Of Pakistan, the failed states index and patriotism

I’m not the most patriotic Pakistani you’ll ever see – whether that’s in real life or the blogosphere. I don’t know why that is – god knows I used to ‘patriotic’ in my teens. But over the years I’ve managed to find myself distanced from the idea of being a ‘pakistani’ – in the sense that it forms a considerable part of my identity. I am technically a Pakistani – I was born in Karachi and grew up within the four provinces of this country, but if someone were to ask me tomorrow who I am, my reply wouldn’t be, “a Pakistani.” It isn’t because i’m particularly ashamed of belonging to this country – i’m not; but I definitely don’t feel the pride that some do when they term themselves Pakistanis. Now part of that is because I’m not certain how proud one can be to belong to a state; after all, I didn’t choose to be born in Karachi. I had no say in the matter at all. I had no say in growing up surrounded by Pakistanis, and I sure as hell had no say in whether or not I was able to induce myself into Pakistani culture. Hell, so many of us grow up and want to break away from the ‘conservative, myopic and misogynistic’ Pakistani society, so at what point in time do people who espouse the same views feel proud of belonging to a country with societies based along those lines?

I bring all of this up because of the Failed States Index. For many, it’s a shocking and deplorable assessment of Pakistan. ‘Our country’, they posit, ‘is not a failed state.’ Maybe there’s some truth to that. Some. But how many of these very people would deplore the current state of the country? It’s politics, it’s economics and it’s power struggles? Yet, when I see the FSI I feel nothing. It doesn’t rankle me, nor does it surprise me.

You see, the biggest gripe I have with people who talk about Pakistan’s ‘image’ abroad, and about trying to change that and showing people that there’s more to Pakistan is that for them there exists a different Pakistan. For them, a Pakistan exists full of opportunities and wealth. But that isn’t Pakistan. The Pakistan of Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys, of Land Rovers and Beamers, of Les Pauls and Raves, of Absoluts and Finlandias doesn’t exist for the vast majority of Pakistanis. Do you have parents who can send you abroad for Bachelors and Masters degrees? Well done – you belong to less than 1% of the population of Pakistan. Your opportunities are not available to most Pakistanis. Your world, your bubble, is quite different.

So when we talk about ‘our’ Pakistan and it’s ‘image’, when we talk about the FSI and it’s rating of ‘our’ Pakistan, we’re not only incredibly wrong but equally remarkably naive.

Humour my cursory glance of the FSI report:

  • I-1 = 8.3. Of course we’ve got mounting demographic pressures – linked directly to our economic fallibilities. Poor families produce more, because for them rather than a greater burden it means more kids to send out on the streets to beg or work for pathetic wages. More childen, more money.
  • I-2 = 8.6. I don’t think this deserves explanation. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the term ‘Displacement’ by now. Or better yet, IDPs.
  • I-3 = 9.6. This does seem a bit sensational. Christians, Sikhs, Hindus are socially excluded, but 9.6 would mean regular attacks on minorities and more than just ‘exclusion’ – it ought to mean apartheid. Yet, though Pakistan is nowhere near being even remotely just when it comes to dealing with minorities, I don’t think we’re an apartheid state.
  • I-4 = 8.3. Again, self-explanatory. I don’t have much here in terms of figures and all, but there is a sense – there is hope – that the brain drain is lessening. My generation is more profoundly aware of the fallacies of Pakistan and seems to be more interested in helping avert the literal failing of the state than previous generations, and maybe in the future Pakistan will be safer on this front, at least.
  • I-5 = 8.8. Uneven economic development along group lines. I’m surprised this isn’t higher. There has been a sense of trickle down wealth – Musharraf did help create a burgeoning middle class – but every effort from Zardari and co. points the dismissal of the same middle class. Plus, what’s that I hear you say? “The rich get richer”?
  • I-6 = 6.4. Not there, yet.
  • I-7 = 9.1. Ahh yes. The delegitimization of the state. I’ve said it before, but the biggest threat to Pakistani sovereignty is not the US or India, but the taliban.
  • I-8 = 7.5. Should be higher I think. We aren’t seeing the extinction of public services, but they do cater primarily to the elite. If you’re poor and you’ve been robbed or need medical help, you’re shit out of luck buddy.
  • I-9 = 8.9. Arbitrary application of law? You gotta be kidding me guy. That term was made for Pakistan. I mean, we’ve got lawyers who build rooms on land that doesn’t belong to them, and then when the High Court tells them the construction was illegal and orders the police to raze it, the lawyers go beat up the police! The long arm of the law bitches – it’s going straight up your ass the place where the sun doesn’t shine.
  • I-10 = 9.5. Again, self explanatory.
  • I-11 = 9.6. This is a bit harsh. We do have factionalized elites, but neither of them have – at least overtly – authorized or desired violence.
  • I-12 = 9.5. Well, the US wants our babies, so I guess this has got to be high. Though additionally the dependence/intervention is based on how much Pakistan is dependent on foreign aid – so that at least clears some of it up.

Aside from the very few harsh assessments of Pakistan, does any of that read wrong? If we look past “Pakistan is tenth of the index of failed/failing states” and we study the scores, it tends to make far, far more sense.

Now to some extent, the FSI seems flawed. North Korea, e.g, is 17th. Now, by and large, the life of an average Pakistani citizen is potentially brighter than their North Korean counterpart. If you can string together the cash, you can actually obtain a radio that doesn’t lie about the Pakistani cricket team’s travails internationally. Also, despite everything, PTV won’t you tell you that Kim Jong-Il doesn’t go to the loo. Yet our GDP per capita languishes around $2.2k p/a, while that of North Korea (as per ’08) is around $1k. So, compared to an isolationist state run by a dictator, just how badly are we doing in relative terms?

Now broadly speaking in politics the biggest indicator of a failed state is the inability of the state to protect its own citizens. Depending on how you view things, that indicator can be limited to physical violence (as in the Hobbesian state or Weberian state) or it can be broadened to include the economy, health, education etc. In the latter, ‘security’ is deeper, because in the modern world so as to avail the best opportunities (or any at all) one needs education, and in our era money plays a far bigger role in life. Health too becomes important – if you die because you starved, or because you contracted hepatitis B, the government can be called to fault because they didn’t purify water sources, or they didn’t distribute food or impose export quotas and so on. Death, afte rall, is the opposite of the security.

In this latter, broader definition of what constitutes a failed state, the FSI is extremely relevant. It looks not just at the physical destruction of a state, but at the very fabric of it. Lebanon, e.g, is a state with a border dispute and with a far violent state bordering it (Israel), yet despite Syrian and Iranian intervention (Hezbollah), that state still remains lower than us on the FSI.

Now, I don’t see Pakistan failing as a state anytime soon. I genuinely don’t. Somehow, despite the myriad issues the state of Pakistan has faced, it’s political and economic elites have always managed to sustain the state, even if for their own purposes. That will, for better or for worse, continue. But what constitutes a failed state for those very elites, and what constitutes a failed state for the daughter of a farm worker who finds herself gang-raped, with the jirga/police doing fuck all is quite different. For some guy whose bought his first piece of land, only to realize it was a scam and then find himself thrust out by the Pakistani judicial system, the state is a failure. For the IDPs who now head back to Swat and find themselves amidst a massive clusterfuck, threatened by the taliban from the left and facing friendly fire from Pakistani apaches, Pakistan represents a failed state because it neglected the security of these citizens of the state.

So, despite the inherent sensationalist nature of the FSI report, and the instrinsic complexities of trying to ascertain the level of ‘failure’ of a state, what does the report say that so many of us haven’t already mentioned on blogs and in the papers? So why the faux-outrage? If there is any, of course.


3 thoughts on “Of Pakistan, the failed states index and patriotism

  1. I have a million things to say.

    Instead I’m just gonna be a sappy Packistani and say, “Pakistan zindabad.”

    We’re not going anywhere.

    Fuck that list.

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