Risks for Surrounding Regions
The collapse of Pakistan would certainly spell trouble for the rest of the world, especially in South Asia. Globally, the first point of concern would be the security of Pakistan’s 165 nuclear warheads (Kristensen et al., 2023). With that in mind, the United States (US) would be one of the international actors interested in securing the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Having no shortage of anti-American elements, preventing those nuclear warheads from falling into the wrong hands would be a nightmare that is well within the US’s ability to prevent.
The US would be forced to directly and swiftly intervene in Pakistan’s national setting in order to either secure or eliminate the threat of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (O’Hanlon, 2006, 383). But the cost of intervention would not be cheap. In 2023, the population of Pakistan is approximately 240.5 million, thus bringing the estimated troops needed to stabilize Pakistan could reach up to millions (O’Hanlon, 2006:384; UNFPA, 2023). Beyond that, an intervention by the US or other international forces could provoke Pakistan’s ally, China, into getting involved in the situation.
In terms of small and heavy weaponry, Pakistan is also in no short supply as they need those to supply its 1.704.000 military personnel (2023 Pakistan Military Strength, n.d.). The frightening amount of weaponry has the potential to be abused as happened in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars where Yugoslav-made arms were found being used by ISIL terrorists in a series of coordinated attacks, one being the 2015 Paris attacks (Fraser, 2020). This past example showcases a serious risk of playing out again in the event of Pakistan collapsing. An outflow of weapons from a collapsed Pakistan could lead to instability, most noticeably, in its neighbors. The closest example would be India’s Punjab region which is home to Sikh separatist groups, the Khalistan movement, with a history of armed resistance (Mattoo & Agarwal, 2023). Pakistan has been known to support Khalistani groups in their struggle (Sharma, 2021). Thus, an outflow of weapons from Pakistan in the event of the government losing control would undoubtedly lead to weapons proliferation, such as among Khalistani groups, thus raising the risk of terror attacks. Aside from militant groups based in India, Pakistan-based militant groups would also flourish. A Pakistan that is too distracted by internal issues and instability would not be able to keep those militant groups in check, thus increasing the threat toward its next-door neighbor, India (Biswas, 2023).
Not limited to its closest neighbor, other actors in the region would also feel the impact of the Pakistani government collapse. Pakistan receives aid from friendly states, among the major donors being the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and China. China, in particular, is a frequent donor and supporter of Pakistan, the notable relations between the two is also evident from the existence of the Gwadar Port in Pakistan which is a key component of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that gives China access to the Indian Ocean (Jose, 2018). In fact, Pakistan’s economic crisis has shown direct impacts as many planned CPEC projects have not started and those that have are now incurring financial losses (ANI News, 2023). China will not allow Pakistan to collapse especially since the Red Dragon will lose access to the Indian Ocean and its usefulness in countering India (Brewster, 2023). Nevertheless, China is also conservative in its foreign aid, so if Pakistan keeps being unable to repay China’s debts, China would likely take control of key Pakistani infrastructure, such as the Gwadar Port. This means that China’s hold over Pakistan will simply be tighter (Brewster, 2023).