This had to happen…

May 6, 2006

For years now Indian-Americans have outdone themselves. From elementary school spelling bee contests to senior level government and corporate positions, and everything else in between, Indians have demonstrated that they have got the Touch of Madras.
Over-achievement has become the norm, and a damaging spirit of ethnic competitiveness -albeit unspoken and implicit- has been exerting undue pressures on the younger generation (some of whom fit well in the aptly named category ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi).
Had it gone unnoticed, the case of the second-generation Indian teenager-cum-novelist Kavyaa Viswanathan would have only raised the bar farther. Financial Express reported recently:

“Little Brown & Company, a respected 109-year-old publishing house offered Kaavya a $500,000 two-book deal with the first one to be out next spring titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In. Considering that first-time writers get $10,000, Kaavya sure made a killing.” (more)

But it did not go unnoticed, large sections of the paper were shown to have bene plagiarised, and Kavyaa Viswanathan got busted. Thankfully so, as a fellow Indian-American explains in an open letter to Kavyaa:

“Dear Kaavya Viswanathan, …as one Indian-American to another, I say thank you. I have to confess to a sneaking sense of relief when Opal Mehta’s life came crashing down around you. It’s not schadenfreude. It’s just this relief that finally we can fail, that we can screw up spectacularly and live to tell the tale.
Only we Indian-Americans know it’s hard out there for an overachieving Indian-American. It was bad enough that we were the anointed model minority. Now we are expected to excel at everything we do. We are the first-class first minority. ‘Doesn’t anyone’s kid ever come
second in anything anymore?’…”

I only hope that this is not the end of everything for young Kavyaa. Great expectatios and tremendous pressure from all sides -parents, ethnic community, society- led her to take an extreme measure. She paid dearly for it and hopefully learned. Let’s not go for any sort of overkill here. You hear me Harvard?!


The Failing State in a State of Denial

May 6, 2006
(Published at Chowk)

THE RECENT RELEASE by two US think-tanks of the second annual Failed States Index seems to have stirred strong passions in the Pakistani intillegentsia and blogger community. Using 12 social, economic, and political indicators, the index lists Pakistan as one of the top 10 at-risk states, with a score higher than that of Afghanistan! Now that is serious cause for distress among Pakistanis, from the general down to the layman.
One of the country’s leading papers, the Daily Times, responded on May 4th with a contradictory polemic that dismisses the rankings at the same time as it gives very good reasons for why Pakistan should have scored so high. The editorial, defiantly titled Failed State? What Failed State? starts in a dismissive tone:

“Needless to say, it is always insulting to hear that the state you are living in is doomed to ‘failure'”

“Being placed next to some countries in Africa whose population would migrate to
Pakistan given a chance is not a pleasant experience.”

While the bitterness is understandable in light of the injury to the Pakistani national pride that the ranking has caused, the condescending tone of this comment is particularly disturbing.

However, after this initial venting of indignation the editorial dives into explaining, rather convincingly, why Pakistan is a top failed state:

“Pakistan’s largest province Balochistan, forming over 40 percent of the state’s territory, is without a proper policing system… The next ‘buffer area’ that Pakistan has retained includes the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an area of about 27,000 square miles with a population of over three million living in seven ‘agencies’ the size of one-third of the NWFP but without any law that could give them recourse to the Supreme Court of Pakistan or the parliament in Islamabad… Add to this the 850-kilometre long katcha area in Sindh, from Kashmore to the sea, where the dacoits live and which remains ‘no go’ for the police, and you have more than half of Pakistan without proper writ of the law.”

The bitter truth that many Pakistanis cannot bear to stomach is that their country has fared ill under the current regime. Its 25 place jump in rankings from no. 34 last year to no. 9 this year is one of the sharpest in the overall index. A glance at some of the indicators, and Pakistan’s performance on them, can help clarify this deterioration:

  • Demographic pressures (Pakistan’s score 9.3/10): Troubles in N.Waziristan and Balochistan come to mind. The resurgence of Baloch nationalism and the taking up of arms by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a significant development on this front.
  • Refugees and IDPs (Pakistan’s score 9.3/10): The tragic October earthquake and the paltry response from the government and the international community can explain a paricularly poor performance on this indicator.
  • Group grievance (Pakistan’s score 8.6/10): A combination of the above two factors explains a relatively high score on this indicator.
  • Human Flight (Pakistan’s score 8.1/10): Once again the negative outcomes of the October quake and the displacement of millions contributed to a deterioration on this indicator.
  • Uneven Development (Pakistan’s score 8.9/10): Socio-economic disparity has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s society in recent decades and is bound to remain high in the foreseeable future.
  • Delegimization of the State (Pakistan’s score 8.5/10): With presidential elections scheduled for next year, the opposition -if we are to use such a term in the context of Pakistani politics- has revamped its noise-making machine and has made calls for free and fair elections -calls that have been unequivocally backed by the US. Being in favor with Washington is usually a reliable ampere of overall legitimacy for Pakistani powerholders, and with the Bush administration’s recent overtures to New Delhi on one hand, and nothing but straight talk to Islamabad on the other, things don’t look good on this front.
  • Violation of Human Rights (Pakistan’s score 8.5/10): The damage done by the Mukhtar Mai case (which is a shameful and tragic episode in its own right) and its bringing to light the status of women in Pakistan in general can be expected to have caused a spike in ratings on this indicator.
  • Security Apparatus (Pakistan’s score 9.1/10): Measures whether the army functions as “a state within the state.” Enough said.
  • Rise of Factionalised Elites (Pakistan’s score 9.1/10): In particular the distancing of ISI from some of Musharraf government’s policies in its Waziristan campaigns may have tipped the scales on this one.
  • External Intervention (Pakistan’s score 9.2/10): While still rudimentary in comparison with the tsunami relief, international aid provision and relief efforts seem to have undercut the state’s role as the responder of the first order and the last resort.
  • Other indicators that registered relatively lower scores in the 7-range included Economic Decline (Pakistan’s score 7.0/10) and Public Services Deterioration (Pakistan’s Score 7.5/10). Indeed Pakistani economy has done better under the current government than before, and the country still has a well-educated (although underpaid and corrupt) civil service.

All in all, the state of the Pakistani federation does not look good in 2006. In fact, it may be experiencing one of the bleakest periods of its short history, and the months and years ahead hold much in store for its powerholders and peoples. Such moments of realiation and crisis may represent the punctuated equilibrium that is a normal part of the socio-political evolution of any emerging nation, and Pakistan is a nation where many members of the generation that saw its creation are still living. The residual euphoria of that glory-filled episode which sustained Pakistan for the first few decades of its history -albeit feebly- may be bottoming out, and we are seeing the results. This may explain why so many Pakistanis are in shock and denial about their young nation’s ranking among the world’s most unstable, unviable, and risk-prone states.

There is reason to take heart, however. The Daily Times offers important advise in internalizing the disappointing showing of Pakistan in the Failed States Index:

“The ‘failed state’ list should not become an additional factor in
our general mood of pessimism, nor should we go into our familiar mode of denial
linking the list to a Jewish conspiracy and accusing America of actually wishing
the Muslims dead.”

Good, as long as we are clear on that.