Failed states index – a look under the hood

It’s not the ranking, it’s the change in the score

In 2005, when Foreign Policy magazine first published a failed state index, The Acorn argued that “rankings by themselves do not convey as much information as the direction of their change. How countries change their position, even by this imperfect measure, will be the thing to watch in future years.”

In fact, the rank on the league table is not so informative as the actual change in the country’s score. For instance, Pakistan’s rank improved this year (from the 9th most failing state in 2008 to the 10th in 2009). Yet, it’s total failure score increased from 103.8 to 104.1 (See the article on the magazine’s website). Assuming that the good people at Foreign Policy have used the same methodology year after year, this doesn’t suggest an improvement in Pakistan—it suggests a worsening of conditions.

Here’s a comparison of the actual score of countries in India’s neighbourhood over the last four years.

Data: Foreign Policy/Chart: The Acorn

It’s generally bad news: other than Bangladesh, state failure is worsening in the neighbourhood. Bhutan does best, but even its score has (surprisingly) fallen.

Related Post: A post on the 2006 index.

General Katawal stays

Prachanda’s actions isolate the Maoists

The question of the induction of the Maoist insurgents into the Nepalese army—a force they spent a decade fighting—has boiled over into, what else, a crisis.

Pushpa Kamal “Prachanda” Dahal, the Maoist prime minister, would like them to be absorbed immediately. Others, not least the army chief, thinks otherwise. That’s why the army chose to fill its vacancies with 2800 vacancies instead of absorbing Mr Dahal’s Maoist militants. While it is necessary to work out arrangements to employ the 23,000 Maoist militants, the army correctly argues that the one-time rebels must be “de-mobilised, rehabilitated and reintegrated” before they can join the national army. [See Damakant Jayshi’s op-ed]

On the surface it appears ‘reasonable’ for the prime minister to have the authority to sack the army chief. But it is important to note that Nepal is under an interim constitutional dispensation, with stability and indeed legitimacy depending on the tenous balance of political power among the main players. Mr Dahal’s decision to sack the army chief was unilateral and didn’t have the support of the other parties represented in his cabinet. President Ram Baran Yadav’s decision to overrule the prime minister on this matter leaves the Maoists isolated on the matter. [more on Republica and on Globespotting, TOI diplomatic editor Indrani Bagchi’s new blog]

So Mr Dahal might have to consume the humble momo on this one. Perhaps a face-saving formula can be found—the army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal, has after all only three more months in command. If this doesn’t happen, Nepal will go into a deeper, more violent crisis. We’ll know after the fierce one speaks.

Blame it on Lax Indica

Where India yields, China will step in.

Quite often, the alarm and indignation comes from a sense of entitlement. Surely, the argument goes, India’s size and geographical location entitles it to a pre-eminent maritime status in the Indian Ocean, so how dare China intrude and construct a “string of pearls” around India?

To be sure, the emergence of China as a regional maritime power is the big story of our times. Over the past two decades, China has methodically developed basing arrangements (the ‘string of pearls’), invested in a submarine fleet designed to counter the US Navy’s aircraft carrier groups and, is now working on a surface fleet (including six aircraft carriers) whose purpose is to project power. This worries Indian strategists, because some of China’s accretion of power will come at India’s expense. While China certainly seeks to contain the expansion of Indian power, the object of its grand strategy is to counter the United States. And it is getting there: not by matching renminbi-for-dollar and getting into an arms race, but largely by developing capabilities that exploit United States’ weak points.

So at a time when China seeks to play in the same league as the superpower of the day, it is to be expected that it will try to extract advantageous positions in the Indian Ocean region at India’s expense. The big scandal is not that China is securing bases in India’s neighbourhood by shoring up nasty regimes and abetting their outrageous policies; but rather, India does not even show any sign of doing what is necessary to protect its interests.

So Home Minister P Chidambaram criticised China for fishing in troubled waters by backing the Sri Lankan government to the hilt in its war against the LTTE. So what else does Mr Chidambaram expect it to do? If the UPA government couldn’t find the resolve to shape a bold Sri Lanka policy that would promote India’s interests, why should he hold it against China for doing so? Similarly, if the UPA government found itself immobilised over its Nepal policy, why should China be blamed for promoting what it sees as its own interests? (See Lax Indica). Surely, the likes of Pranab Mukherjee and A K Anthony didn’t think that China should be held to the statements they made about there being enough space in Asia for two powers to rise simultaneously? (Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Chidambaram did gruesome damage to the pace at which India could rise in the first place).

Let’s face it: unless the next government—regardless of whether it is the UPA, NDA or a Ghastly Numbered Front that comes to power—firmly resolves to ensure that India’s strategic frontiers are not rolled inwards, strategic containment is assured. Those who take recourse to fatalism and declare that coalition politics doesn’t allow an assertive foreign policy, especially in India’s neighbourhood, better not express indignation when they spot a Chinese aircraft carrier group a few hundred nautical miles from Kochi or Mumbai. Actually, coalition politics has been offered as an excuse for gross mismanagement of neighbourhood policy—other than during the election season, coalition partners limit their foreign policy demands to largely to rhetoric. It stands to reason, therefore, that a central government that can’t stand up to pressure from its coalition partners can’t stand up to pressure from Beijing.

My op-ed in Mint: There is no one China policy

Competition in zero-sum games, co-operation in positive-sum games

My op-ed in today’s Mint is a synthesis of several posts and discussions on this blog. Many of you might rightly say that it is stating the obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be stated as well (and the need to do so is not always so obvious).

Pakistani arms for Sri Lanka

Should India really bother?

Let’s consider one narrative: India is opposed to the LTTE, but can’t support the Sri Lanka army because of a number of reasons—mostly having to do with domestic politics, but also perhaps for strategic reasons. So when Pakistan becomes a big supplier of small arms to Colombo, should India really worry?

Rather than go into a tizzy and attempt to counter the Pakistani move, a far more effective position would be to circumscribe the arms trade and Pakistan’s role. India has enough levers over Colombo to set limits on the type and quantity of arms that the latter can import, and ensure that arms suppliers don’t engage in other activities inimical to India’s interests. Indeed such a strategy might provide greater influence over Colombo’s approach to the civil war.

Remembering the East Pakistan Genocide

Truth and reconciliation elude the victims of the 1971 mass murders

Thirty eight years ago this day, the Pakistani army’s tanks moved in to Dacca (now Dhaka), the capital of East Pakistan, as part of the General Yahya Khan-led junta’s plan to bring the autonomy-seeking province to heel. “We have to sort them out” said Colonel Naim of the Pakistani army’s 9th division, “to restore the land to the people, and the people to their Faith”. Operation Searchlight officially got underway on March 25th 1971, although in his memoirs, Major General Sujan Singh Uban writes that the Pakistani army had begun repressive measures a few days earlier.

Thus began the genocide.

It was perhaps among the few in recent decades that did not come as a surprise, not least to the victims. It accompanied the birth of a new nation leaving horrible birthmarks that disfigure Bangladeshi society to this day. Bangladesh in 1971 was the site of multiple conflicts: a civil war between the the two wings of Pakistan, communal violence between Bengalis and non-Bengalis, a genocide, an guerrilla war, a conventional war and a counter-genocide. In each of these conflicts perpetrators, victims and onlookers often exchanged roles. Here is my essay (PDF, 200kb) that examines the causes, course and results of one sub-conflict—the genocide against Bengalis by the West Pakistani army—and attempts to explain it through a Realist perspective.

In A Problem from Hell, Samantha Power indicts the realist underpinnings of US foreign policy for its indirect complicity or reluctance to intervene in several 20th century genocides—including those in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

While that may indeed be the case, the events in East Pakistan between 1970, when Bhola struck, to 1974, when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh arrived at a tripartite agreement to close outstanding issues, present an interesting case of how realpolitik considerations of the states involved explain why genocide was carried out with impunity, why it was permitted by international players, why it was halted by the Indian intervention and why the perpetrators were never punished. It is not a normative discussion to study how genocides may be prevented, but rather an attempt to explain the role of Realist foreign policies of states during the episode. (The essay contains a small section disagreeing with Sarmila Bose’s recent revisionist study that concludes that the term genocide was a product of exaggeration.).

Download the essay here

From the archives: Archer Kent Blood, RIP; Who claimed Bangladeshi independence?; Indira called Nixon a…?; Bangladesh celebrates victory day; Children of a failed theory; Foreign Policy Naifs (Barbara Crossette edition)