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Stress Testing Pakistani Federalism

Working Paper 06

Nazish Brohi, Danyal Adam Khan & Mosharraf Zaidi


A global and national crisis is the ultimate stress test of a governance system — especially one which has remained contentious despite repeated political consensus. Federalism is the defining structural and normative framework for how Pakistan is governed. This working paper attempts to examine how Pakistani federalism has responded to the first wave of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and how it has evolved through it.

In light of the tensions in centre-province relations – both historically and during the pandemic – we examine the Covid-19 response through four distinct but interrelated lenses, namely, coordination for the pandemic response, crisis and behavioural change communications, local-level decision making, governance and operations, and finally, social protection and cash grants to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.

Federalism in Pakistan is evolving and must continue to evolve. Lessons for federal design from the Covid-19 response include the need for investing in legislatively robust mechanisms for governance and understanding the limitations of short-term fixes. This paper argues for strengthening institutions of national coordination such as the MIPC and CCI, while also highlighting the state-building value of effective public sector organisations.

It brings to the fore a critical gap in Pakistan’s federal structure by examining the impact of missing local governments and their role in grassroots service delivery. Finally, we explore the immense potential of robust and real-time data for governments, the importance of clear and coherent public communication, and how the federal system can help bridge political divides in times of crises such as Covid-19.

You can read and download the complete Working Paper 06 here.



Nazish Brohi is a Researcher and Analyst in the social development sector in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, focusing on democratization, conflict, gender, and human rights.




Danyal Adam Khan is a Senior Associate at Tabadlab. In his role, Danyal is responsible for overseeing the range and quality of Tabadlab’s thought leadership, creating content and managing teams.




Mosharraf Zaidi is a public intellectual with over two decades of experience in analysing and shaping policy in complex political environments. He has spearheaded research, analysis and delivery for a wide array of reform interventions in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as in the South Asia region.

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CEO and Senior Fellow at Tabadlab. He has over two decades of advisory experience in public policy in complex political environments. He writes a weekly column for The News International, a fortnightly column the Arab News, and hosts the How to Pakistan podcast.