Renowned political theorist Professor Harold Laski defines state as a territorial society divided into government and subjects claiming within its allotted physical area, a supremacy over all other institutions. Analyzing this definition carefully, we notice that four elements constitute a modern day state i.e. government, society (population), territory and sovereignty. 

Now let’s examine how Pakistan fares as per the above definition and its elements.

Government is a group of people and institutions which formulate and implement policies. It is primarily responsible for the basic needs of its subjects, defending the territorial boundaries of the state and ensure rule of law.

Maslow has outlined safety, food, shelter and warmth (clothes) as the basic human needs.

The total surface area of Pakistan is 796,095 square kilometers. FATA and Baluchistan constitute about 47% of the total territory of the country. The territorial hold of the state in FATA and Baluchistan is so weak that even security personnel cannot roam freely. Anyone from Islamabad or other part of the country visiting there is impossible. Last month, gunmen entered one of our schools in a cantonment and killed at point blank 132 children.

Pakistan has lost roughly 60,000 citizens in its efforts to curb terrorism during the previous decade alone. Karachi, country’s economic capital and largest city, has no-go areas where even security personnel cannot go. Dozens die daily there in target killing. And dozens more die almost on daily basis in road accidents as no road safety mechanism is in place. The only viable solution our successive governments have for security problems is to ban pillion riding or jam mobile phones. 

Encroachments plague every city; three were killed while resisting KPK government’s effort to end this.

During the past year, over 400 children have died in Thar alone due to malnutrition. If this figure is not frightening enough digest this: according to one Save the Children report, about 800,000 children die annually in Pakistan, 35% of them, i.e. 280,000, due to malnutrition. The astounding number sends shivers across ones spine but they are still not enough for the state elements to get restless. 

Smooth food supply to masses is a major issue. Don’t forget we boast to be an agriculture economy – a myth not supported by facts. It is not long ago that we faced acute wheat shortages across the country and then there was sugar crisis. Availability of food items should be a smooth process. However, the state has failed to undertake this basic function.

This is not confined to food commodities only but dysfunctional ways of state are resonating in supply of other commodities as well.

Pakistan was among the countries with the most CNG-run vehicles a decade ago. And within as many years, we are facing acute natural gas shortages even for industry and household use. CNG sale is close for three months. The load understandably shifted to gasoline. But despite lowering crude prices and easy availability in international market, the state functionaries could not estimate the exact demand and failed to provide population with the non-stop supply.

The zenith of state’s incompetence is evident from statements of cabinet members, passing the blame and no one taking responsibility.

Figures are not available with this scribe about number of homeless Pakistanis. But it needs only a drive around Data Darbar in Lahore or any market in big cities where people sleep in verandas outside shops, on roads and green belts to estimate the growing number of homeless Pakistanis.

Political scientists further enlist monopoly on exercise of force, legitimacy – as perceived by the governed, institutional structures established to handle governmental tasks and independent foreign policy – as among characteristics of the modern day state.

Pakistan is trying hard to exercise its monopoly on use of force but the desired results are not in sight. Use of force alone cannot establish the writ of the state. It is always complemented with a rapid and transparent justice system and equal economic opportunities for the population. However, the state has accepted its failure in dispensation of justice by establishing army courts. The economic opportunities are reserved, generally, for powerful and elite.

Failure to provide basic amenities like food commodities and utilities poses big questions on the legitimacy of not only the incumbent government but the state as well. These failures are primarily due to non-existence or weakness of the institutional structures required to dispense with the functions of the state.

And finally, the less said about foreign policy the better. A state which does not have a regular foreign minister and is relying on two elderly former bureaucrats speaks volumes about our seriousness.

We are living in complex times where we have to balance our domestic aspirations with growing international concerns regarding extremism harbouring within peripherals of the state. The state on the contrary is looking the other way.

Our successive governments have been accused of taking dictation from foreign powers. This accusation is not out of place as the country has always remained depended in one way or the other on these powers. The most unfortunate aspect of this fiasco has been our unwillingness to address those areas of concern and making the country independent of foreign influence.

Apropos of the discussion, we may consider this, "a failed state is a state whose political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control."