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Are we a failed state?

The following recent happenings should make us pause and reflect; a joint secretary of the ministry of finance is slapped and beaten by a rude and uncultured parliamentary secretary from Punjab; an NWFP minister accompanied by his religious party workers enter a private wedding celebration at night and ask to interview the bridegroom to make sure that it is a genuine wedding and the partying was not for other pleasures. Failing to justify his suspicion, he asked the family to end the sing song as it was un-Islamic. Gangs of Islamizing zealots in Waziristan, Tank, and parts of D.I Khan district roam the country side imposing social controls – the Wahabist way; compulsory carrying of beards, no TV or music in homes, and no women to be seen in public without a protective cover concealing her from public view. District officers are told to keep to their offices and not to interfere otherwise they will suffer. These edicts are enforced through use of violence and fines. Religious courts In Waziristan have begun dispensing justice – their way. Those who assist the government face execution; many tribesmen are under death threat for meeting President Musharraf recently. Are these not signs of a decaying state?

Recently, we went into a periodic and deep self analysis, when we collectively counted the twists in our social intestines for the umpteenth time; it was caused by the publication of a joint study by the prestigious Foreign Policy and Fund for Peace, think tank which pegged us as the 9th most likely state to fail; Afghanistan had a better rating. I intend to deal with this issue.

States like other human innovations are living entities, which thrive on certain institutional food and wither into decay, if such nourishment is not available; thanks to international law and the United Nations, states do not vanish and their boundaries don’t change, unless the process of civil war leads to independence for a minority. This is how Bangladesh was created and why Somalia for instance has not split so far, although the latter has no uniform state structure as we understand it.

So what the study really said is that according to its indicators for the survivability of states, Pakistan fares poorly because of mismanaged state institutions and policies; it also says (between the lines), that if the trend is not reversed, then it is likely to lead to worsening living conditions; that is when a peaceful national home becomes hell; leading to flight of citizens.

The Foreign Policy study is at best insightful; providing a few legitimate derivable conclusions that the lives of ordinary Pakistanis will worsen unless we mend the institutional degradation by revival of genuine democracy, poverty eradication (changing the mind set that endorses state policies like import of numerous special Mercedes and a 79 member federal cabinet) and end military action in Baluchistan and Waziristan. We are ignoring these warning bells at our own peril.

We should be concerned but not too upset for a poor showing against Afghanistan; because Pakistan is in a different category both economically and socially. Oranges cannot compare with apples. The two are different.  But we have to work harder to correct our institutional weaknesses.  A recent influential study making its rounds is Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy, by Rubin and published by The Center for Preventive Action. Its conclusions about Afghanistan are not optimistic and make the following observations;

  •   An ever-more deadly insurgency with sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, where leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have found refuge;
  •    A corrupt and ineffective administration without resources and a potentially dysfunctional parliament;
  •         Levels of poverty, hunger, ill health, illiteracy, and gender inequality that put Afghanistan near the bottom of every global ranking;
  •      Levels of aid that have only recently expanded above a fraction of that accorded to other post-conflict countries;
  •       An economy and administration heavily influenced by drug traffickers;
  •        Massive arms stocks despite the demobilization of many militias;
  •    A potential denial of the Islamic legitimacy of the Afghan government by a clergy that feels marginalized;
  •    Ethnic tensions exacerbated by competition for resources and power;
  •    Interference by neighboring states, all of which oppose a long-term U.S. presence in the region;
  •    Well-trained and well-equipped security forces that the government may not be able to pay when aid declines in a few years;
  •    Constitutional requirements to hold more national elections (at least six per decade) than the government may be able to afford or conduct;
  •    An exchange rate inflated by aid and drug money that subsidizes cheap imports and hinders economic growth; and
  •    Future generations of unemployed, frustrated graduates and dropouts from the rapidly expanding school system.

The Afghan study should be a mirror for us; we should not derive any comfort from it but introspect and ask how many similar features are visible in our case? Definitely the Foreign Policy study did not consider these findings about Afghanistan, while making its rating.

The United States won World War II after heroic sacrifices by its citizens including black Afro Americans. Yet racial prejudice was its Achilles heel. After de-commissioning, black Americans continued to receive horrendous treatment; they were lynched, taken out of restaurants and shot and faced intense discrimination. Since ethnic divisions lead to bad societal results, yet no one termed the United States a failed state. The problem was solved gradually under strong presidential leadership, which confronted the problem by the enactment of numerous civil right laws starting with President Truman’s special message to Congress in Feb 1948.

I was amazed the other day to read a comment by an American, who called the US a failed state, because of declining rule of law and the executive decision to establish out of jurisdiction prisons in Europe as well as the torturing of detainees by private contractors; actions taken knowingly by state functionaries to avoid culpability under US law.  Are these not signs of a decaying state according to the indicators of equality of treatment of citizens and absence of rule of law. If the US is not a failed state, why are we being picked for criticism? The answer lies in the difference of administrative depth between the two. The US has a strong and effective mechanism of administrative and societal controls anchored in national consensus and based on the rule of law. We in Pakistan lack such a consensus and of course the rule of law is weak. That is our problem and that is what makes us a basket case in this matter.

If we do not take adequate care, I fear we will slip into an obscurantist abyss. The answer lies in ending violence and achieving national consensus constructed on regional and individual justice based on the rule of law. The magistracy must be revived in the districts. I think the damage from the experiment of local government and the separation of judiciary from executive at the field level has not brought good results; it has weakened regulation and has made the lives of the weak and poor worse; it has become the path to chaos. We still have the option to escape the failed state syndrome, if we care. Let us abide by the law even though we may be powerful. Let us seek immediate solution to Waziristan and Baluchistan. Let political forces be the arbiters of national issues. State institutions should live within their defined role under the original 1973 constitution with a neutral and a professional district administration. This is the path to sanity.

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