“The theory of Pakistan guarantees that federated units of the national government would have all the autonomy that you will find in the constitutions of the United States of America, Canada and Australia. But certain vital powers will remain vested in the Central Government such as the monetary system, national defence and other federal responsibilities.”

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

(An interview with the Associated Press of America 8th November 1945)

Federalism as an aspiration figures in the Pakistan Resolution of 1940. However, the adoption of the Government of India Act of 1935 as the provisional constitution at the time of independence undermined the original federal vision for the country. Later the introduction of the parity formula and the creation of the One Unit (1955), under which the provinces of west Pakistan were merged into one unit further frustrated the federal dreams. The Constitution of 1956 created a formal federal polity but was abrogated by Ayub Khan in 1958. The 1962 Constitution created by a military regime further centralized the governance structure. The Constitution of 1973 enshrined a federal structure with three tiers of governance – local, provincial and federal but the constitution was substantially amended by military rulers, Zia-ul-Huq and Pervez Musharraf.

A major development in the creation of a genuine federal system in Pakistan has been the unanimous passage of the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution in 2010. It nullified most of the undemocratic changes incorporated by military regimes, returning parliamentary powers to their original nature with more powers given to the provinces.

The major federal challenge for Pakistan, a geographically and demographically diverse nation, is to empower its provinces and tribal areas, nurture and institutionalize the mindset and culture of federalism, while at the same time maintaining a united federal republic.