Not a failed state

LAST December, speaking at a seminar at the Harvard University on US foreign policy, the former US Under-Secretary of Defence turned professor Joseph Nye made a keen observation. “In an information age,” Nye said “traditional age, whose forces win they win, in the information age the winner will be the one whose story wins.”

By Nasim Zehra

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 10 May 2006, 10:48 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:44 PM

He was discussing the extent to which the US war would suffer a moral blow from the stories of US military offences in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. He was unequivocally condemning the crimes committed by the US army. He believed it was morally wrong and also strategically detrimental because when the ‘storyline’ about you is negative, it doesn’t matter what the reality of your ‘cause’ is.

Coming from Pakistan, it was easy to relate to Nye’s point about the storyline. Often, Pakistan’s many problems are compounded by the fact that in the global marketplace of information, the media often only ascribes to it a negative storyline. The reasons have been numerous: the continuing regional, and to some extent global fallout of the jointly authored anti-Soviet Afghan policy, the rise of sectarianism within, the A. Q. Khan fiasco, and finally, Pakistan’s democratic deficit. Often the co-collaborators or the provokers of faulty policies went scot-free. Stark lessons confronted Pakistan. The extent to which the global system tolerates your follies is almost entirely linked to your own strength or very seldom from the strength accrued to you from a genuine alliance relationship. Such is the nature of global politics.

The Pakistani state has imbibed these lessons. Its policies have altered and so has the ideological orientation of the Pakistani state. But it’s a complex reform and reorientation process. It’s still ‘work-in-progress’. Yet often, the changing ground realities of Pakistan are not necessarily reflected in the general discourse. Interestingly, even an ‘objective’ study by the Carnegie Endowment’s Foreign Policy magazine to produce a Failed State Index showed both bias and incompetence in analysing Pakistan. Significantly, in a global ranking of the weak and failing states, the FfP declared Pakistan to be the 9th most vulnerable state on the Failing State Index of the 148 that were surveyed.

It would take a major stretch of imagination, sheer ignorance or prejudice to declare a state in the process of reforming itself, however problematically, to declare it a failing State. The Pakistani state is one that is extending its writ over new areas, re-claiming public space for civil society, that it had decades ago itself ceded to armed groups, reviving the original Pakistan vision of the Founding Father, of better managing the economy, attracting foreign investment, and billions of dollars remittances from overseas Pakistanis. Clearly, the major problems remain. The most serious being the absence of a credible democratic system, high poverty levels, and extremely poor social indicators. New and renewed challenges in the tribal areas and in Balochistan have emerged. The government has vacillated from a dialogue-led policy to a force-led policy, from a proactive one to a reactive one. Complicated problems of insurgency and militant activity require exceptional skill and patience. There are multiple other macro-level power and resource sharing issues involving the Centre and the provinces. The Pakistani state and the political class have been too much in power contests.

So, the tasks are humongous, but so is the realisation. The approach may be often questionable, but the state’s capacity to deal with many of these issues is being enhanced. There are other pluses Pakistan can boast of. In relative terms, the judiciary and the police are functioning better than yesterday. The independent Press is a great national asset. Hence, a country of 165 million people sitting at a pivotal point connecting three key regions South, South West, and Central Asia and China is moving towards becoming a functioning state, one better able to handle the affairs of the state. Pakistan is the largest contributor of troops to the UN Peace Keeping Force, it is a key partner in the global non-proliferation efforts, it enjoys the most clout, it has the maximum number of women in the parliament, and in the local government system. Given all these facts, to have Pakistan qualify — by the FfP — as the world’s 9th most vulnerable state teetering on collapse is most unconvincing. There are obvious analytical flaws in assessing Pakistan.

For example, to not discount negative scores caused by natural disasters in the overall conclusion on Pakistan shows either flawed methodology or sheer inertia. Clearly, Pakistan should not have been slotted at all, citing the natural disaster that it was hit by, or else it should have been reported as a ‘special case’ in the Index. In fact, ironically, the way Pakistan handled the October tragedy, its rating as a state should have gone up. Despite all the criticism regarding the state’s inefficiency, there is a basic acknowledgement by national and international agencies that the people and the state together handled the aftermath in an admirable fashion. Hence, the handling of the earthquake should have qualified as a ‘pocket of efficiency’, contrasting with the ‘pocket of problem’ category created to underscore the Bush administration’s gross mishandling of Hurricane Katrina.

Also, in assessing Pakistan, FfP does not hold good on its own assertion that improved functioning of the police and judiciary is the key to an efficiently-run state. While the police and the judiciary have a long way to go before becoming efficient and genuinely de-linked from power centres, there are indications of some improvement. For example, the suo moto actions taken by the Chief Justice in many environment and public interest cases indicates some marginal improvement. Similarly, in its commentary on Pakistan, the FfP takes the position that the Pakistan army and the religious groups have the same approach. That in reality the army-religious party nexus over Taleban and in the Waziristan area is intact. That it would be activated during the elections. This was based on opinion and not on facts which would incontestably establish the nature of government operations in Waziristan. The facts should have covered the number of military operations conducted in Waziristan, the number of foreign militants nabbed in the areas, the number of army and civilian casualties, the elaborate Pakistan-US infrastructure set up for collaborating these operations, and the regular intelligence sharing between Pakistan and the US army. Instead, the FfP study appears to have banked on perhaps the Press commentaries on these operations.

Often, the linear thought on Pakistan, the dominant thought is not linked to the broader integrated current reality of Pakistan. Facts, ground reality and the appreciation of the complexity of the task are missing. As is the ability to view the context, within which these challenges arise, in totality. The external dimensions which create new or complicate existing challenges for the Pakistani state are completely ignored. Its formidable problems do not make Pakistan a failing state. The methodology as applied to Pakistan was obviously flawed. The FfP should withdraw its conclusions on Pakistan and re-do its ranking of the country.

Nasim Zehra is a fellow of Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass. and Adjunct professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC

More news from