ANALYSIS: Failing...still? —Salman Tarik Kureshi - Saturday, July 24, 2010

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In terms of corruption of elites, history of military rule, use of nationalistic rhetoric and intervention by external political actors, Pakistan’s rankings are amongst the worst. And, on one score, that of secretive, unaccountable security services, Pakistan’s appalling 9.7 is exceeded only by Somalia

The problem with state failure is that it is not necessarily a terminal condition. After all, whatever the flags flown over them or the borders drawn around them, there are human beings involved: the people of the state that has become critically dysfunctional. They continue to live, by whatever means they find possible, while the structures of their societies collapse into anarchy around them. The problem is that once states start failing, all too often they remain dysfunctional for a very long time.

Consider the failed states that the Fund for Peace lists periodically. The 12 most failed states on that list have been substantially the same ones, year after year, for quite some time now. And, of course, our own beloved ‘fortress of Islam’ has featured prominently. The fact that, in the most recently released report of the Fund for Peace, we find Pakistan to have moved ‘up’ from ninth place to tenth place, is scarcely cause for comfort. Are you listening, Prime Minister Gilani, Chief Justice Chaudhry, COAS General Kayani?

But did we not believe we were now on the road to stability, having rid ourselves of the arrogant Musharraf, re-established democratic, constitutional rule and begun cleansing Pakistan from brutal extremists? Yes, very positive, all this and more. Arguably, more fundamental steps forward have been taken in the last two years than in the last two decades. But let us for a moment look at how the Fund for Peace has evaluated us now.

The Red List of the Failed States Index (FSI) for 2010 comprises 37 countries out of a total of 177. The bottom (top?) of this list, the 12 most failed states, unsurprisingly features Somalia — with its Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’ — in the place of honour, followed in order by Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Central African Republic, Guinea, Pakistan, Haiti and Ivory Coast.

The FSI rankings are based on 12 indicators of state vulnerability: two economic, four social and six political. The economic indicators are: (i) uneven economic development along group or regional lines; and (ii) sharp and/or severe economic decline.

The social indicators are: (i) demographic pressures relative to food supply and other resources; (ii) massive movement of refugees and internally displaced peoples; (iii) legacy of atrocities committed with impunity against communal groups and/or specific groups singled out by state authorities or dominant groups; and (iv) chronic and sustained brain drain of professionals, intellectuals and political dissidents.

The six political indicators are: (i) endemic corruption of ruling elites and resistance to transparency, accountability and political representation; (ii) deterioration of public services, including failure to protect citizens from crime, terrorism and violence, and collapse of essential services like health, education, sanitation and public transportation; (iii) widespread violation of human rights, emergence of authoritarian, dictatorial or military rule, public repression of political opponents, religious or cultural persecution; (iv) security apparatus as a ‘state within a state’; (v) use of nationalistic political rhetoric by ruling elites in terms of communal irredentism or of communal solidarity, e.g. “defending the faith”; and (vi) intervention of other states or external political actors.

Let us see how Pakistan has been evaluated against each of these indicators.

First, the good news. On the basis of the two economic criteria, Pakistan stacks up as something short of disastrous. Our score of 6.2 on the count of economic decline suggests that we have so far managed to avoid economic collapse, despite the ardent efforts of people like Shaukat Aziz. In fact, Pakistan’s rating here is better than most of the other 36 countries on the Red List and ranks us in the same range as Iran, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Georgia. However, on the score of relative evenness of development along group or regional lines, Pakistan is rated at 8.4, better only than the nine worst case states.

If we now look at the four social indicators, Pakistan’s rating of 8.1 on demographic pressures in relation to food supply is better than most of the countries in the Red List but is a poor score nevertheless, pointing to the kind of undernourished but not yet starvation-level situation here. On the other hand, given our extraordinary rate of population growth, it may not take very long to reach nutritional crisis levels. We know, for example, that we have already reached a crisis situation regarding the power resource.

In terms of movement of refugees and displaced persons, Pakistan’s rating is unsurprisingly bad — exceeded only by such disastrous cases as the Central African Republic, D R Congo, Sudan, Chad, Afghanistan and, of course, Somalia. It is sobering to recall that such massive movements of people have taken place twice before in our history, viz. in 1947, when Pakistan broke away from India, and in 1971/72, when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan.

As regards the other social indicators, Pakistan’s score of 7.9 on the brain drain is not as bad as many other lands. But our score of 9.4 for group paranoia and violence against groups is one of the very worst, exceeded only by Afghanistan, Sudan, Chad and Somalia.

This now brings us to the six political indicators. Pakistan has extremely poor ratings for most of these. In terms of corruption of elites, history of military rule, use of nationalistic rhetoric and intervention by external political actors, Pakistan’s rankings are amongst the worst. And, on one score, that of secretive, unaccountable security services, Pakistan’s appalling 9.7 is exceeded only by Somalia.

To conclude these rankings on a positive note, Pakistan’s score of 7.9 on deterioration of governmental services is not only better than the other bottom 12 countries, it is better than most of the countries on the Red List, other than Iran, Lebanon, Uzbekistan and Georgia. It seems that the rebirth of institutions like an elected parliament, an independent judiciary and a free press, by bringing public services under some kind of systemic scrutiny, has given Pakistan a boost right out of the mire of state failure on at least this score.

In fact, what is it indeed that is saving Pakistan from a state failure as frightful as that in Somalia, Afghanistan, etc? It is precisely the presence of these institutions of a free and civilised society, however incompetently or foolishly we may run them. As the Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen has repeatedly averred, it is a democratic soil that fosters economic growth. Not the other way round.

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

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