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The Hindu

Published Date: Aug 23, 2013

From Pakistan, finding democratic models

The sight of young women driving vehicles with aplomb on Indian roads appears fascinating to Shehryar Khan, Associate Fellow of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute of Pakistan.

“That is a clear sign of progress in a country,” Dr. Khan says. “In Pakistan, women are confined to the four walls of their home and lead suppressed lives with low confidence levels and self-esteem, leaving them high and dry.”

He was here to attend a South Asia Workshop on Participatory Governance organised at the Kerala Institute of Local Administration, Mulangunnathukavu, near here.

Mr. Khan rued that women in his country were forced to remain illiterate because they were denied education. “The male-dominated society refuses to empower women,” he said.

Highlighting the ills in the government set-up in his country, he emphasised the need for strict implementation of democratic decentralisation.

“Ironically, local governance was given room to flourish only when a military regime was in power. Whenever an elected government ruled the country, the politicians made sure that the local set-up was decimated by appointing their own cronies in positions of power, which ultimately led to a feudal government of sorts in the provinces. Hence, there was no devolution of power. In such an arrangement, the power stayed with a select group of people belonging to the elite class,” he said.

Regardless of which party was in power, an elected government seldom allowed the distribution of funds. Participatory budgeting that was key to the success of decentralisation was ruled out. “Village sabhas were there just for namesake. The real needs of the people were never heard,” Mr. Khan said.

When there was decentralisation, the officials and the bureaucrats were made accountable. However, the discontinuity of the decentralisation process marred the development programmes. “The top-level bureaucrats and officials decided what the people want. So, the desired benefits never reached the people.”

Dr. Khan laid stress on the importance of a continuous and lasting democratic decentralisation.

“Unlike in Kerala, there is no 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies in Pakistan. That is why there is not much change in the condition of women even after decentralisation.”