administrative reforms in pakistan

Written by Muhammad Adnan Khan, Sarah Ahmed Malik and Usama Shehzad 2:47 pm Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

Administrative Reforms in Pakistan: The Past, Present & Future

The article explores the administrative reforms in Pakistan from the time of the pre-independence era, and, in light of the present difficulties faced by the executive branch, suggests several recommendations that could address the faults in the system. While continuing to maintain its main role as a provider of public goods, the state will be expected to provide regulatory standards and maintain quality assurance to ensure that non-state actors can also provide high-quality services to the citizens.
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About the Author(s)
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Mr Muhammad Adnan Khan is a final year student of BS International Relations at National Defence University. Being a student of International Relations, the writer has diverse opinions and information about the different scenarios happening around the globe.

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Ms Sarah Ahmed Malik is a student of International Relations at National Defence University, Islamabad. She is very ambitious about her field and has carried out intensive research in different fields of international politics.

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Mr Usama Shezad has been linked with National Defence University since 2017 as a student. The writer has experience of research in different fields of world politics.

Historical Background

While talking about administrative reforms in Pakistan, it has been often the case for the historical aspect to be ignored. Before the 1947 partition, an administrative system was founded in the sub-continent by the British rulers. That system was termed Indian Civil Service (ICS), but it was later named Civil Services of Pakistan (CSP) after the formation of Pakistan.1

In 1954, the Governor-General of Pakistan and the governors of the provinces agreed to establish an All-Pakistan service valid across Pakistan.2 The foundation of the contemporary ICS was laid in 1854, at the suggestion of the Macaulay Commission.3 It suggested the elimination of the East India Company’s patronage-based system with a competitive review to encourage competence.

To increase the standard of candidates, it also advocated the recruitment of graduates from Oxford and Cambridge. East India Company adopted the Committee’s decision and began a merit-based enrolment scheme from 1855 onwards. It continued to employ different officers from Oxford and Cambridge until 1922 when the company decided to hire only the locals.4

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Post-1947 Dilemma

The trained civil service took up the task in spite of the logistical challenges they faced as a result of the partition. Around 157 officers out of a total of 1,157 ICS officers chose to join the workforce in Pakistan at the time of partition. The main reason for such representation of Muslims in the ICS was their conservative anti-Western stance on education, which made them unwilling to join the ICS.

A variety of British officers were appointed in different roles to take up the slack, including some very critical positions of governors and secretary establishment. In the early days of Pakistan’s independence, political pressure for favors began to be extended to civil servants. When all this came to the attention of Mr. Jinnah, the founder, he pointed out the basic guidelines for civil servants.

“The civil services are the state’s backbone. Governments are formed, governments are defeated, prime ministers come and go, and ministers come and go, but you hold on, because you have a very big responsibility on your shoulders. In supporting any political party or leader, you should have no side. It is not your business here. Whatever government is established in accordance with the Constitution, and whoever happens to be the Prime Minister who comes to power in the ordinary constitutional course, your duty is only to serve that government faithfully and faithfully, but at the same time to uphold your high reputation, dignity, honour and honesty of your service fearlessly.”5

History of Administrative Reforms in Pakistan

Almost around 2.3 million civil servants were generally seen as uncooperative, and mostly corrupt, and the same was for the bureaucratic processes that seemed to be inefficient and morally corrupt in public opinion.6 Since Pakistan’s freedom, several intermittent efforts had been made in the past to boost the productivity of the public sector, as governments rely heavily on their executive branch to turn their policies into action.

In Pakistan, more than twenty studies have been performed on administrative reforms by various government committees and commissions over the last six decades. These reports recommended a range of steps to make improvements to the administrative structure of the country, but only a few recommendations were adopted.

Due to regular switches between political setups or military takeovers, most of these attempts stayed on the shelf. The following are the three main phases in which different reforms have been brought in in the last 6 decades.


This was the period of emergence just after the independence, where the focus primarily remained on the formation of different government agencies and their administrative laws for operating state affairs. While Pakistan and India gained independence in 1947, India acquired more developed and organized institutions than Pakistan.

It was because of two major reasons: one, Delhi was the capital and from Delhi, the British administered the sub-continent, and second, most of the civil servants were either Hindus or Sikhs who preferred to live and work in India instead of the newly independent state, Pakistan.7

Ayub designed a local government structure dubbed “Basic Democracy” to provide his dictatorship with a political facade, in which the country was split into around 80,000 single-member districts, with each having to elect a member on a non-party basis. At the district and sub-district levels, municipal councils were formed, with about half of their members appointed instead of elected.

Allegedly intended to devolve authority, Ayub’s political base and his electoral college became the fundamental democrats. In a referendum of 1960, almost 95% of the voters voted for him and elected him again in 1965, albeit this time in a disputed but rigged race.

Basic Democracy consolidated power over the federating units by expanding the military’s control over local government and building up a new political center at the grass-root level. Central district bureaucrats were able to control access to the state capital, dominating municipal politics by interacting exclusively with the emerging elite, sidestepping political parties, and trying to isolate them from the electorate.


Unfortunately, Pakistan was split up in 1971 and Bangladesh came into being, throwing the public sector of Pakistan back into shock because a huge number of Bengali separatist bureaucrats chose to represent Bangladesh instead of Pakistan.8 Throughout this period, two remarkable acts were to put bureaucracy under political leadership via constitutional reforms to regulate them and the nationalization of private leadership. This circumstance basically stopped Pakistan from globally advancing its public sector to gain the possible perks of globalization.9

To curtail the power of the civil bureaucracy, Bhutto fired around a thousand civil servants because of corruption and misconduct. He also enforced reforms in order to limit the civil service’s sovereignty and put it under the jurisdiction of the political entrepreneur. More importantly, Bhutto removed legally guaranteed work privileges that had previously protected government interference from the bureaucracy.

Administrative reforms by Bhutto also fundamentally altered the structure of the administration in Pakistan. The CSP system, which controlled the roles of civil service at all administrative levels, including federal, provincial, and district, was outlawed; the significance of service was also terminated, and all cadres were branded as “occupational groups”.10

Bhutto implemented a system known as “Lateral Entry” in an effort to “draw fresh blood” into government through which approximately five thousand officials of different grades were immediately appointed into the civil bureaucracy. While its organizational structure had undergone major changes, primarily through the abolition of the CSP, the elite system continued to enjoy wide-ranging control.

Later, Zia set up a Civil Service Reform Commission that suggested a range of extreme alterations from the Bhutto system, such as the abolition of all occupational groups; the establishment of many professional favours just to satisfy experts in sectors such as cultivation, learning, and medicine; the renovation of administration; and the establishment of many training institutions that were in service.

Zia institutionalized military recruitment into the civil service, a procedure undertaken by earlier regimes on an occasional basis, effectively solidifying the role of the military in the administration. The three levels of local government in rural areas were created: union (village), tehsil, and zila as well as regional committees and municipal corporations.11

The 1990s

Different governments implemented NPM-inspired reforms to retrieve Pakistan from deeply rooted economic and monetary problems and to boost the functioning of the public sector, but still, no significant achievement was able to be achieved. In two respects, governments appeared to have been taking drastic measures: shifting their position from encouraging and reducing the size and budget of the government to quitting the market via denationalization and deregulation.

A retired public servant, who had already worked as the federal secretary in the late 1990s, said that “Bhutto and Sharif had their own gang of civil servants who were disparaged and awarded not really for merit, but for their perceived loyalty to their preferred political rulers”.12

More Reforms in Public Administration

Both military and civilian leaderships made reforms in the administrative process and this led to the ineffectiveness and incompetence of the administrative services of Pakistan. Moreover, factors like corruption, political turmoil, and nepotism have contributed more to this process of ineffectiveness and incompetence of the country’s public administration.13

Musharraf, like Ayub and Zia, used a method involving the local authorities in order to legitimize and maintain military rule. In 2001, Devolution Power Plan was conceived by the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB), which was headed by a retired lieutenant general, under which three local government levels (District, Tehsil, and Union) were formed. Musharraf’s devolution plan varied as compared to Zia’s local system in the context of Musharraf providing local authorities with the power of administration and development.14

Deputy Commissioners or District Magistrate and Assistant Commissioner or Sub-Divisional Magistrate, who historically managed the executive, judiciary, revenue, and other functions of the district, were demolished and a new administrative system replaced it, who were directly responsible to the Nazim, led by the District Coordination Officer (DCO).

Magisterial powers were given to the judges of the district and sessions, while the authority of revenue and police supervision was to the Nazim of the district. Executive District Officers (EDO) and District Officers (DO) were put under the supervision of the DCO. The Nazim of the town or Tehsil was assisted by a Municipal officer of the Tehsil or Town (TMO).

Each Tehsil administration was led by the second-most officer of any tehsil. Three Union secretaries were to assist the Union Nazim and were headed by the lowest level of local government, the union council. The resulting administrative uncertainty and disputes over jurisdictional rights hindered service delivery because all three levels worked independently of each other. As many as eleven provincial departments were transferred to the districts, with each department headed by an EDO.15

Musharraf’s rule of 9 years in power had seen a drastic rise in the role of the military in the civil institutions.16 In 2002, the National School of Public Policy (NSPP), the country’s largest training institution for senior civil servants, turned into the Pakistan Administrative Staff College, and it was put under the direct authority of the Lieutenant General.17

Public Administration under the Democratic Rule

The second democratic rule started with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) coming into power, facing the major dilemma of reforming the public administrative services in order to make them in line with democratic values and rules. After the PPP government, in 2013, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government came into power and made more reforms in the public administration.

In 2018, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came into power and they also introduced reforms.18 The National Commission for Government Reforms (NCGR) was formed in 2006 to recommend reforms, which would allow the institutions of government and its infrastructure to work under the social, economic, and political structure of the 21st century. In 2008, a report was produced by this commission under the head of the State Bank of Pakistan, after consultation with experts in public administration.

Thereafter, in May 2008, the Commission submitted the report to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who vowed to consult with provincial governments and other stakeholders on the recommendations of the report, as well as to discuss them in the National Assembly.19


Enhancing Civil Service Performance

It was recommended by the government to improve and enhance the performance of civil services and revitalize the public service spirit by increasing the pay as well as pensions of the people, especially for those people who were at the bottom line of the hierarchy. Regular training, including different courses for refreshers, was also recommended at all levels of the bureaucracy.20

It was also suggested to raise the training standards in vocational training institutions, along with the customs, beliefs, and practices that value professional solidarity and commitment.21 Compensation and competitive advantage were also proposed to attract qualified and motivated coaches.

Elimination of Military Interference

It was recommended by the government to eliminate military interference and intervention by ending the recruitment of military officers who were currently serving. It also proposed that the laws must prohibit employees or retired military personnel from running institutions involved in the training, recruitment, or promotion of civil servants, and also immediately stop the practice of recruiting senior officers, who were supposed to be evaluated and approved by the agencies of military intelligence.22

Upgrading Federal and Provincial Secretariats

It was suggested to improve the operation and functioning of federal and regional secretariats by minimizing inadequate centralization of roles; by moving administrative and financial bodies under appropriate supervision to lower levels; and by reviewing and simplifying the applicable rules and procedures to ensure officials consider their rights and obligations.23

Establishment of Effective Accountability

It was also recommended to establish functional accountability to the citizen bureaucracy by executing the recommendations of the Democracy Charter signed between PPP and PML-N for the establishment of an independent accountability committee to the “National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC)”.

The commission was formed to work with Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate claimed harassment, financial and other matters of corruption by different government officials, and take technological actions against all those who are responsible.

Moreover, it was suggested to establish an effective form of accountability over civil bureaucracy by directing federal as well as provincial secretaries to report to parliaments and provincial assemblies and empowering both national and provincial parliamentary committees to have regular hearings during which government officials could be asked to use resources, organization, management and personnel efficiently for their own respective departments.24

Promoting Fairness

It was proposed that parliamentary committees be empowered to review and approve the appointments of senior civil servants that had been put forward by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) and certify that they are made only on merit rather than on personal interests or political connection.25 It has also been recommended that Federal Service Courts be empowered to monitor postings and transfers and to examine complaints from officials about arbitrary transfers.

Settling the Status of the Report

It is also recommended to resolve the status of the report which was given by the National Commission on Government Reforms (NCGR)26 just by regulating through the formation of a non-partisan parliamentary public service reform commission, in which half of the government-appointed members and half of the opposition, under the joint leadership of the prime minister and opposition leaders, evaluate reports and make recommendations to national and provincial judges.

Improving Land Administration and Local Governance

A recommendation for improving land management as well as administration and local governance through computerized land registration, the provision of title certificates and other property-related documents at small fixed costs, has been forwarded. Moreover, the setting up of call centres for reporting bribery claims, illegal commissions, and offences has also been requested.

Modernizing the Civil Service System

The modernization of the system and its process according to standards set by the Directorate of Electronic Administration have been recommended as well as the introduction of mandatory coaching in fundamental processes of information technology for all officials at the level BPS-5 and above.

Improving the Functioning of Police

It is highly recommended to improve the police functioning by revising the Police Ordinance by Parliament and also by setting a parliamentary subcommittee to deal exclusively with the police.27 Empowering the authority and governance bodies including the Public Safety Commission and also the National Police Management Board has also been recommended.

Establishing FATA’s Bureaucracy

In order to engage FATA’s bureaucracy, it has been recommended to remove the FATA secretariat and political agency offices by handing over their powers to the secretariat of KPK, their relevant ministries, and the provincial district departments.28


Pakistan’s ambition is to become a high-income economy by 2047 when it will be 100 years old because it will only depend on the quality and performance of its government institutions.29 Governance influences investment, citizen trust, and human resource development, and improves the quality of institutions and policies, by innovating government business processes and improving service delivery to citizens.

There is likely to be a more decentralized system of government as provinces and the federal government will continue to implement constitutional provisions on decentralization. Population growth, the complexity of service delivery challenges, and the modernization of feedback systems for citizens will require states to sharpen their focus on regulation and reduce their role in direct service delivery.30

The existing model of state ownership will be limited, and the public sector is expected to guarantee continued state domination. This pressure will come not only from the private sector, which demands a fair playing field but also from service users who are interested in providing better services.

These new challenges, and the ability of the public and the public sectors to successfully address these challenges through modernization and capacity building, will require Pakistan to redefine the social agreement between the nation and its nationals in the year 2047.

Officials need to be aware of the modern spirit of good governance in the public sector, including professionalism, innovation, technological sophistication, and strategic decision-making. The government must also respond to new and emerging demands for efficient and effective institutions.31

If we talk about the reforms in the field of public administration, then it is the end that justifies the means. In order to achieve the end, the means must be kept intact throughout, so that they bring the sound end.

For this purpose, stability in the governance and democratic system is very important because it helps the country to prosper. A little disruption in governance brings instability to the system, which ultimately creates hurdles in the way of means and thus delays the achievement of the end.


1 Hoodbhoy, Abdul Hameed Nayyar. Rewriting the history of Pakistan. Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience, Zed Books: London. (1985), https://eacpe.org/content/uploads/2014/01/Rewriting-The-History-of-Pakistan1.pdf

2 Stephen Cohen, The idea of Pakistan. Brookings Institution Press (2004), https://journals.openedition.org/samaj/214

3 Phiroze Vasunia, Greek, Latin and the Indian civil service. The Cambridge Classical Journal (2005), https://www.jstor.org/stable/44698241

4 Faisal Iqbal, An analysis of administrative reforms in Pakistan’s public sector, (2014), https://web.archive.org/web/20171118193315/https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/29822239.pdf

5 Ilhan Niaz, Jinnah on governance: The unheeded advice of Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam. (Asian Affairs, 2016): 406, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03068374.2016.1225902

6 Susan Rose-Ackerman, Corruption and Government: Causes, consequences, and reform. (Cambridge university press: 2016), https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/corruption-and-government/94925B501D79FA0357060F5489DE2F1F

7 Sadaf Aziz, The Constitution of Pakistan: A Contextual Analysis. Bloomsbury Publishing (2018), https://www.amazon.com/Constitution-Pakistan-Contextual-Analysis-Constitutional/dp/184946586X

8 Mark Dummett. Bangladesh war: The article that changed history. BBC News (2011), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-16207201

9 Iqbal, An analysis of administrative reforms, https://web.archive.org/web/20171118193315/https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/29822239.pdf

10 Sarfraz Hussain Ansari and Fatima Bajwa, Higher bureaucracy in Pakistan: A historical analysis of praise and blame. ISSRA papers (2019), https://prdb.pk/article/higher-bureaucracy-in-pakistan-an-historical-analysis-of-pr-9901

11 ICG. Devolution in Pakistan: Reform or Regression? (International Crisis Group: 2004)

12 Pranab Bardhan, Corruption and Development: A Review of Issues. (Journal of Economic Literature: American Economic Association, JSTOR), https://www.jstor.org/stable/2729979?seq=1

13 Sughra Alam, Muhammad Nawaz, and Asia Saif Ali. Civilianization of Military Rule in Pakistan: A Study of Musharraf Era (1999-2005). (Research Gate: 2020), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341965364_Civilianization_of_Military_Rule_in_Pakistan_A_Study_of_Musharraf_Era_1999-2005

14 Asia Report N°185. Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Services. (International Crisis Group: 2010), https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/112809/185_reforming_pakistans_civil_service.pdf

15 Jamshed Khan and Asmat Ullah Wazir, Civil-Military Imbalance in the Administration of Pakistan: A Case Study of Musharraf Era. (Qurtuba Edu: The Dialogue, June 2011), https://www.academia.edu/2221205/Civil-Military_Imbalance_in_the_Administration_of_Pakistan_A_Case_Study_of_Musharraf_Era

16 Rathnam Indurthy, Musharraf’s Regime in Pakistan: The praetorianism faces an uncertain future. (Indian Political Science Association, JSTOR: June 2004), https://www.jstor.org/stable/41855813.

17 Saeed Shafqat, Pakistani Bureaucracy: Crisis of Governance and Prospects of Reform. (Research Gate: 1999), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24046185_Pakistani_Bureaucracy_Crisis_of_Governance_and_Prospects_of_Reform

18 Andrew Wilder, The Politics of Civil Service Reform in Pakistan. (Journal of International Affairs: Columbia, May 2010),

19 Faisal Iqbal, An Analysis of Administrative Reforms in Pakistan’s Public Sector. (University of Bedfordshire, 2014), https://web.archive.org/web/20171118193315/https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/29822239.pdf

20 Asian Report. Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Services. (International Crisis Group: February 2010), https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/112809/185_reforming_pakistans_civil_service.pdf

21 Garth Jones, Pakistan: A civil service in an obsolescing imperial tradition. (Asian Journal of Public Administration: 1997), https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02598272.1997.10800344

22 Mazhar Aziz, Military control in Pakistan: The parallel state. (Routledge: 2007), https://www.routledge.com/Military-Control-in-Pakistan-The-Parallel-State/Aziz/p/book/9780415544740

23 International Crisis Group, Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service. (Relief web: 2010), https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/reforming-pakistans-civil-service-icg-report

24 Matthew J. Nelson. Countries at the crossroads. Freedom House (2011), https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/inline_images/Pakistan%20final.pdf

25 Kurmana Simha Chalam, Governance in South Asia: State of the Civil Services. SAGE Publications (2014), https://sk.sagepub.com/books/governance-in-south-asia

26 Andrew Wilder, The politics of civil service reform in Pakistan. Journal of International Affairs (2009), https://www.jstor.org/stable/24384170?seq=1

27 Muhammad Shoaib Suddle, Reforming Pakistan Police: An Overview. United Nations Asia (2003), https://unafei.or.jp/publications/pdf/RS_No60/No60_12VE_Suddle.pdf

28 Raza Rahman. Local Government System in FATA. FATA Research Journal 2014), https://frc.org.pk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Research-Paper-7.pdf

29 Blanco Armas, Maria Manuela, and Zehra Aslam. Pakistan at 100: Shaping the Future 2047. (The World Bank, 2019), https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documentsreports/documentdetail/544371552660120963/pakistan-at-hundred-shaping-the-future-2047

30 Ahmed, Syud Amer, and Tazeen Fasih. Pakistan at 100: Human Capital. (The World Bank, 2019), https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/abs/10.1596/31414

31 Government of Pakistan. Pakistan Vision 2025: One Nation-One Vision. (2014), https://www.pc.gov.pk/uploads/vision2025/Pakistan-Vision-2025.pdf

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