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Is Pakistan A Failed State?

By Dr Shabir Choudhry

14 December, 2009

Many people say Pakistan is a failed state; others say no it is not. Some Jihadi groups and right wing people call Pakistan a ‘fort of Islam’; and a ‘successful’ state, as it made a valuable contribution in the collapse of one Superpower; and has virtually bankrupted the other Superpower in a ‘war on terrorism’.

They make these lofty and irrational claims despite the fact that the country has not won any war against its arch rival, and lost East Pakistan in the war of 1971; and suffered humiliating defeat with imprisonment of more than 90 thousands prisoners. The country is on a verge of economic collapse and rulers are going out with a begging bowl from one country to another; and there is a civil war going on and bombs are blowing in every city and all highly secure institutions have become targets of these bombs.

That aside the issue of a failed state is mentioned from time to time by political commentators and journalists. A failed state is the one which fails to fulfil basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government. All sovereign states have legitimate right to control its territory and have monopoly of use of force within that territory. A state is perceived as a failed state if:

It loses a physical control of some parts of its territory;
It loses monopoly over use of legitimate physical force;
Its writ of government is challenged by militant groups;
It’s power to make collective decisions is gradually eroding;
It is unable to provide basic necessities and essential public services;
It is unable to interact and make legally binding agreements with other states.

Whether we call Pakistan a failed state or ‘dysfunctional state’, phrase coined by a famous writer Tariq Ali; some, if not all, of the above characteristics do apply to Pakistan. A failed state has a weak government which is unable to assert its authority in parts of its territory. In a failed state public services are either non existent or very ineffective and there is widespread corruption, nepotism and criminal activities. In a failed state there are internally displaced people forced out of their homes because of law and order or civil war and sharp economic decline.

According to various indicators including America’s ‘Foreign Policy’ and ‘The Fund For Peace’ Failed States list 2009, Pakistan is a failed state and is among the ten top failed states, with Somalia being at number one. The following list shows the worst 20 states in the world:

1/Somalia, 2/Zimbabwe, 3/ Sudan, 4/ Chad, 5, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 6/ Iraq, 7/ Afghanistan, 8/ Central African Republic, 9/ Guinea, 10/ Pakistan, 11, Cote d’Ivoire, 12/ Haiti, 13/ Myanmar, 14/ Kenya, 15/ Nigeria, 16/ Ethiopia, 17/ North Korea, 18/ Yemen, 19/ Bangladesh, 20/ East Timor

Indicators of state vulnerability

There are twelve indicators which demonstrate state’s vulnerability. Out of twelve indicators four are social, two economic and six political. Social indicators which put a state in a category of a failed state are:

Demographic pressures – high population density relative to supply of food and other life sustaining resources, ownership of land and transport; and control of religious and historical sites etc;

Massive movement of refugees and internally displaced peoples –forced uprooting of large communities causing food shortages, disease, lack of clean water, land competition, and turmoil that can spiral into larger humanitarian and security problems;

Vengeance seeking groups - recent or past injustices, atrocities committed with impunity against communal groups or specific groups, institutionalized political exclusion;
Chronic and sustained human flight - both the ‘brain drain’ of professionals, intellectuals and political dissidents and voluntary emigration of the middle class.

Economic indicators

1. Uneven economic development along group and tribal lines – inequality and injustice perpetrated against a group or a tribe in education, jobs, and economic status.

2. Severe economic decline – shortage of food items, high inflation, drop in foreign investment, debt payments, collapse or devaluation of the national currency and a growth of hidden economies, including the drug trade, smuggling, and capital flight.

Political indicators:

1. Criminalization or de-legitimisation of the state – in a failed state there is endemic corruption and ruling elites oppose transparency, accountability and political representation and use their positions to misappropriate funds in a systematic way;

2. Progressive deterioration of public services – gradually functions of the state become ineffective and fail to protect citizens from terrorism and violence; and fail to provide essential services, such as health, education, sanitation and public transportation etc.

3. Widespread violation of human rights: in a failed state political system is authoritarian and dictatorial, where constitutional and democratic institutions and processes are suspended or manipulated. It is common to have politically inspired violence, rising number of political prisoners, widespread abuse of legal, political and social rights, including those of individuals, groups or cultural institutions, harassment of the press, politicization of the judiciary, internal use of military for political ends, public repression of political opponents, religious or cultural persecution;

4. Security apparatus as ‘state within a state’- in a failed state some individuals and organised groups operate with impunity. State-sponsored or state-supported private or religious militias terrorize and eliminate political opponents, perceived enemies, or civilians considered to be sympathetic to the opposition. This ‘army within an army’ or ‘state within state’ protects and promotes the interests of the dominant military, religious or political elite.

5. Rise of factionalised elites - the ruling elites and state institutions have conflict of interest. They could have divisions based on religious, tribal or nationalistic or sub nationalistic lines.

6. Intervention of other states - in a failed state there is a direct or indirect military or Para-military engagement of other countries – they support one or the other group in accordance with their interest, which seriously affect internal balance of power. This intervention is more extensive by those who provide military and economic help.

If one examines situation of Pakistan impartially then one reaches the conclusion that most of the above are clearly visible in Pakistani society today. I leave it to the judgement and wisdom of the readers to decide if Pakistan is a ‘failed state’, ‘successful state’, a ‘fort of Islam’ or a state struggling for its survival. However one thing is clear that Mohammed Ali Jinnah did not dream this kind of Pakistan. Dream of his Pakistan was shattered in early 1950s, and then the country physically disintegrated in to two countries with the ruling elite having any remorse over it.

I wrote this piece because I was asked why ‘You Kashmiris want to join a country which has a begging bowl in hand and which is a failed state?’ I am not in a position to pass on a judgement if Pakistan is a ‘failed state’ or a ‘successful state’, but one thing is sure that Pakistan is not the country of our dreams. We Kashmiris don’t want to become part of this society or this country which appears to have no future; and those who express their desire to become part of Pakistan are either doing it for ‘rewards’ or have a myopic view of politics and future of Kashmiris.

But that does not mean we want to be part of India or any other country. Our dream is liberal, democratic and independent Jammu and Kashmir. I hope we get this dream in our life time; and if that does not happen then I hope that our future generations will continue the struggle until they get unification and independence. I hope our future generations will benefit from fruits of liberal and democratic society and establish a society based on Kashmiri culture of tolerance and coexistene.

Writer is a Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

To view other articles see my blog:



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