Reliable Security Information

Pakistan's Fragile Foundations


Pakistan's struggles to suppress rising militant violence have prompted a number of experts to call for the government--with help from international partners--to address the country's long-standing structural flaws. Among the main recommendations: greater political rights for provinces; socioeconomic equality for various ethnic groups; and a diminution of the military's dominant role. While most experts say there is no fear of a breakup of the country, the government's ability to rule is increasingly being questioned. Pointing to the country's deteriorating law-and-order situation, CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey warns of a "gradual decay" of the state's capacity to govern.

A Weak State

Alternating between strong military rulers and weak civilian governments, Pakistan has failed to develop healthy political institutions, a lasting democracy, an impartial judiciary, or a thriving economy. Since its birth in August 1947, Pakistan has grappled with an acute sense of insecurity in the midst of a continuing identity crisis, writes Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistan analyst, in the 2008 book Descent into Chaos. "Pakistan's inability to forge a national identity has led to an intensification of ethnic, linguistic, and regional nationalism, which has splintered and fragmented the country," he argues. The most dramatic example of this splintering occurred in 1971 when the government's failure to address the needs of the ethnic Bengali community led to East Pakistan becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh.

In several instances, Pakistan's courts and judges have found it expedient or necessary to accommodate constitutional changes or unconstitutional maneuvers by Pakistan's leaders. Political parties, though large in number, continue to be dominated by the country's traditional elite, and have frequently been accused of massive corruption.

Pakistan's current ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, wrote in TheWashington Quarterly in 2005 (while a visiting scholar at the Carnegie...

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