating units and with the federal government which ultimately promotes national integrity and stability. There still feels aggrieved from the decision of council of resolution if any unit still feels aggrieved from the decision of council of common interests is at liberty to take-up the dispute before the joint session of National Assembly and Senate. Thus the available conflict resolution mechanism under the federal system of government enables the aggrieved units to raise their grievances and seek remedy. The working conflict resolution mechanism in the federal states under the strengthens federation.


In the present day majority of the nation states have federal form of governments; Federalism has proved to be the best form of government in the heterogeneous societies composed of different authentic, cultural and linguistic groups. The federating units with these acute diversities can be kept together 1 united only through the principles and the just policies of federalism otherwise the integrity and security of the state may be at great risk.

The federal form of government based on the guiding principles of federalism with the justice, equality and fair play as its main characteristics is believed to be the best form of the government for achieving political harmony, peace and stability.


Federalism thus ensures unity in diversity. It is the principles and policies of federalism which units and holds together the strongly divergent nationalities 1 ethnic groups in a federal system. The implementation of the principles and the policies of federalism in true spirits make the divergent groups fully satisfied. The federal system ensures / protects all the legitimate economic, political and administrative rights of the divergent communities and as such preserved the stability of the federation.

The strength of Pakistan as a Nation is strongly linked with the implementation of principles of Federalism and the authority concerned must realize and implement without any further delay which will definitely improve National harmony cohesion and solidarity.  

Naseebullah Khan Bazai, BCS. MSSSA

Naseeb Ullah Achakzai

Naseeb Ullah Achakzai is a M.Phil scholar and writes as a freelance columnist.

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