Political economy of state failure

IT is becoming apparent that Pakistan is failing not because of the lack of capacity to do things related to the management of the country but largely due to what some scholars of state collapse have identified as ‘wickedness’.

When a government is weak but willing to administer and accept the challenges of state-building, it is in such a situation deserving of capacity-building support. However, in some cases there is the permutation of bad intent. This is when a government has the assets (largely a trained pool of manpower) but is unwilling either to address the problems or to correct its own egregious behaviour, and all this is done with prior knowledge and planning.

For such governments, the aim of exercising power is to enrich itself and its associated elites. Managing the state is not a task geared towards public welfare but for personal profit. In this eventuality, capacity-building or reforms are predestined to be defeated and it is the government itself that is hastening state failure.

One wonders sometimes why a country such as Pakistan, a neighbour of India and China — two of the fastest-growing nations in the world — is so poor. Many think that such trends will change after this government reputed to be corrupt leaves office; unfortunately, that never happens. Governments change, but the political economy of the corrupt use of policy does not. Experience shows that a successor government can be worse.

If corruption becomes embedded in a nation’s political elite then that state is in serious trouble; no amount of support and assistance will be able to push it towards good health. The moral embedded in this sad diagnosis is that once corruption seeps into the veins of politics, then rising to a higher equilibrium of effectiveness is no longer possible.

One of the major problems that face Pakistan today is the existence of ungoverned spaces such as Fata. These areas provide opportunity to radical organisations to locate themselves and where there is tacit underhand support for such presence, getting rid of the unwanted guests becomes impossible.

That Al Qaeda and its supporters located themselves in Fata after 9/11 is a case in point. The presence of such a group led to the emergence of local systems of governance that forced the inhabitants of such regions to accept coping mechanisms to exist in these spaces. An illegitimate usurpation of a country’s space thus begins to be accepted and over a period of time is accepted by the oppressed population as normal.

In Pakistan, where a large part of society also supports such usurping non-state actors, the attempt to revive state power becomes so much more difficult. If the region is also endowed with natural resources such as forests or minerals as in Fata or Balochistan, criminal business activity begins to profit from them.

It is then only a matter of time before state territory begins to be carved up by strongmen, often called warlords.

In Fata, the religious shape given to the confrontation by the West and accepted as such by the Afghan Pakhtun (later joined by their cousins in Fata) as a jihad — President Bush once even termed the war as a ‘crusade’ — permitted the religious elite in Fata to become the local warlords who controlled large tracts of land and administered populations.

Persons such as Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, Maulvi Nazir in Wana or Maulvi Faqir in Bajaur, as well as many others of their ilk, have thus become small princely rulers with the resources and money to run their fiefdoms. No peace deal is going to give us back our territories.

Due to the availability of money and power with the non-state actor, it will be ever more difficult for the weakening Pakistani state to re-establish full control over the region. In another sense the position in Fata is a mirror image of the egregious behaviour of the political elite within Pakistan — it is a case where a bad example of behaviour has become a model for others.

One is at a total loss to imagine the implications for the law and order situation and the welfare of the people of such parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan once the international security operations end after 2014. The prognosis is unkind indeed, particularly when it is noted that similar radical tendencies have also entered our security services since 2001.

One of the worst impacts of the lack of governance in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been in terms of the forests of the region: the watershed regions in Kunar, Nuristan, Bajaur, Kurram and Tirah have been devastated and sold by criminal gangs.

Apparently, weak governance in resource-rich environments such as Fata is an invitation to criminal gangs to continue protecting the status quo of special areas — areas that are protected under Article 247 of the Pakistan constitution.

It is argued by those who resist the replacement of the traditional dispute-resolution system by a national unified system of laws in places such as Fata that there is no harm if people seek justice through alternate systems.

This is a very dangerous proposition and allows entry to those who would wish the state to wither away. The people, on the other hand, have no option but to accept the status quo since the state cannot deliver justice.

However, when people adapt to local dispute-resolution systems, this creates another serious risk. Those who have adjusted to such systems find it antagonistic to be ruled by another centralised system that any unifying state reform may bring. In reality, permissiveness in the creation of such alternate political economy proves deadly for nationhood.

Article was published on  Dawn.

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