Does the Fragile State Index 2015 actually tell us something?

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The 2015 of the Fragile State Index, produced by The Fund for Peace, highlights Pakistan as the 13th most fragile state in the world. The new ranking is an improvement of the country’s position last year, when it had enjoyed the 10th spot.

The index places countries into varying categories ranging from ‘very sustainable’ for countries that do fairly well, to the ‘very high alert’ for countries that are on the brink of chaos. This index was formerly known as the Failed State Index.

Despite being bumped out of the top ten from last year’s scores, Pakistan is yet to manage a way of crawl out of the ‘High Alert’ category and scoring a 102.9 on the index.

Salman Zaidi, Jinnah Institute deputy director and Strategic Security Initiative lead says that the report has gotten better with time.

“In the 2014 report, I was particularly interested in the blind spots that exist in the research, including there being no lack of data on several countries. Iran was one of and it’s good to know that blind spots have been addressed to a certain degree because they create important benchmarks for comparison,” he says.

In terms of Pakistan’s position on the index, Zaidi remarked that, “Pakistan’s position hasn’t really gotten better compared to last year,” he says.

“We get a grant total of 102.9 on the index, which doesn’t really create reason for happiness but this finding is consistent with other reports that have included Pakistan, including the human development index, which hinges on vulnerability,” he adds.

Zaidi is not particularly surprised by the scores that Pakistan has been given. “They gave us a score of 10 on group grievances, which is really a function of how minorities have been sidelined and persecuted, and that has really gone up during the last 15 months period,” he highlights.

“The 9.6 rating on the security apparatus is a function of the war that we’re fighting. The 9.2 rating on factionalised elites is a very significant indicator given the way our domestic politics has been playing out in the last six years, but now even more so because of the civil-military angle to this. The civil-military gap has widened exponentially over the last six months, and that is something that may get worse,” he explains.

Zaidi feels that the 9.3 rating on external interventions is not particularly shocking, either. “Our border is open with Afghanistan, our clash points with the LOC, as well as how the militant groups that have funding channels and help coming from abroad make for a very potent mix of conflicts that intersect,” he says.

Irfan Shahzad, Lead Coordinator at the Institute of Policy Studies, is wary of indexes such as this one.

“No matter how many of these indexes we keep constructing, whether it’s about failed states, fragile states, corruption, happy living, and so on, we aren’t really helping – even Bhutan has its own index on happiness,” he laughs.

“All of such indexes look at some specific and deliberately chosen parameters and indicators and do not provide a wholesome picture,” he says warily.

“And you cannot rule out that the organisations behind such reports have their own objectives. They need to categorise certain countries in certain ways, and this is the way they manage to do it,” he adds.

Indeed the index does have a certain amount of data that could raise an eyebrow. Shahzad highlights a few interesting examples, “Like Belgium is part of the highly stable countries category. Now we all know that just a couple of years ago Belgium was on the verge of a breakup. So how can it be so?

“Secondly, the moment Cuba gave the green signal that it was willing to restore diplomatic relations with the USA, after some five decades, suddenly they are being given points for significant improvement. There are more than a few things that are highly questionable,” he says.

Shahzad points out that several other countries are much worse off than Pakistan but they are ranked higher.

HOW RELEVANT ARE THE INDICATORS?

“The ratings are not an issue. The issue is whether or not the chosen indicator reflects the main issues that Pakistan is facing. The angle we have to look at is whether the parameters and indicators herein represent the need of the countries that are surveyed here, including Pakistan,” he adds.

Pakistan’s social fabric is not the same as that of the west. While the USA just celebrated gay marriage, gay people are barely out of the closet in this country. “We have a different perception of human rights as a nation. Gay rights are not even a question for Pakistan right now. So if we get a low score, i.e. we have no gay marriages, what difference does it make practically?” he questions.

Shahzad also points out climate change as another flawed indicator. “Climate change is something that Pakistan isn’t really a contributor to, but we’re ranked worse than so many countries. What about the contributors that are creating the problem?” he asks.

For Shahzad, the index is nothing more than a reinforcement of stereotypes about a majority of the countries survey. “Same trend is witnessed in other reports,. Therefore, this report is not particularly unique in that sense,” he says.

Zaidi also feels that the report has a few loopholes. “Research can have loopholes, and no research is or can be absolute. You look at datasets and the best you can do is to create trends from them. Whatever degree of robustness you bring to your models or samples will only show indicators,” he says.

“We have benchmarks and trends to assess information with. In this report, several countries are going up or down. Pakistan just sits there with marginal movement which is nothing,” he says of the implications of such an index for the country at the moment.

“But all the same, the reports can be improved by improving data and removing blind spots. I think fragility is in many ways a subjective category to put onto countries that have had prolonged conflict,” he explains.

“Looking at countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan from a fragility point of view is, like any other statistical enumeration, reductive – and that is perhaps the weakness of this report, or any other report that takes on statistical enumeration,” he adds.

“It’s not comprehensive enough, it’s rather outdated, and one size does not fit all,” Shahzad maintains, dismissing the index.