Pakistan: A vanishing state

Published: April 1, 2013
The Writer is a PhD Scholar at West Virginia University in the US

The Writer is a PhD Scholar at West Virginia University in the US

Both empires and states fail or collapse. Examples include the Roman, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Mughal and British empires. From the recent past, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Sudan are the best examples. Professor Norman Davies, in his book Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations recounts the history of 15 European states which disappeared. Professor Robert Rotberg, in his book When States fail: Causes and Consequences provides empirical description on a state’s failure. Similarly, the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine publishes a list of failed states each year, on which Pakistan ranks 13. Pakistan’s score is just 13 points below that of the most failed state in the world, Somalia, and just five points below that of Afghanistan, which is at number seven on the list.

Why do empires and states fail or fall? There are a number of factors for state decline, including social, economic and political. The most common factor is global; it includes intervention by external political agents or forces. In such situations, the empires or states first fail to cope with the new challenges and later collapse. There is a new challenge before Pakistan, which no state in history has ever faced. Today, the world community is unified against religious extremism of any kind and a nuclear Pakistan is heavily convulsed by internal violence linked to religious extremism. After World War II, colonial powers gave independence to many nations, including Pakistan, with a clear rationale or prime motive. At a very critical juncture in history, if states lose their rationale, they lose their right to survive. Pakistan is passing through a critical juncture of her history. If she loses her rationale, she loses her right to exist.

Two questions are important to answer the above-mentioned query. Who creates states and what is their rationale — i.e., the cause of their birth? More than 140 states got independence after the two world wars. The winners of the wars designed the world map by decolonising nations. The process of giving self-rule to new states was intentional and purposeful. British rulers, in congruence with the US, wanted to split India for their long-term interests in the region. In my opinion, Pakistan — the same way as the state of Israel — was created as an independent state to guard Western interests in the region. In both times of war and peace in history, Pakistan proved herself as the guardian of vested interests of Western powers. In return, Pakistan also got the liberty to do a number of things, including attaining nuclear capability. Throughout history, Pakistan changed herself with the changing demands of the West to fulfill her utility and her indispensability.

Thus, a militant, extremist, rigid and nuclear Pakistan was in the larger interests of Western powers, particularly to contain the Soviets and its allies, i.e., India. Now, the Western world has changed its policy towards the region where Pakistan is located and has demonetised its political currency by putting immense pressure on the country to change her course accordingly. But Pakistan seems reluctant.

Is a nuclear Pakistan, with its extremist image, acceptable to the world? The answer to this question is simple: no. In the 21st century, an ideological nation in possession of nukes and facing extremism has no place. We have two options: a) start behaving like a nuclear power by modernising our political and social institutions in order to become partners of global forces instead of becoming their rivals or b) keep insisting on the old course declaring extremism as a tactical weapon and wait to join the club of African nations like Guinea or Somalia. We have to choose between a modern, progressive, secular and stronger nuclear power or a conflict-ridden, tribal and conservative society with extremist leanings. Ideology is no more relevant in modern global politics. History tells us that nations or states collapse only when they refuse to change and insist on being foisted to the moorings of a decadent and eroded social and political order.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (46)

  • sabi
    Apr 1, 2013 - 11:21PM

    Pakistan is not failing but Pakistan of mullah-mindeset is failing.And this should be a good news for everyone.It will take some more time before mullah Pakistan is defeated by none other than by Pakistan itself.True Pakistan will be a blessing for whole region.


  • Ali tanoli
    Apr 1, 2013 - 11:35PM

    I didnot get it your article first u examined the cause of birth and then turn u-turn 360 like mushy did ten plus years ago stay there sir and get job in so called think tanki.


  • numkin
    Apr 1, 2013 - 11:37PM

    Mr. Khan,

    I agree with your assertions.
    However real reason was control of Oil in Iran.
    Pakistan disrupts the process of any pipeline
    to India or China.
    But the British were only interested in controlling the Oil.
    That is why WWI was started because of Iraqi Oil
    that Germany was getting ready to build a railroad to Iraq
    aka Orient Express.
    Now that Pipeline is being built is either as a bluff
    or provocation then all bets are off unless US goest to War against
    Iran and directly controls the oil trade in Dollar.


  • Supersequel
    Apr 1, 2013 - 11:47PM

    I am so sick of self-defeating articles on Pakistan. Pakistan won’t fall–wasn’t it suppose to fall by 2003, 2008, 2012? This country will keep on going inshallah and the mullahs are going to fall.Recommend

  • MSS
    Apr 1, 2013 - 11:55PM

    A very balanced and honest view. Mr SA Khan is pointing in the right direction. Hope some future policy makers are listening.Recommend

  • opler
    Apr 2, 2013 - 12:02AM

    is there any hope? Coz many pakistanis ,including many educated ones aren’t willing to change (probably coz of brainwashing and hate speech in text books ) and increasing internet censorship by govt. Is there any hope?


  • Atif Salahuddin
    Apr 2, 2013 - 12:15AM

    Pakistan has failed to achieve peace and prosperity for its people over the last 65 years – but it is no coincidence that during this time we have had a secular ruling system, be it in the form of dictatorship or as currently in the form of democracy. So as the first step towards solving our problems, we should be honest enough to recognise the current political reality; it is no good blaming Islam or ‘conservative’ forces when the truth is we are being ruled under a secular order.

    Secondly the author is gravely mistaken when he states that ideology is no longer relevant to modern global politics. What is it that Western leaders such as Tony Blair and George Bush declared upon the commencement of the War on Terror and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? That the fight was to liberate the Muslim masses from Islamic ‘extremism’ and to give them freedom, democracy and push their liberal values of secularism, free market reforms and human rights. Western leaders today are still pursuing the War on Terror as they continue to lecture other countries such as North Korea and China on the need for Democracy. So whether we agree or not with these ideological solutions and values, ideology is absolutely relevant to global politics.

    Finally, great nations and powers arise when they stand for their values and interests, not by becoming synonymous with the current order. Today the world is engulfed in crisis both politically, financially and morally under a Western dominated order. Pakistan needs to have vision, not just abandon its Islamic values. We need to look to our history and examine alternative ways of ruling, not just follow the failed status quo.


  • Ali tanoli
    Apr 2, 2013 - 12:15AM

    Sir, we are not worst than 47, 65, or 2001…. think positive.


  • Mirza
    Apr 2, 2013 - 12:21AM

    @sabi: Your eternal optimism is giving me new hope!


  • Mirza
    Apr 2, 2013 - 12:26AM

    A pragmatic and thought provoking Op Ed, thanks ET for that. I agree that we have to make a decision for our future direction. Are we going to continue in the wrong direction or change course?
    We have to learn that Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan and other dictators despite all their military might could not contain the masses forever. Unless we cut our wasteful non productive defense expenses and work on a welfare state for poor people, our future is bleak. With the US money drying up we cannot continue the current course even if we starve our people.


  • Kannan
    Apr 2, 2013 - 1:06AM

    Who says Pakistan does not want to change., but only that it puts a price for it to change. Also, for any country to change it has understand its limitations and not carried away by being nuclear power or close ally of a super power. In 21st century, war does not mean that countries will fight only on their borders.


  • Ameican Desi
    Apr 2, 2013 - 1:08AM

    @sabi: The day Pakistan was formed as “Islamic Republic” it made Mullah’s and xenophobic elements more stronger than any progressive thinker in Pakistan. Many of my Pakistani friends here in USA do wish that the things change for betterment of Paksitan but none of them or their families back in Pakistan is willing to start the change. They have learned to keep their heads low infront of various mullah’s constantly guiding their life. Only ones who are brave or unaware of Pakistan’s problem were from Islamabad and some posh locales of Karachi who do never ventured outside their elite circle.
    Pakistan was created for all wrong reasons and as author pointed out for western interests. If not, then we would have a single secular country not Hindu or Islamic republic. Our people would have thrived and economically progressed instead of filling western pockets in purchasing their weapons.
    It will take a huge leap of faith for both Pakistanis and Indians to dissolve their differences and unite again.


  • bball
    Apr 2, 2013 - 1:21AM

    Son, those books you recently read lead you to the conclusion that Pakistan is failing? Come visit outside the library to see the liveliness of Pakistan and Pakistanis – it’s up to the all of us to capture the moment or let it slip but the country is here to stay; it’s not going anywhere.


  • Cosmo
    Apr 2, 2013 - 2:14AM

    “Pakistan — the same way as the state of Israel — was created as an independent state to guard Western interests in the region. In both times of war and peace in history, Pakistan proved herself as the guardian of vested interests of Western powers.”

    Jinnah & His followers:
    How does it feel to be manipulated ?? !!


  • cautious
    Apr 2, 2013 - 2:26AM

    Rubbish. The USA has zero to do with the formation of Pakistan and clearly didn’t want Pakistan or India to go nuclear – pretty much trashes the entire article.


  • raji
    Apr 2, 2013 - 2:48AM

    The discussion based on comparison between empires and failing state seem wrong because pakistan never became an empire. Empires have plenty of resources and yet they fail which is not in this case so their failings are completely different.


  • PiS
    Apr 2, 2013 - 3:31AM

    @Ali tanoli Sir, we are not worst than 47, 65, or 2001…. think positive.
    @supersequel I am so sick of self-defeating articles on Pakistan. Pakistan won’t fall–wasn’t it suppose to fall by 2003, 2008, 2012?

    So our idea of a successful state is barely surviving on the brinks of failure? If this is the target, then we can surely live “successfully” for another 66 years. But if the target is to become a self sustaining prosperous nation-state, then we are in constant state of failure on that scale. Having said that, we can still turn around our country by becoming truly secular (separation of church and state) and focus on economic stability and welfare of our citizens as the primary objective of our existence.


  • SHB
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:02AM

    I agree with you


  • SHB
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:04AM

    Yes we have to stand on our feet


  • SHB
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:10AM

    How long this writer has been residing in USA.
    He should visit Pakistan more often to see the life of common man, how they are living their life. Hopefully it will help him. I do it myself. It helps me to understand better. Media always give the negative news because that is their business.


  • Mika
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:37AM

    According to pundits Pakistan is a failed state since beginning. Luckily reality is different from academic bubble. Pakistan although not perfect it is still better than most places.


  • Seema
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:56AM

    God help West Virginia University if this is there level of doctorate scholarship!


  • gp65
    Apr 2, 2013 - 6:07AM

    @sabi: I hope that what you hope for comes true.


  • Nadir
    Apr 2, 2013 - 6:48AM

    @cautious: Agreeing to decolonization in Asia and Africa was one of the price the British paid for the US agreeing to enter the war against the Nazi’s. So in a way the US did have something to do with the creation of Pakistan.


  • Falcon
    Apr 2, 2013 - 6:49AM

    I don’t disagree with you, but you have put forth your judgement of the article without providing your rationale behind it?


  • Alex
    Apr 2, 2013 - 7:04AM

    So finally it is not the fault of Pakistanis but that of British and US for your current miserable state. Now after you have already blamed others for your state, why do you expect the readers to then understand what you said in the last sentence?? You have already said that Pakistan could not a secular state because of westerners!! May be you should first understand that the fault lies in….


  • waqar khan
    Apr 2, 2013 - 8:17AM

    Another Hussain Haqqani in the making. Sir please keep pursuing your higher studies and keep bluffing the US by your insightful articles. See you after elections.


  • Ahmad
    Apr 2, 2013 - 8:48AM

    ahem ahem….there are tiny parts of Pakistan which are certainly failing. FATA and some areas of karachi do not constitute the entire Pakistan.

    7 years ago I left Pakistan because I thought it was failing. When I came back, I expected that Pakistan had failed and my decision to leave it was the right one. The only problem was, that when I came back I could hardly recognize Islamabad,Pindi, Peshawar and Lahore. New roads, fly overs, underpasses, food chains, malls, cinemas etc did not look like a failing Pakistan. It’s as if Pakistan is bent upon proving everyone wrong.


  • noni
    Apr 2, 2013 - 8:58AM

    Irrespective of history and future prediction, the most important notion and question in this article is “the right and rationale of nation-state”, and most of you commentators would agree that Pakistan is lacking the one. I hope that we will survive but not at the cost of lives of million innocent and the financial and social misery of those survived.


  • usman
    Apr 2, 2013 - 9:14AM

    This article and “who can contest elections?” should be read together for more comprehensive view of the picture.


  • Mirza
    Apr 2, 2013 - 9:19AM

    Sir I hear your point clearly. I have done a lot of study (not that others have not) and the US was in favor of the formation of Pakistan and from the beginning has supported us. Soon after Pakistan came into being the US has taken Pakistan under its defense umbrella and the agreements of SEATO and CENTO were signed. Almost all of our arms have been US made.
    The more recent is 1985 when Senator Pressler Amendment Passed, Requiring Yearly Certification by the US president that Pakistan Does Not Have Nuclear Weapons. Because of the Afghan war or other reasons the CIA, State Dept and the US president kept giving false reports to the US congress that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is not active. That process continued even during father Bush’s term.
    Thanks and regards,


  • wonderer
    Apr 2, 2013 - 10:23AM

    This is a timely, clear headed and well reasoned article which has come not even a day too soon. We have to keep our gairat aside and think, and think hard for our own good. There is very little light at the end of the tunnel.

    There are many relevant factors covered in this piece, but there are many others ones which relate to our distant past history and our mental makeup. Those interested should listen to a frank and informative talk show on this link:


  • Khan
    Apr 2, 2013 - 10:36AM

    Again not sure if ET is going to publish my comments or not.

    Don’t know why this new fashion is so hot in the biased media that everybody tries to make a conclusion that next morning Pakistan will collapse. Now coming to your point of extremism and blah blah…

    Dear Mr.Khan in the nuclear history only one enlightened, moderate country has used the atomic bomb that this US itself. You know what I think some time that in couple of years guys like you will say that the person/pilot who dropped the nuclear bomb in Japan had his roots from Pakistan.

    And by the way do you have any time to analyze the threats and statements on air from North Korea, I mean you are saying that Pakistan is not unacceptable but NK nuclear state is because that is a non Muslim extremist state. irony knows no bounds


  • Sadia
    Apr 2, 2013 - 10:58AM


  • satinder
    Apr 2, 2013 - 11:42AM

    what is islamic values ?
    is it practical in todays time ?
    There are 55 Islamic Nations any one of them is a Role Model ?


  • observer
    Apr 2, 2013 - 12:01PM


    7 years ago I left Pakistan because I thought it was failing.
    The only problem was, that when I came back I could hardly recognize Islamabad,Pindi, Peshawar and Lahore.

    You left when Pakistan was ‘failing under a military regime’. And you came back to see it ‘prospering under a civilian dispensation’.

    And, Sir, this is the most heartening aspect. A civilian/ political dispensation has to be more pro-people any day. Let us hope we will have civilians only ruling the country in the future.

    If you notice the article also points to manipulation of Pakistan by Western powers while it was under Military control.


  • Nadeem
    Apr 2, 2013 - 4:21PM

    @ Ahmad
    Sir, have to been to the villages and asked how the average Pakistani lives. Or did you look at the parts like Islamabad which have benefited from government spending and overseas aid.


  • Apr 2, 2013 - 4:38PM

    @Ameican Desi: — It will take a huge leap of faith for both Pakistanis and Indians to dissolve their differences and unite again.

    i am sorry to say but can you give me, (in the current scenario) one reason as to why Indians would like a reunion..On this side of the border we want and wish a stable, prosperous (and preferably a liberal) Pakistan because that is what is in the interest of India,. ( Unstable Pakistan will always remain a cause of concern).


  • cautious
    Apr 2, 2013 - 4:42PM

    @Mirza. The author contention that the USA wanted the formation of Pakistan to use as a lever against both India and Russia simply nonsense and rewriting history. India didn’t start out as an enemy of the USA – and when Pakistan was formed it was Pakistan that made overtures to the USA not the other way around. Also – the concept that the USA wanted a nuclear Pakistan as a lever against Russia is ludicrous – ignores sanctions and other actions that any common Pakistani should know.
    Did the USA eventually use Pakistan to assist in it’s cold war with Russia – yes – but that doesn’t mean it had anything to do with the formation of Pakistan. The USA also tried to court India and would have used her as part of the same battle – doesn’t mean the USA had anything to do with the formation of India/Pakistan.


  • sabi
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:40PM


    @Ameican Desi:
    “Many of my Pakistani friends here in USA do wish that the things change for betterment of Paksitan but none of them or their families back in Pakistan is willing to start the change. They have learned to keep their heads low infront of various mullah’s constantly guiding their life.”
    Without going into back ground, which I hope you are familiar with,I must say ordinary Pakistani has rejected mullah in politics- electoral record of Pakistan speaks for it.This is what a gentel way of rejection is to be.


  • Historian 1
    Apr 2, 2013 - 5:43PM

    I do not agree with the author. Recently I went to Pakistan and I was amazed by the development of infrastructure in Lahore and Islamabad. The improvement was fascinating. However I feel that Pakistanis need to control population and also to reduce dependence on mullah ism.


  • Sudhir Kale
    Apr 2, 2013 - 9:34PM

    What a wonderful article! Brings the reader wide awake!! Bravo…..
    As long as Pakistan has such journalists, it need not be called “A vanishing State”


  • kamran
    Apr 2, 2013 - 9:47PM

    Good to read so many optimistic Pakistanis who are still very positive about the state of affairs we are in. Its certainly very encouraging. However, by ‘FAILING STATE’ the writer did not essentially mean falling apart geographically. Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are still intact geographically despite the huge bloodshed which is ongoing. But the fact of the matter is Pakistan as a state is failing or may already have failed. The Dhaka Fall is the biggest example of an already failed state, where 54% of the population decided to part ways – the biggest sin afterwards was the callous and indifferent behavior of the nation and all its institutions where it was not even considered to identify the culprits and put them on trial. Here are few more examples to prove my point and that of writer of the above OpEd:
    – Mumtaz Qadri – the assassin of Salman Taseer, who admitted his crime is still treated as Ghazi and not a murderer by many. The state can not execute the due process despite having irrefutable evidences.
    – There is a genocide ongoing against Shias and the perpetrators are enjoying benefits from the government
    – No one was questioned, reprimanded for the Abbotabad fiasco, GHQ embarrassment and Mehran Base attacks – no heads rolled for lack of professionalism
    – General Aslam Baig and Asad Durrani were convicted for violating their oaths and conspiring against Democracy but no one can dare to do justice with them.
    – 187 houses of poor Christians were set a blazed but no one will ever be penalized for that
    – Thousands of innocent Karachites were killed in target killing and we know who is doing what but the state is not interested in doing justice and protecting the citizens.
    – Pervez Musharraf – a tyrant and mass murderer is still hailed by a segment of society and despite all the atrocities he committed he is still at large and nothing will happen to him.

    What is a failed state then??? are we any better than Somalia, Afghanistan or Syria?


  • Mir Agha
    Apr 2, 2013 - 10:34PM

    lol, West Virginia University. It’s basically a community college.


  • Khurram
    Apr 3, 2013 - 9:22AM

    Was about to agree with the last para but then
    “Ideology is no more relevant in modern global politics.”


  • Jan Kakar
    Apr 5, 2013 - 1:30AM

    Really I will prefer not to go in more details about this country, but very briefly I will tell you one thing that the Ideological basis of this country are contradictory to the construction of Modern and Secular state and If chose the modern way to evolve this state it will melt down like ice under the heating Sun.As much as its present condition is concerned it is not acceptable to any one in the world, on the other side USSR is no more there, that is why there is no wall there is no shadow. This country is going to crash sooner or later, It is still keeping a lot of contradictions, the role of Punjabi army and establishment and so many dangerous thing are still on the way just wait and see.


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