The un-official performance of official business in Pakistan: the interface with state bureaucracy

  • Shehryar Khan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


It is widely recognised, both locally and internationally, that poor or bad governance is a major impediment to the effective performance of public sector institutions in Pakistan. A careful analysis of the literature suggests that good governance is a sine qua non for achieving human development in the country. From the standpoint of providing an empirical understanding of the above assessment of the role of governance, the literature and current scholarship analyse problems of governance in Pakistan with reference to normative literature on good governance and public administration. This normative literature predominantly reflects principles and conceptions drawn from Western political systems. As an ideal type, these systems reflect liberal pluralistic societies in which there is a clear separation between the executive and the legislature. Moreover, they highlight the significance of technical expertise, managerial competencies and effective public sector institutions.The literature compares the experience of countries like Pakistan to this ideal construct, and therefore encourages a ‘subtractivist’ and normative approach in its assessment of governance. In so doing, it points to practices of corruption, political interference, lack of accountability, and patron–client forms of behaviour as explanations of Pakistan’s poor or bad governance trajectory.My thesis offers a very different perspective on governance in Pakistan. It adopts an interactionist-epistemological stance in order to develop a framework which focuses on the actual behaviour of state bureaucracy. Using ethnographic data collected from three distinct case studies, the thesis demonstrates the significance of informal social norms: in particular, clientelism, personal relationships and moral attachments. These social norms deeply affect the actual behaviour of public officials. In the implementation of policies and development interventions, public officials both deploy and are exposed to these informal social norms. This can result in behaviour or decisions which run counter to official or expected norms. In this thesis, I argue that the challenges of governance in Pakistan are firmly situated in the historical account of the state’s formation and in the deeper structures of society. This characterisation better captures state–society relationships and allows for the development of a more realistic insight into real governance trajectories in the country. In Pakistan, the operations of public administration are complex and require a close examination of porous public–private boundaries. These boundaries constantly shape administrative practices as well as stakeholder interactions and negotiations. This is the actual landscape of governance in which citizens have to negotiate access to public and collective services.
Date of Award31 Mar 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJoe Devine (Supervisor) & Geof Wood (Supervisor)

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