Since my move back to Pakistan from London, I have been profoundly moved by the energy and good humour of my countrymen. Be it the cheerful mechanic who was woken up at 11:00 pm to create a working tire rod after friends and I broke down on the Motorway, or the passion with which students at Quaid-e-Azam University gather outside the café to debate on secularizing the state. In other words, I am anything but a gloomy prophet of the “Pakistan as a Failed State” thesis. In this regard, let me also point out, with apologies to George Orwell, that from a historical point of view: All states fail. Some just fail faster than others.

Consider, for a moment, the fact that the “eternal” Mongol and Roman Empire is long gone. Both in the West and the East, they fell in the end. Again, even such seemingly longer-living “polities” as China, Russia and Britain are merely a succession of states, sometimes unified and sometimes fragmented, that have been formed, failed and reformed by peoples sharing a cultural heritage in the same geographical area.

To add more to it, Chinese history is that of a series of dynasties and revolutions, and it is sometimes tempting to view today’s Communist China as merely the latest of a long line of dynasties that began thousands of years ago. In all their histories, there have been moments of profound crisis, when they seemed on the verge of “failing,” and when they actually did “fail,” and then had to be “re-formed” as new states. To me, the definition of a failed state is one that no longer exists. At the moment that definition does not even apply to Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, or South Sudan. It hardly applies to Pakistan. All the others are being torn apart by civil strife and sectarian terrorism in ways that makes our country appear a haven of relative stability in the midst of what sometimes looks to be the Muslim “Thirty Years’ War.”

Even if one was to leave aside extreme cases of states in turmoil, countries like Italy rival Pakistan for corruption; France in its reputation for bureaucracy, and with regards to a “functioning” democracy, our National Assembly and Senate sometimes appear more efficient than the dysfunctional grid-lock that grips Washington thanks to the relations (or lack thereof!) existing between President Obama and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. As for problems such as persistent poverty, youth unemployment, inefficient government and industrial bureaucracies, human and drug trafficking, law and order, environmental degradation, and so on — these are worldwide in scope, although the intensity naturally varies from state to state and region to region.

Convincingly, any modern state – federal or otherwise – can only survive if it establishes the firm and consistent rule of law, based on principles that are acceptable over time to the overwhelming mass of the citizenry. In other words, to gain their loyalty, a state must become a Rechtstaat in which all citizens are equal before the law, and in which the rights of minorities are guaranteed and have the same protection as the majority. While one cannot legislate mutual respect between people of different ethnic or tribal groupings, a strict legal regime (such as that banning segregation in the Southern United States) can create an environment that promotes this development over time. Without this, I believe a true democracy cannot function, “special interests” cannot be curbed, corruption cannot be punished, equality (or perhaps better, equity) established, and security in all its senses achieved.

This concept of “man the citizen” provided the basis for the development of an American nationalism which, despites its many subsequent excesses, enabled the United States to eventually absorb – as citizens — its own Black slaves, as well as waves of immigrants from South and Eastern Europe, Mexicans and other Latin Americans, Muslims from the Middle East and Pakistan, Hindus, Vietnamese and Japanese Buddhists, Confucian Chinese and in time, even women. And although the praxis did not always match the theories, as American citizens they became individuals legally endowed with rights. While all this did not immediately bring them full equality before the law, let alone in a social-economic sense, it did give them all – again women eventually included – a legal base from which to demand full legal equality.

As it is known fact, that process has been long and tortuous, and even entailed fighting a bitter Civil War. And indeed, in the United States as elsewhere, it is still far from finished. For like Pakistanis, today’s Americans too are still in the process of nation-building. And like the rest, their state will not become a failed state unless they succumb completely to the temptations of empire and super-capitalism – temptations which could easily destroy the very foundations on which their nation-state was founded. But until then, we can all learn from their successes as well as their errors as we continue to pursue our own works in progress. For to do otherwise is to admit that we have failed, and that our state has failed with us.

    The writer is a research officer at

    the Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad and a member of faculty

    at Quaid-e-Azam University.