The Failing State in a State of Denial

(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.

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7 Responses to The Failing State in a State of Denial

  1. Q. A. Shah says:

    Hamesha,
    Thanks for bringing this to light. I completely missed it and it’s incredibly interesting. Have you come across any internal Pakistani voices taking the opposing view?

    So I’m not surprised that the editorial elite of Lahore is taking that position, given the world (i.e. what side of that economic divide) they live in. I think that partly, over the past decade, if not two, that divide has been so entreanched, and the poor side so voiceless as to be come a null point for many people in the country.

    The other thing that struck me was the absurdity of the military being a state in a state. Luckily Pakistan has found a solution to that issue…martial law! Three times in 50 years, I believe? That is definately an achievement of note in getting rid of that state with in a state dilemma. Just make the defacto de jure.

    I can’t remember where I was having fantasys/delusions of Pakistan disolving and the borders in S.A. realigning. Perchance, to dream. But maybe, and likely as much a nightmare.

  2. Sudan Watch says:

    Just stopped by so say hello Hamesha. Interesting post, thanks. I’ll follow your blog in my newsfeed. Best wishes from England, UK.

  3. I don’t see why the world should be seen as FP would have us, and crises identified as they would have us. I rather prefer Play Boy.

    For anyone who has lived in Pakistan or knows about the country, this sense of crises has been around since 1948. That’s why the generals can come and go as they please and the common man views the army as the one establizing institution in the country.

    There really is nothing much new here.

    Now where was I, oh… Play Boy. Now there’s something new there everytime!

  4. Zak says:

    Hamesha replied your comments on my Blog about this issue..sorry I wasn’t aware you had reactivated your BLog!

  5. I missed your blog – figured youd be studying like crazy – good to see you back with your excellent writtings.

  6. pari says:

    tashakur az einke hamwara miyayid wa mara khoshahal misazin,
    hamisha khoob o khosh bashin,
    pari

  7. MyScribbles says:

    It is interesting how the Pakistani media ‘covered’ this ‘accusation’: All the major news channels ran a story on May 5 about the press statement of a White House spokesman saying Pakistan was not a failed state but rather a ‘successful state’, which successfully ran its economic policies bla bla bla…

    What’s more intersting is that very few people got to know about the ‘top-ten’ of failed states and that it included pakistan. This is probably because of a very lackluster coverage of the story in the Pakistani media circles.

    [BTW: Thank you, Hamesha, for coming over and commenting on my blog.]

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