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What ails Pakistan?

The country may be groping around for answers but the key can be found in Kashmir.

By Dr Claude Rakisits | April 2021


This is a question I’ve grappled with ever since I first started studying Pakistan almost 40 years ago as a young Ph.D. student. While there probably is no definitive answer to that question, I do believe there are factors and events which can be identified which have contributed to the deep structural problems Pakistan has today.

In many ways Pakistan started its existence over 70 years ago on the back foot and has been trying to catch up ever since. The fact that Pakistan’s two wings were separated by over a 1000 miles of hostile Indian territory meant that from the very beginning the impoverished country’s economic and political development processes were compounded by a nasty regional neighbourhood.

From the very beginning–and still today—India rejected the very existence of Pakistan. Similarly, Afghanistan refused then—and still does now—to accept the Durand Line as the official demarcation of the western border of Pakistan. Faced with such hostile neighbours bent on making sure Pakistan failed in its nation-building project, the military’s role in Pakistan’s security and governance spaces took added importance from the very beginning. And being the only credible and developed institution in the country—along with the public service, the military soon began to dominate the political space as well. This wasn’t difficult given that after Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, most leaders were relatively speaking political diminutives, parochial and not focused on the national interest.


So whilst it was almost a seamless development that the military filled the political and institutional vacuums, particularly in the early days when Pakistan only had limited infrastructure and was struggling to settle seven million refugees, its ever-increasing role in the national life of the country over the years meant that it crowded out political parties, thus stifling their growth. Moreover, because India dominated—and still does—Pakistan’s security concerns, the resulting military omnipresence in the broader national security space has been almost inevitable. But this has come at a heavy price.

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Dr Claude Rakisits

Dr Claude Rakisits is an Honorary Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University, Canberra. His publications can be read at He can be followed on Twitter @ClaudeRakisits

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2 thoughts on “What ails Pakistan?

  • April 7, 2021 at 6:11 am

    Assume that India wants Pakistan to disappear. A problematic assumption but let’s go by the writer’s statement. In that case, why will India co-operate to solve the Kashmir problem? As per the writer, the unsolved “issue” of Kashmir is the source of all of Pakistan’s ills. In that case, India just has to sit on its hands and let Pakistan cause self harm. No?

  • April 7, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Wouldn’t the reduction in military spending and size of the army create more unemployment that further increases the amount of poor people and negatively affects the standard of living? I believe that a reduction in corruption is a greater factor in improving the situation.