Stephen Cohen on Pakistan’s Road to Disintegration, 2011 edition

A depressing read on Pakistan, including state failure, growing insecurity, govt failure and the increasing reliance on China:

“The fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable, and this applies to both the idea of Pakistan, the ideology of the state, the purpose of the state, and also to the coherence of the state itself,” Cohen says. “I wouldn’t predict a comprehensive failure soon, but clearly that’s the direction in which Pakistan is moving.” On a recent trip, he was struck by the growing sense of insecurity in Pakistan, even within the military, and the growing importance of China.

What’s to be done? Nothing much it seems, certainly not by outside actors, as they haven’t been positive contributors in the past or now.

All U.S. policies toward Pakistan are bad, and some are perhaps worse than others. We don’t know whether leveling with Pakistan is going to improve things or make it worse. Ideally, we would own a time machine in which we could roll back history and reverse a lot of decisions we made in the past. Hopefully, we won’t make any more fundamentally wrong decisions in the future, but that may not prevent Pakistan from going further down the road to disintegration. Someone in the State Department was quoted in a WikiLeaks document [as saying] that if it weren’t for nuclear weapons, Pakistan would be the Congo. I would compare it to Nigeria without oil. It wouldn’t be a serious state. But the nuclear weapons and the country’s organized terrorist machinery do make it quite serious.

The many militant groups are great at wrecking, but can’t run a country, and the military is not much better anymore than the largest militant group around…

Militants–whether you call them anti-American, anti-liberal, or anti-secular–seem to have a veto over politics in Pakistan, but they can’t govern the state. The parties control the elections but they can prevent others from governing, and they may prevent the military from governing as well.


We’ve had a breakup of the coalition government, which happens all the time around the world, but why was so much gloom and doom expressed in Pakistan?

It’s the incapacity of the Pakistani state to educate its own people in a modern fashion; it’s the failure of the Pakistani economy to grow at all. If this was an American analogy, you would say Pakistan is a house under water. Except for its territory, which is strategically important, there is not much in Pakistan that is of benefit to anyone. They failed to take advantage of globalization. They use terrorism as an aspect of globalization, which is the negative side of globalization. Go down the list of factors, they are almost all negative. There is not one that is positive. They need outsiders for economic help. The conflict with India drains most of their budget. They can’t resolve foreign policy differences with India. They have quarrels with us over Afghanistan, although they are probably right that we don’t understand the Afghanis either. The question in my mind is whether these are irreversible so that Pakistan can become a normal state.

I’ve never been a fan of all of Cohen’s work, but his thoughts on Pakistan’s future disintegration and the reasons why are very plausible, and his advice on planning for state failure is something I feel the powers that be in Pakistan, like the US and Saudi Arabia should start planning for. Much of this country already is.

The Pakistan WikiLeaks make it clear that the US and it’s allies realize much of what’s happening in the country, but they seem to concentrate too much on the details and not enough on what all the details could add up to.

Note to self: read his recent papers…

4 thoughts on “Stephen Cohen on Pakistan’s Road to Disintegration, 2011 edition”

  1. Mr. Stephen Cohen is absolutely right. I agree with him. pakistan is a failed state. The US Govt: and Military should stop trusting Pakistan any more and handle everything themselves. That is the solution for everything.

  2. Mr. Cohen’s piece on the disintegration of Pakistan makes a very riveting and I worry what will happen to the other nations around Pakistan. It seems to me that while Afghanistan is little bit wobbly, the fact that Western power are still there is a source of comfort. The establishment in Pakistan is not bit a worried about the chaotic situation and it is business as usual. May be that is the way Pakistan wants it-meaning be rogue and unpredictable. This may get more attention (like N. Korea) and it also keeps China happy that Pakistan is lot more dependent on it and the later is also keeping the US busy with uncertainty!

  3. I donot agree fully to Mr. Stephen as his ideas seem to be exaggeration or propaganda rather than reality, the reality that Pakistan has survived 64 years of existence and gained nuclear power status. Also, An instable Pakistan is not in favor of us Indians.

  4. Isn’t there any way, by which Pakistan can be made to disintegrate immediately….!!!!!!!!!
    If Pakistan takes time to break up, world may see more of the terrorist attacks – quantity wise & qualitative wise……it is better to help Pakistan break up sooner, so that innocent lives around the world could be saved.

    Moreover, the world should now stop cajoling & lecturing Pakistan & its leadership – civilian & military. As when both of these are feeding wrong & misleading information to their population. For i.e…
    1) OBL was there after running out o Tora Bora for more than 6 years, but they denied this till last;
    2) Indian Don Dawood Ibrahim is there since last 20 years but they have been denying this also;
    3) Civilian leadership is afraid of implicating ISI felos in the murder of Saleem Shahzad;
    these are but only few examples of their cowardliness…..

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