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Characteristics of a Failed State: Pakistan Essay

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Updated: Nov 4th, 2019


Pakistan is a large and populous country which came into existence in 1947 after an armed struggle from the British colonizers. Since then, the country has had a turbulent history ranging from the aggression against their neighbor India to conflicts with militant groups along its borders.

The insecurity experienced in Pakistan has led to the nation being classified as a failing state by some countries among the international community. This paper shall argue that Pakistan is a failing state and is in danger of becoming a fully failed state if it continues on the same path. To reinforce this claim, this paper shall articulate the characteristics of a failed state that Pakistan currently exhibits.

Characteristics of a Failed State

Rotberg (2004, p.85) characterizes failed states as being “tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous, and contested bitterly by warring factions. While Pakistan has a functional government, the country is characterized by bitter warring factions. The government and civilians continue to suffer from the sporadic suicide attacks that are perpetrated and civilian causalities are high. While the Pakistani government has launched numerous operations against the militants, the attacks continue to occur with increasing frequency.

Another characteristic of failed states is that the central government is not able to control all its territory. This is the case with Pakistan and Hains (2008) notes that while the geographical region known as Pakistan appears as a unified state on the map, the region is not wholly under the control of any single government as is typical of a fully functioning nation-state.

The Pakistan government has a marginal control of Baluchistan which is Pakistan’s largest province. In the Sparsely populated tribal lands, the Pakistani government has little to no control and Tribal leaders are the law in these regions. Baluchistan became a part of Pakistan after forceful annexation by Pakistan army following the 1947 independence. Since then, the people of Baluchistan have been involved in an armed conflict with Pakistan in a bid to annex themselves from the state.

Failing states are also characterized by a loss of monopoly by the government over the use of physical force. The Northwest border of Pakistan with Afghanistan is one of the regions where the central Pakistan government exhibits very little control.

This region which is referred to as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is a hub of illegal fire arms and a training ground for militants. As a result of the lawlessness in the tribal regions of Pakistan, the country acts as a safe haven for terrorist groups. As a matter of fact, the Pakistan Taliban is able to operate in Pakistan with the protection of the tribal leaders

The Pakistan army breached the FATA for the first time during the 2002 US led war on terror in the region. Four years into the incursion, the Pakistan army made a retreat from the region as a result of huge casualties suffered in the region. This led to the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban in the Waziristan region.

Hains (2008) asserts that the signing of the peace treaty was equivalent to a defacto acceptance of an independent “Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” – ruled by the Taliban”. This area continues to serve as a safe haven for terrorist groups such as the infamous Al Qaeda.

A nation’s justice system has a direct bearing on the perceived legitimacy of a government by its people. Hains (2008) states that the reason for this is that the nation’s citizens are more likely to cooperate with the security apparatus if they perceive that the justice system is effective and fair.

While Pakistan boasts of a well established justice system, this state apparatus is plagued by allegations of corruption and inefficiency. The humanitarian situation in Pakistan is at best appalling. A report published by Amnesty International in 2007 revealed that Pakistan violated a wide array of human rights including “right to life, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance”.

The Pakistani government relies heavily on aid from donor countries such as the US to reinforce its position. This aid is mostly in the form of military hardware in a bid to contain the terrorism threat in Pakistan. This aid has led to a situation whereby the Pakistani government has been forced to demonstrate its accountability to the US instead of its citizens.

This visible political intrusion has been as a result of the huge financial aid that the US gives to Pakistan. By being accountable to its donors rather than its own people, the Pakistan government has lost legitimacy in the eyes of some of its citizens leading to increased attacks on government installations.


This paper set out to give a profile of Pakistan as a country and in particular to discuss the nature of Pakistan as a failed state. To this end, the paper has highlighted the characteristics of a failed state that Pakistan in its present condition exhibits. The Pakistani government does not wield control over its entire territory and its justice system is dysfunctional.

This paper has demonstrated that as a result of this, Pakistan falls under the category of failing states. If the situation is not addressed, the future of the state of Pakistan is uncertain and it may become a fully failed state like Somalia.


Amnesty International. (2007). Pakistan Human Rights ignored in the ‘War on Terror’. Web.

Hains, C. M. et al. (2008). Breaking the Failed-State Cycle. RAND Corporation.

Rotberg I. R. (2004). “The New Nature of Nation-State Failure.” The Washington Quarterly. Vol. 25 No 3, 2002: 85-96.

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