The Evolution Of The Modern State System: Does Pakistan Meet The Criteria Of A Modern State? – OpEd


Concept of the state system

Historical records reveal that the very concept and nodes of the modern nation-state system can be traced back to the creation of Greek city-states when first they came to prominence around 700 BCE followed by the Roman city-state system in 753 BCE, later on, converted into kingdoms and empires and their re-emergence with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This system began in Europe and spread elsewhere in the world, which established the concept of State Sovereignty. 

The origin of the existing modern state system which provides a history of the division of global space into independent states with defined principles and boundaries in Asia and the rest of the world took place after decolonization due to the First and Second World Wars from 1914 to 1945. The modern nation-state was identified with its four essential elements: Territorial integrity, Sovereignty, Nationalism, and Equality. 

Responsibilities of the Modern State 

The first and most important duty of the State is to protect the life and property of its people. For this purpose, the State agrees with citizens called social contact or constitution, and makes laws to prevent others from interfering in the affairs of the individual. If any individual violates the law of the State, he is punished. In this regard, the idea of Socrates is most relevant in that the “goal of sharing wealth within in state was not just to make one class happy, but to achieve maximum possible happiness for the nation as a whole”. The Roman scholar Cicero writes, about the behavior of the state, “He who takes care of only one group of citizens and neglects the rest perpetrates to introducing the deadliest element in the city, by which I mean anarchy and hatred.” 

Emperor Ashoka (about the state), also seems in one of his inscriptions wishing for protection, self-control, justice, and happiness for all within the state system. I think the quote of 4th US President James Madison is the most recent and relevant in this regard, he says, “All governments depend on opinion. The states appear bigger than tall buildings, mirrors, and armies, but they all depend on whether people trust them or not”.

Is Pakistan meeting the criteria of statehood or fulfilling its responsibilities as a state?

The 76 years of the chequered political, economic, and judicial history of the country deficits altogether opposite picture and contrary stories what has been said or defined by various Scholars and political scientists about the state and its duties toward its citizens. Our political system has swung from parliamentary to presidential, from democratic to dictatorial, and hybrid forms of governance but none of them have met the criteria of modern statehood specifically about delivering goods to the public-resulting in 1971 debacle-separation of East Pakistan.

Our judicial history is full of controversies. The whole judicial system has become rotten due to constant interventions and unabated manipulations, polarisation during the judicial process and decisions, and particularly politicization of higher judiciary during the selection and appointments of judges. Resultantly, the elites get relief within in short period while common people are lingering for seeking Justice in the courts for decades.

Economically we as a nation are facing multiple challenges. Unfortunately, successive governments – whether civilian, hybrid, or military – have consistently failed to take meaningful action for the betterment of the public. This failure is rooted in vested interests, lack of political will, and a fear of disrupting the status quo.

The whole country particularly its economy is captured by a small elite class. This phenomenon, known as ‘elite capture’, stands as a formidable challenge to human development and social justice in Pakistan, according to esteemed economist Dr. Hafiz Pasha. It systematically erodes the foundations of economy, democracy, accountability, and equality. 

As a result of a lack of coherent policies, Pakistan having begging bowl in hand has borrowed from the IMF 23 times since 1958, including 14 times since 1988 and six times since 2000. Turning to the IMF is the economic equivalent of a sick individual being in intensive care. Considering that Pakistan has spent 22 years in the last three decades in the IMF’s intensive care, the country’s economy suffers from some serious ailment.

Pakistan posted GDP growth of a meager 0.29 percent in the fiscal year ending June 2023, below the target of 5.0 percent set last year, and less than the annual population growth rate of 2.5 percent. The country’s population is increasing faster than its economy is growing, pointing to the depth of the economic crisis. The country is short of foreign exchange because it imports more than it exports and has to service external debts. The government generates less revenue in taxes than it spends; the State Bank prints notes to finance the government’s expenditures, resulting in rampant inflation; politicians are blaming each other for the faltering economy.

According to the World Energy Council, at present, Pakistan ranks among the lowest (99 out of 110). From July 2021 to May 2022, Pakistan’s food import bill was reported to be 7.5 billion dollars. We import wheat, lentils, and edible oils to name a few food products from the long list. So much for being an agricultural country.

Pakistan ranks 129 out of 140 in the 2022 World Justice Project (WJP) rule of law index. However, when it comes to order and security, the ranking drops to an abysmal 139 out of 140, only beating Afghanistan.

The nation faces a multitude of pressing issues: a woeful state of education, an exploding population, a looming water crisis, lamentable health services, distressing law and order situation, runaway inflation, a chronically underperforming economy, sorely needed judicial reforms, fuzzy civil-military relationship, massive brain drain, climate change and above all security challenges.

Why Pakistan is considered a failed or abnormal state?

A failed state or “weak state” is a state-like entity that cannot coerce and is unable to successfully control the inhabitants of a given territory (Clark & Golder, 2012). They are incapable of providing these goods, and once a state has become weak, it loses effective sovereignty over part of its territory. according to Phillip Bobbit, the state loses its legitimacy when it can no longer fulfill the function of maintaining, nurturing, and improving the condition of its citizens.

Further, States and policies, for instance, are sometimes referred to as ‘abnormal’, and in International Relations (IR) research, the label has been used most persistently to describe post-war Japan and its foreign and security policy. The similarities, as well as divergences between Japan’s and Pakistan’s abnormalities, are worth undertaking a deeper look by academia in Pakistan.

The tumultuous history of politics and the successes as well as failures of the civil, military, and hybrid governments in Pakistan in the last seven decades coupled with politicised judicial  and weak economic systems unfortunately has earned both images of failed as well as abnormal state. This ugly image needs to be evaluated keeping in view the features and fundamentals of the state’s behavior toward its citizens and the whole governance system especially concerning the achievement of vital and non-vital national interest.

How to become a normal modern nation-state?

Pakistan’s problems are political in nature: not technical. The concentration of power within a small elite-class civil military — particularly in certain key domains such as foreign policies and governance including state bureaucracy corporate strongholds and the security apparatus — is the primary reason for continued abnormality and bed governance in the country. Multiple follies for the seven decades have been committed by leaders and individuals in positions of authority including institutions responsible for running the affairs of the state. The whole system requires serious introspection for the survival of our state. True democratic dispensation based on republican principles of social justice, respect for the constitution, the rule of law, liberal freedom from dogmas, and an inclusive system of governance is required.

Pakistanis must embrace economic pragmatism and do away with ideological preoccupations that have kept productivity down and foreign investment away. Religious militancy, and judicial interference in political and economic affairs particularly in investment contracts (remember Reko Diq, still mill, etc must be stopped forthwith.

Economic recovery needs pragmatism, which would lead the nation to open trade with all countries, especially immediate neighbors India, Iran, Afghanistan and notwithstanding political or other territorial disputes. Investment in building human capital that would expand the country’s technological base, leading to economic modernization specifically foreign Investment should be the priority. It thrived in EU countries, particularly the best example is the China-India border dispute. They put aside their centuries-old hostilities and opted for trade and investment.

Pakistan’s strategic location in the region attracts many international investors in mega projects like TAPI, IPI, CASA-1000, and specifically CPEC but given the tense environment within the country and of the region due to our geo-strategic position coupled with global geopolitics particularly our hostility with India and now with Taliban government in Afghanistan has stalled all those projects for decades and it is not possible for business owners to access to the Central Asian market. 

The grime security situation particularly the TTP’s resurgence in KP and Balochistan and continuing Baloch insurgency in parts of the western province have scared investors away. Therefore, it is important that the bitter history is buried and relations with neighbors are normalized. Equally important is to engage all disaffected parties and stakeholders in dialogue. Without these steps, investment claims specifically foreign investment under SIFC will forever remain just a dream.

The country is in dire need of permanent and pro-public policies but successive governments have been in search of shortcuts. The Musharraf regime depended heavily on 9/11-related inflows that came into the country in the middle of the 2000s. The PML-N government of 2013 found inflows from bilateral sources like China or the Gulf countries. The PTI government found a bonanza economic growth pushing further down the country into economic meltdown.The current caretaker government is endeavoring to materialize the dream of SIFC and the recent visit of the caretaker PM to gulf countries and signing contracts in billions for investment in the country if materialized, will be a sigh of relief for the ailing economy.

For Pakistan to remove the image of an abnormal and failing state and effectively move forward as a modern nation-state, it must confront its internal and external hurdles head-on delicately and consistently. This requires substantial restructuring of our political economic and judicial system including our internal and external policies particularly switching from security to welfare state. The main focus should be overhauling and education, health infrastructure, and a commitment to inclusive, representative, and good governance. 

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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