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History Of Local Government Concerning Pakistan

Pakistan is positioned in Southern Asia and it borders India to the east, the Arabian sea to the south, Afghanistan to the northwest, and China to the north. According to the report of the 2017 Census, Pakistan’s total population is 220 million. Pakistan is a state with a federal parliamentary system and the governance structure is three-tier. The government structure comprises the central government which comprises the Senate, National assembly, provincial governments, and local governments. At the local level, a village comprises around 404.68 hectares of land and it is the administration’s basic unit. A group of villages creates a union council. Likewise, a collection of union councils forms a Tehsil council, and a group of Tehsils councils creates a district council.

Before the Independence, the British local system existed here. After Pakistan got independence in 1947, Pakistan adopted the same system, which was established by the British colonial powers, but several developments have occurred in local governments. In the initial time, very little attention was given to the local systems, and the members were not elected for the local government. In some areas where the election was held, only a few members were elected. At that time the state was highly centralized and civil and military bureaucracy was dominating it. Since the 1950s, the military has influenced the state and its various institutions for various historical reasons.

Local Governments system (1959-71) - (1977-88)

After getting independence, in 1958, an extensive and considerable local government system was established in Pakistan when the military attained power through the military coup of General Ayub Khan. He was not satisfied with the traditional parliamentary system and he wanted to introduce his system.

Basic democracies

In 1959, the elected government was dissolved by Ayub khan and he introduced his brand of local government named “basic democracies” which comprises four-tier structures;

Urban Areas

  1. Union Committee

  2. Town committee

  3. Municipal Committee

  4. Municipal corporation

Rural Areas

  1. Union Council

  2. Tehsil/Thana council

  3. District Council

  4. Divisional Council

His main objective was to control the center area and plant leadership which was pro-military at the local level. In 1960, Ayub khan initiated the Municipal Administration Ordinance which contained a hierarchical system of four connected tiers.

The bureaucracy had control over the local governments. Deputy Commissioners, Commissioners, and chief bureaucrats have the power to withdraw any reports or decisions made by the local councils. Ayub khan’s prime objective in introducing the local governments was to make legitimize his 1962 Presidential Constitution and through this process, the constitution gave the military control of the state through the office of the President.

People’s Local Government (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Era)

After the election of 1970, PPP won the election through its manifesto and Bhutto’s government took many revolutionary steps. In 1972, the invariable structure of local government was propagated through a presidential declaration. This local system was comprised of two groups:

Urban Areas

  1. Town Committee

  2. Municipal Committee

  3. Municipal Corporation

Rural Areas

  1. Dehi Council

  2. Halqa Council

  3. Zila Council

They introduced a scheme named the “People’s Works program” which aimed to provide people with key human facilities. For this local government, neither the election had been held nor the reforms were put in place.

General Zia-ul-Haq government

The PPP era was short. In 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq made a military coup and attained state power and then he overthrew the PPP government. The Local governments were reformed and revived, and the Local Government Ordinance 1979 was endorsed that continued operative till 2000 in Pakistan. He initiated the most centralized and coercive state apparatus through Martial Law imposition and he suspended the Constitution of 1973. Through the direct control of the military, the local government was introduced without the incorporation of the national or provincial government. The elections of the local government were held based on the non-party system in all the provinces of Pakistan. The main objective of this election was to facilitate those politicians who legitimize the military rule and to assist in the maintenance of the military regime. Both the military leadership, the Ayub and Zia gave importance to the local government, but they haven’t empowered the local government with a constitution.

General Musharraf’s Era

General Musharraf presented a new local government system, through Local Government Ordinance 2001. General Musharraf presented a “Seven-Point Agenda” for steering Pakistan out of diverse crises. Local Government Ordinance 2001 was delivered for this purpose. Through this plan, the powers have devolved to the grassroots level which was seen as a good step. This Ordinance also empowered the locals through the replacement of bureaucracy with generally elected representatives. This plan was enforced on 14 August 2001, and is comprised of the:-

  1.         District government

  2.         Tehsil government

  3.         Union Council government

At the district government level, the Naib Nazim assists the Nazim, and the district council was made the executive head, with the whole authority of the district entrusted to his person.

The district coordination officer took away most of his powers and gave them to assist and coordinate Nazim. Similar variations in the structure were made at the Tehsil level where Nazim was supported by Tehsil Municipal Officer.

Asif Zardari’s Era

In 2008, when the government of Musharraf was dismissed, Pakistan People’s Party came into power and introduced the 18th Constitutional Amendment under the leadership of Zardari that enhanced provincial autonomy.

All the provinces opted for a different local system for their provinces. The Local Government Act 2010 was passed by Baluchistan’s provincial assembly, whereas the provincial assemblies of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab passed their Local Government Acts in 2013.


Considering the history of the local system of Pakistan, we have seen that whenever a military leadership took the powerful seat, the local government hasn’t improved and most of the powers were centralized. As a military dictator, General Musharraf devolved the powers to the lower level and strengthened the local system. In the Asif Zardari era, after the 18th amendment, the local system further improved, and all the provinces passed their own form of local government system in their respective assemblies.

Picture Credit: Knowledge for policy -

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