An expert's point of view on a current event.

Debating the Failed States Index

Was this year's ranking of the world's most fragile states on target? Five countries respond.


To see the 2012 Failed States Index, click here. 

To see the 2012 Failed States Index, click here. 



By Nadeem Hotiana

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of Pakistan’s failure has been greatly exaggerated. We take exception to Pakistan’s placement on the Failed States Index published in Foreign Policy magazine. The methodology fails to capture Pakistan’s myriad strengths, while exaggerating its perceived weaknesses.

It would be helpful to deconstruct the methodology that is so cavalierly applied to Pakistan. The index singles out "the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions," the "inability to provide reasonable public services," and "the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community" as key attributes of a failing state. The compilers get it wrong about Pakistan on all these counts.

Pakistan today is on the cusp of an epochal transition. Even as it fights a full-blooded war against terrorists, it is completing a historic transformation from authoritarian rule to genuine democracy. This is the most legislatively active parliament in our history. It has cleansed the constitution of the debris of past authoritarian interludes and devolved power to the provinces, passed landmark legislation to help bring the residents of our Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Gilgit-Baltistan into the political mainstream, and taken the most comprehensive set of measures to address the grievances of the people of our Balochistan province. It has passed more legislation on women’s rights than all of Pakistan’s past parliaments combined, while tackling such issues as domestic abuse and property rights and establishing a National Commission on Women. It also established a National Commission on Human Rights with enforcement powers.

A boisterously vibrant media complements the coming of age of Pakistani democracy. The Pakistani military is part of this democratic evolution. It has earned the respect of the average Pakistani through its unflinching resolve to take on the terrorists and allow the political leadership to set the country’s direction and policies.

This is not to say that Pakistan does not face challenges. We are on the front lines of the fight against terrorism, which has consumed precious resources. We also face pressures on a number of other fronts. Our infrastructure, for example, has suffered neglect. And yet, the work of the state continues to get done. The parliament continues to meet and make laws and even vote in a new prime minister through a peaceful constitutional change. The bureaucracy continues to deliver services. Schools, colleges, and universities continue to admit students and grant certificates, diplomas, degrees, and doctorates. The borders of the country continue to be defended and the scourge of terrorism continues to be met head on.

The economy, despite laboring under the impact of some of worst natural disasters to befall Pakistan (including the 2010 floods, when 20 percent of our landmass was under water), continues to perform creditably, managing a growth rate of 3.6 percent this year. Tax collection has surged by 25 percent, and remittances from Pakistanis abroad have increased by 21 percent as exports have surged to $25 billion. Pakistan’s stock market continues to perform well. Clearly, the investors know or see something that the Failed States Index’s compilers can’t or won’t.

Pakistan is an active and valued member of numerous international organizations. It maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries of the world. It is currently a member of the U.N. Security Council, earning that place after a tough election. Pakistan has also historically been the top troop contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The true measure of a nation is not the number and magnitude of challenges it faces, but how it rises to meet them. Measured against that yardstick, Pakistan has hardly any equal.

Nadeem Hotiana is press attaché at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C.

To see the 2012 Failed States Index, click here. 


By M. Ashraf Haidari

It is no surprise that Afghanistan has fluctuated between the ranks of 6 and 11 atop the Failed States Index since 2005, given that building Afghanistan’s previously failed state institutions remains very much a work in progress. What the index does not highlight, however, is the history of interrelated internal, regional, international, and transnational dynamics that have contributed to the challenges facing modern state formation in Afghanistan.

This process effectively began in the 1920s. A landlocked and least-developed country, the young Afghan state lacked the requisite resources to strengthen its institutions so that they could deliver the most basic services to people. For decades, this made Afghanistan dependent on piecemeal foreign aid with strings tied to the competing blocs of the Cold War. Upon the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union’s proxy, Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah, in 1992, the United States and its allies also disengaged from the country, completely neglecting Afghanistan’s post-Cold War reconstruction and development.

The vacuum left by the West was immediately filled by predatory state and non-state actors. Some countries in the region supported ethnic proxies, vying for influence in stateless Afghanistan, while transnational terrorists and organized criminal networks found a permissive environment in which to operate. The unchecked isolation of Afghanistan as a pariah state eventually allowed al Qaeda to mastermind the tragedy of 9/11.

Since the launch in 2001 of Operation Enduring Freedom — which ushered in overdue international intervention to restore, reform, and strengthen the Afghan state — Afghanistan has consistently made progress in delivering basic services to people and protecting them against internal and external security threats. This process is by no means linear: Some state institutions (mostly the army and police) are more capable than others in meeting popular demands. Their capacity to provide services largely depends on how much the international community has invested in them over the past decade, as well as how effectively these institutions are led by Afghans themselves.

Hence, while Afghans will continue to do their part, continued international support for the process of consolidating the Afghan state and its many achievements over the past 10 years is absolutely essential. As the Failed States Index warns, if the international community does not stay the course in Afghanistan, the country will once again face the prospect of state failure and collapse.

Aware of this fact, the international community pledged recently at the NATO summit in Chicago, as well as at the Bonn Conference last December, to help Afghanistan along its long journey toward achieving "positive sovereignty" and sustainable development. This preventive step is backed by bilateral measures, such as the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, to ensure that Afghanistan will never slide back into the chaos of 1990s.

M. Ashraf Haidari, the deputy assistant national security adviser of Afghanistan, was the chargé d’affaires and deputy ambassador of the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C.

To see the 2012 Failed States Index, click here.  


By Seif Yasin

It’s obvious that the Failed States designation is more of a political denunciation than a reflection of reality. The inherent subjectivity of the criteria used to justify this indictment undermines and discredits the legitimacy of such an exercise, which only aims to stigmatize and make pariahs of countries disliked by the Fund for Peace’s funders. If it were a legitimate project, all the countries listed would have ownership over it, not only partaking in the process of data generation but also contributing to the study financially as they would recognize the stakes. The claim that "rigorous" methodologies have been employed does not necessarily ensure the credibility of the outcome, as these self-proclaimed "researchers" argue. Analysts are notorious for only choosing data sets that fit their assumptions and ignoring the rest.

While the report may paint a truly grim and disturbing picture of countries deemed "failed," an hour’s visit to Sudan is all that is needed to produce an objective account — that Sudan remains among the more stable and peaceful countries in a troubled region despite the obvious and tremendous challenges it faces. This is not a picture that years of analyzing "reports" and "data" manufactured by politically biased "experts" and "institutions" with an axe to grind will ever show you.

To garner more credibility, this "failed" status should focus less on state failure and more on its root causes. Sudan, like every nation around the globe, has its challenges, which it is consistently working to address. But these challenges stem from several factors, some of which are external. Our security, for instance, has consistently been tested by foreign actors who see an advantage in destabilizing Sudan. U.S.-imposed sanctions are also a significant tool of destabilization as they have clearly induced mass suffering by severely constraining aid and economic activity that could otherwise improve the country’s economic standing. If there is poverty, if there are internally displaced people, if there are aggrieved individuals, certainly these sanctions play a causative role.

Furthermore, we live today in a global community where much of the blame is shared because of the interconnectedness that has made it impossible for the actions of one nation to not affect others. The current global economic crisis is a case in point. There is also a legitimate argument to be made that the global institutions that govern trade, for instance, have a lot to do with the lagging economic performance of developing countries, which in turn affects development and internal stability. There is also an argument to be made that the impunity with which politically and militarily mighty countries conduct their affairs is a contributing factor in some states that the report considers "failed." Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, would be in a better position today if it weren’t for the U.S.-led invasions of both countries. The same is true for many other countries against whom a deliberate campaign of destabilization has been waged by foreign forces. The Failed States Index is useless if all it does is rank which countries are suffering from both overt and clandestine wars of attrition perpetrated at all levels by the world’s most powerful.

This is not to excuse any inherent shortcomings in Sudan’s governing apparatus, nor is it an attempt to deny the presence of real challenges in the country. It is instead an effort to put things in perspective. If the goal is to help resolve a problem, we must first identify the ailment in order to dispense the right prescription. Otherwise, it’s a pointless exercise and a waste of resources to draw up such a list. As it stands, the Failed States Index is an exercise intended to manipulate data for the sole purpose of demonizing countries that are disliked.

Seif Yasin is information counselor at the Embassy of the Republic of Sudan in Washington, D.C.

To see the 2012 Failed States Index, click here.  


By Mohammed Albasha

Calling Yemen a failing state was a safe bet during the turbulent and bloody events of 2011. Thousands of youths marched to protest their legitimate grievances while Yemen’s factionalized military forces were at odds. In the south, al Qaeda affiliates capitalized on the turmoil and expanded their footprint. The turmoil amplified Yemen’s troubles and catapulted the nation into the international spotlight.

More than a year later, however, much has changed for the better in Yemen. The security situation is slowly stabilizing, the government is restructuring its forces, and the country is no longer teetering on the edge of a civil war. Yemen has also intensified the fight against al Qaeda, pushing out militants from territories they controlled. Most important of all, the fabric of Yemen’s resilient society remains intact.

Not long after being sworn into office on Feb. 25, President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi launched an effort to convene an inclusive and transparent National Dialogue Conference, to be held in the coming months. Prominent southern activists and leaders of the northern Houthi movement have signaled their interest in participating, and youth groups, women’s groups, NGOs, and other stakeholders will be able to take part in the dialogue as well. Reforming the political structure and amending the constitution in a Yemeni-led process will cement the steps necessary to implement urgent reforms. The decentralization of power, for example, can embrace the challenges of Yemeni diversity and tribal autonomy but still hold local leaders accountable. Building institutions, implementing good governance, and enforcing accountability will also help combat corrupt practices.

Despite these early successes, Yemen remains a troubled nation and faces an extraordinarily volatile mix of economic, political, security and socio-developmental challenges. It is struggling with an endemic culture of corruption and the mismanagement of dwindling natural resources. A nationwide addiction to the qat plant is diverting water resources away from agriculture and adversely affecting national wealth. Terrorism and tribal unrest have damaged Yemen’s oil and gas infrastructure, leaving the economy floundering. One-third of adults are unemployed, and half a million Yemenis have been internally displaced by an indigenous rebellion in the north and an al Qaeda insurgency in the south. Humanitarian agencies are now warning of a looming hunger crisis.

These challenges threaten the nation’s recent gains and may cause Yemen to collapse if they are not adequately addressed. This is a key moment, and if it is missed it may not come around again. Yemen needs the international community to speak and, more importantly, to act as one.

U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council recently adopted resolutions supporting President Hadi’s unwavering resolve to move Yemen forward. Yemen hails the ongoing efforts of the "Friends of Yemen" group to confront the country’s web of entangled and deeply rooted challenges by promoting investment, developing feasible aid policies, encouraging entrepreneurship, and strengthening educational programs. Additionally, millions of Yemenis will be anticipating the outcome of an upcoming donor conference in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Yemen looks to its global partners as it transitions to a strong, unified, democratic, and prosperous nation. But first and foremost, Yemen needs to continue getting its house in order. For reforms to be effective, the government must continue to improve security and stability.

Mohammed Albasha is a spokesperson for the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, D.C.

To see the 2012 Failed States Index, click here.  


By Omar Jamal

Since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, there has been virtually no functional institution in the country. It therefore goes without saying that Somalia would appear in first place in the Failed States Index. What’s overlooked, however, is the country’s slow recovery and recent defeat of the al-Shabab militant group.

Somalia has been in a state of war for 20 years, and the Somali government, since its inception, has been bogged down in the trenches instead of performing its basic requirement to provide security, services, and good governance to its citizens. Political instability has crippled socio-economic development, and corruption has become prevalent because of uncertainty and the absence of law and order.

Nevertheless, the current administration has tackled some of these ailments and triumphed under difficult circumstance. Somali soldiers now receive their salary on a regular basis. Mogadishu is recovering, and, most important of all, security is slowly returning, at least in the capital. Were the stable and thriving parts of Somalia considered as part of this analysis?

Al-Shabab, the barbarians, are still at the gate, and there is no country in the region that has had more of its population internally displaced than Somalia. Many Somali citizens are still behind wires in refugee camps in neighboring countries, under the flag of the United Nations.

The recovery process in Somalia is now a work in progress. Whether it will bear fruit is not yet clear.

Omar Jamal is first secretary at the Permanent Mission of the Somali Republic to the United Nations.

Adrienne Klasa is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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