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The discourse of failed states emerged in the wake of the Cold War, around the early 1990s, when the word failed state was used to describe some of the third-world states where the state had completely fallen or ceased to exist. Call (2011, p. 303). However, there is some uncertainty surrounding the precise meaning of the word "failed state." 114 (Mazarr, 2014) Any theorists and practitioners have criticized the idea of a failed state as patronizing and Western-centric over the years. Call (2011), p. 303. This essay, however, does not focus on the critiques or concerns raised against the use of the concept of ‘failed state’. The focus of this essay is on a comparative analysis of two countries – Pakistan and Bangladesh – both of which have featured in the top 100 Fragile States Index 2016. This Index (renamed from Failed States Index) is produced by The Fund for Peace annually. (Mazarr, 2014) This Index is based on twelve indicators namely – Security Apparatus, Factionalized Elites, Group Grievance, Economy, Economic Inequality, Human Flight and Brain Drain, State Legitimacy, Public Services, Human Rights, Demographic Pressures, Refugees and IDPs and External Intervention. (Fragile States Index, 2016)
Using the Most Similar Design method, this essay shall identify the key difference between the two cases based on the twelve indicators used by the Fragile States Index 2016. The main objective of this paper is to analyze the reason(s) why Pakistan and Bangladesh qualified as failed states on this particular index. In general, the assumptions about Pakistan and Bangladesh in the world community are diametrically opposite. Where Bangladesh is seen as a poor, third world country with sweat shops that produce one’s T-shirts, Pakistan is seen as troublesome, troubled country that is embedded in terrorism. This exercise in comparison would seek to delve beneath the common perceptions and come up with a more nuanced understanding. Thus, the research question that this essay addresses is – what is/are the variable(s) that can definitively allow us to categorize a country as a failed state as defined by the Fragile States Index?
On paper, Pakistan and Bangladesh have plenty of similarities. Beginning with the fact that Pakistan was carved out of the erstwhile British India in 1947, and East Pakistan split from Pakistan in 1971, forming Bangladesh. (C.I.A. The World Factbook, 2017) The two nations have a shared history and a shared culture. In fact, the socio-economic issues that both the nations face are typical of the entire South Asian region that also consists of countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. Both are Muslim majority countries, mostly Sunni Muslims. They have also faced British colonialism and still suffer from its incumbent effects.
Following the Most Similar Design method, even a cursory glance at the twelve indicators of the Fragile States Index 2016 for the two countries reveals an abundance of similar variables between them. Table 1 (refer to the Appendix) illustrates the points that each country has received for each indicator out of ten. According to this ten-point scale, the higher the score the worse the situation/indicator of that country, and the lower the score the better the indicator/situation of the country.
It is clear that the indicators for Economic Inequality (0.1 point difference), Human Flight and Brain Drain (0.2 point difference), State Legitimacy (0.3 point difference), Public Services (0.4 point difference) and Human Rights (0.6 point difference) are equally bad in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact, most of the indicators show that there is less than a one-point difference between indicators for each country. Most of these indicators could also be true for the average South Asian country. Certainly, a shared regional history and colonial legacy has had an impact on the countries, in terms of political instability, economic imbalances, lack of infrastructure and basic human rights.
On the basis of these variables, prima facie, a general hypothesis about state failure could be derived. Clearly, in the case of Pakistan and Bangladesh, most of the similar variables fall in the social and economic indicators, and a few political indicators. It could be hypothesized that acute economic imbalance and political instability are major reasons that lead to state failure. Pakistan and Bangladesh are both densely populated, and have more than enough demographic pressures on them. Acute economic imbalance alone would probably not be enough to predict the possibility of the failure of a state. Therefore, economic imbalance coupled with political instability, leading to a lack of state legitimacy might be the variables on which basis one might predict state failure.
When applying the Most Similar Design method, it is essential that one choose the objects of the comparison very carefully. Anckar states that the objects/systems must share as many similar variables as possible. This allows one to keep as many unrelated or superfluous variables at constant. The different or independent variable can thus be extrapolated from this process. It is in complete contrast to the Most Different Design wherein the two most dissimilar objects are chosen, and the only similar variable is proposed to be the plausible cause. For instance, when one is comparing the reasons why there was a revolution in France, but not in England, in spite of the multitude of similarities between their situations, one is employing the Most Similar Method. Both England and France had a monarchy, both had a substantial presence of proletariat workers, both fought expensive wars. However, the only independent variable or key difference was in the standard of living of the English and the French. The French Revolution took place due to the growing disparity in its society.
Obviously, this method has several significant flaws that become apparent when one is comparing two whole countries that have a whole host of extraneous variables that interfere with the study. However, this essay is focusing only on the Fragile States Index 2016 which has twelve indicators and is addressing a specific question about state failure. Moreover, Anckar also states that while comparing countries, ideally, geographical proximity ensures that a number of variable factors are easily kept at constant. Thus, it makes sense to choose Bangladesh and Pakistan for comparison. In this case, it is possible to come up with the control variables and single out the key difference(s). In the earlier section, the similar variables were discussed and a hypothesis was constructed based off of those variables. In this section, the key difference(s) identified will become clear and the hypothesis will be accordingly altered.
From Table 1 (in the Appendix) and the Fragile States Index Annual Report, 2016, it is clear that Pakistan has been ranked 14th whereas Bangladesh 36th. In spite of the gap between their ranks, it is the 10 point scale that reveals the fact that Pakistan and Bangladesh have scored very nearly the same in most of the twelve indicators. The only indicators that show variance more than one-point difference are those of Security Apparatus (1.5 point difference), Economy (1.1 point difference), and Refugees and IDPs (2.6 point difference). (Fragile States Index, 2016) However, one indicator that shows the most variance is the External Intervention indicator. Pakistan scores an appalling 9.6 out of 10, whereas Bangladesh scores 6 out of 10. (Fragile States Index, 2016) As a result, there is a 3.6 point difference between the two countries on this particular variable. Keeping in mind the fact that had earlier been iterated, most of the similar variables had less than a one-point difference. In light of this comparison, it is obvious that the most important independent variable that has resulted in state failure in Pakistan can be attributed to external intervention. External Intervention encompasses Foreign Military Intervention, presence of Peacekeepers, UN Missions, sanctions, etc. (Fragile States Index, 2016)
Following Bush’s rhetorical ‘either you’re with us, or against us’ argument after 9/11, Pakistan was essentially roped into a War on Terror that it wanted nothing to do with. The War on Terror on the neighboring Afghanistan cost Pakistan not only the friendship of various Islamic countries, but also had very real consequences. (Mazarr, 2014, p. 115) The presence of American troops on its soil, the interference of America in Pakistan’s internal and sovereign affairs, the vast influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan, all of these factors served to undermine the Pakistani state. In addition to this, Pakistan became a prime target of terrorism itself, due to the spread of the Pakistani Taliban which exploited the anti-America sentiment of the Pakistani people. The notion of failed states has been used as an instrument by Western policymakers to further their own vested interests, as they did in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq. Paradoxically, these wars have helped create even more ‘failed states’ like Pakistan, which used to be relatively stable as compared to its current situation. (Mazarr, 2014, p. 116)
Bangladesh, on the other hand, has benefitted to a certain extent due to the reliance of the global capitalist market on the labor from its sweat shops, and also due to its projection of Bangladesh as a model, moderate Muslim country. Obviously, Bangladesh has not faced the kind of external intervention that Pakistan has.
In addition to the earlier hypothesis, based on the independent variable of external intervention, it is possible to hypothesize that state failure arises not only when there is acute economic imbalance and lack of state legitimacy, but mostly when the state itself is undermined by external intervention by outsiders. It is a variance that sets off a series of events that invariably result in a drop in other indicators. Destruction of existing infrastructure, undermining of traditional values and social structures, political instability and a lack of legitimacy to a state that seems unable to function without external help.
In this essay, an argument about state failure has been forwarded based on the comparison of two countries with the most number of similar variables, and the independent variable that served as the key difference between the two, namely, external intervention, has been useful in connecting the dots between the independent and control variables as well. External intervention, especially by a Western country, has historically almost always resulted in the further creation of new ‘failed states’.
For instance, the United States’ war on Afghanistan led to bombing and destruction of Pakistani civilians whose deaths were callously dismissed as ‘collateral damage’. Far from achieving a modicum of peace in Afghanistan, the war has led to the strengthening of Taliban’s hold in Pakistan as well. Western interference also has inadvertently led to the current crisis in Syria. By enacting a proxy war on foreign grounds, the Western powers wreaked havoc in the once-peaceful country of Syria.
Bangladesh has been making remarkable progress, not only in terms of reducing poverty, but also in terms of its human development and gender indicators. It makes no sense for the Fragile States Index to ignore the Human Development Indicators. Surely, a country that has made such consistent efforts in improving its lot cannot be termed as a failed state, which no longer sounds like a relevant concept.
The hypothesis constructed in the first part of the essay was based off of similar variables, along with the knowledge that Pakistan and Bangladesh had a shared history of colonialism. The initial expectation, while formulating that hypothesis was perhaps history being an important contributing factor in the failure of that state. Since the Westphalian State was a uniquely Western creation, there was a possibility that third world countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh that have had different notions of nation and state, would be unable to fit into a Western idea of the state. That hypothesis was altered to a large extent due to the singling out of the independent variable. In the post-9/11 world, where rhetoric regarding failed states became louder, Western countries’ continual interference in the sovereign matters of other nations became a self-fulfilling destructive prophecy. (Mazarr, 2014, p. 314) Characterizing countries that are already suffering from poverty and instability as ‘failed states’ or ‘fragile states’ does not seem to have done much for Western countries’ fears about security and strife have a ripple effect on the world, (Mazarr, 2014, p. 314) except for making the world an even more insecure place.
Certainly, the proposed hypothesis of this essay is flawed insofar as there is no tangible way of verification or falsification. However, the Most Similar Design method is certainly a useful tool for making political sense of data that is seemingly objective and dry.
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Anckar, C. (2008). On the applicability of the most similar systems design and the most different systems design in comparative research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology , 11 (5), 389-401.
C.I.A. The World Factbook. (2017, November 6). Bangladesh. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bg.html
C.I.A. The World Factbook. (2017, November 6). Pakistan. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pk.html
Call, C. T. (2011). Beyond the ‘failed state’: Toward conceptual alternatives. European Journal of International Relations , 17 (2), 303-326.
Fragile States Index. (2016). Fragile States Index 2016. Fund for Peace.
Mazarr, M. J. (2014). The Rise and Fall of the Failed-State Paradigm: Requiem for a Decade of Distraction. Foreign Affairs , 93 (1), 113-121.
Fragile States Index 2016: Pakistan and Bangladesh
Difference (in points)
C1: Security Apparatus
C2: Factionalized Elites
C3: Group Grievance
E2: Economic Inequality
E3: Human Flight and Brain Drain
P1: State Legitimacy
P2: Public Services
P3: Human Rights
S1: Demographic Pressures
S2: Refugees and IDPs
X1: External Intervention
Note: The information above has been extracted and collated from the Fragile States Index database for the year 2016 from The Fund for Peace website (URL: )
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