Pakistan: A dysfunctional state?

By Dr Mahnaz Fatima

ACCORDING to a survey released recently by Foreign Policy magazine and Fund for Peace, an independent research organisation based in Washington, Pakistan is among the world’s top ten most dysfunctional countries.

Even more disconcerting is to see Pakistan lined up with Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic, with Pakistan being the second last, that is number 9, in this order. While the reality should be seen as it is to change it for the better, is the situation here as bad as it is in Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iraq or Afghanistan as the above survey indicates?

The survey uses 12 social, economic, political and military indicators to rank 177 states in order of their vulnerability to internal violence and the decay of civil society. The only other state in the region that Pakistan is categorised with is Afghanistan. If the survey is to be believed, Pakistan ranks just two places higher than its neighbour to the west. Is that really so?

Afghanistan is a traumatised war-torn country that is finding it enormously difficult to heal its wounds. It is primarily a tribal society with tribal customs governing life for the most part in cities and rural areas alike. ‘Turbaned parliamentarians’ restrict the freedom of women MPs to express themselves. Some women MPs receive death threats from militants who even kill girls’ teachers. Conflict with the militants is widespread. Afghanistan’s opium production is out of control. Afghanistan’s poppies already produce more than 90 per cent of the world’s heroin. None of this applies to Pakistan.

However strong or weak Pakistan’s economy may be, it does not bank on the illicit drug trade. Pakistan’s legal agricultural and industrial sectors comprise almost 46 per cent of GDP. The rest is contributed by services with some of the service sectors fairly well developed. Pakistan is not a hotbed of opium production and export and does not rely on it for financing its economic activities. It borrows from international financiers and in international markets and services its debt. Afghanistan has a long way to go before it reaches the state Pakistan’s economy is in today.

Afghanistan has a long distance to traverse on other fronts too. Pakistan’s parliament is not dominated by ‘turbaned parliamentarians’. Only a fraction of MPs wear turbans. Pakistan has had a female prime minister, and now a speaker, and women’s speech is not overtly restricted. While militants do pose a threat to the country, Pakistan’s forces have been able to keep them contained in the border regions.

To lump Pakistan with Afghanistan or Somalia or Sudan or Iraq or Zimbabwe or Chad is a comparison that cannot be borne out with facts.

Pakistan has an HDI rank of 136 — higher than Sudan’s at 147, Zimbabwe’s at 151 and Chad’s at 170 (UNDP, Human Development Report 2007/08). Gender-empowerment measures in some of the top 10 ‘dysfunctional’ states are not even reported, probably as they are difficult to gauge. Pakistan’s gender-related development index is ranked higher than Sudan’s, Zimbabwe’s and Chad’s. Pakistan’s income inequality is not as bad as Zimbabwe’s and the rankings of Sudan and Chad are not even available on this score. Even the sizes of the economies are not comparable. Pakistan’s GDP exceeds $110bn whereas Sudan’s is about $28bn, Zimbabwe’s nearly $3 bn, Chad’s roughly $5.5 bn and the Central African Republic’s only $1.4bn (ibid). Why must Pakistan be compared with these tiny economies?

Probably because the Pakistani state does not conform to the western ideal — in fact even resists the concepts of the West — researchers in the West came up with the ‘conclusion’ that Pakistan is a ‘dysfunctional’ state. While not everything that comes out of the West is gospel and we may wonder about the real reasons behind such a poor rating, we must try to ascertain the grounds which we may have provided for so alarming a conclusion.

It is a fact that the rise of militancy in Pakistan is a cause for concern the world over. It should be an equally big concern for us. The militants tried to spread their influence in Swat but were forced out. They are gravitating towards the Frontier province and its capital in whose defence security forces have been mobilised. Why have things come to such a serious pass?

While there has been a political and administrative lapse on this score, socio-economic reasons also abound. There is a tendency to gloat over a GDP growth that does not distribute equitably by default. Income distribution also requires intervention in the form of asset distribution that is nowhere on the agenda. People cannot live by card schemes and vouchers.

This dole works in countries which are rich and distribute equitably, and where a very small percentage of the population — in single digits — requires government handouts. Here the percentage of the population in need of substantial state support is very large, approaching or exceeding one-third of the total. Another one-third just ekes out an existence. The disenchanted deprived ready to take extreme measures are roughly two-thirds of the population. This is the target market for those hunting for heads that may be severed for a livelihood for the rest of the family.

With food becoming costlier and general price levels rising, poverty and deprivation will increase too, expanding the size of the market targeted by militants. Under such circumstances, people cannot be sold ‘tough economic measures’. People are seeking economic solutions to their woes. The government is seeking solutions for the macro economy that are at odds with the economic interests of the people at large. With the macro and micro levels working at cross purposes, there really are no economic solutions. There are only problems that are likely to further fuel the security threat being felt in the country and by the world.

So, dysfunctional we may not be yet. But dysfunctional we are likely to become if we do not seek to function like we could and should. Seeing what is missing in the glass and what needs to be filled is better than digging our heads in the sand and losing our response capability over time through continued inaction.

Source: Daily Dawn, 22/7/2008

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