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#5147, 6 October 2016

Fragile States Index 2016

FSI’s Broader Conclusions: Methodology, Empirical Trends and Current Realities
TCA Raghavan
Former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan

The broad conclusions on India of the Fragile States Index are:

(a) 2016 as compared to 2015 has seen a significant worsening of India’s fragility index based on a number of indicators. In contrast China has performed much better over the past year. (b) Over the past decade India has become substantially more fragile. In other words, the worsening in India’s fragility index in the current year is part of a longer secular trend.

How rigorous is this conclusion?

A comparative assessment, such as the Fragile States Index, has value at a general birds’ eye view level. The pictorial depiction of the globe entitled ‘Fragility in the World 2016’ is therefore a reasonably accurate – if impressionistic – depiction of global trends. However too close a scrutiny, which is what the rest of the report attempts, brings out numerous internal contradictions and often bizarre conclusions such as Saudi Arabia falling in the ‘Elevated Warning’ category, Bahrain in the more stable ‘Warning’ category while UAE and Qatar are in the much superior grouping of ‘More Stable’. Given that Saudi Arabia is de facto the net security provider to each of these three, the wide variation in their fragility index is questionable.

Given a natural strong correlation between the level of economic development and societal and political stability one could of course ask how much value such a global ranking exercise brings. Most of Africa thus predictably falls in the ‘Alert’ category. India (and China) and its neighbourhood are similarly placed. The Fragile States Index is based on a 12 criterion scale. (Social: Demographic Pressures; Refugees and IDPs; Group Grievance; Human Flight and Brain Drain; Economic: Uneven Economic Development; Poverty and Economic Decline; Political and Military: State Legitimacy; Public Services; Human Rights and Rule of Law; Security Apparatus; Factionalised Elites; External Intervention.) Possibly if a single criterion index was constructed using just about any attribute of per capita economic performance it would have had a very large overlap with the present Fragile States Index.

A closer scrutiny of the comparative assessment throws up other difficulties. In 2016 China, India, Thailand and Bhutan fall in ‘Elevated Warning’, Sri Lanka and Iran in a rank higher (i.e. more fragile) in ‘High Warning’ and Pakistan and Afghanistan even more fragile at ‘High Alert’. This classification would possibly not lead to serious objections although some could well say both Sri Lanka and Iran have greater stability than their fragility index would suggest. But the value of this comparative assessment gets eroded somewhat when Maldives is depicted as having achieved the lowest fragility score meaning most stable in the wider South Asian neighborhood - including China, Thailand, and Iran.

Such considerations come to a head when the comparative ranking of fragility over a ten-year period is undertaken. In India’s neighborhood the decade-long trend show varying degrees of improvement (i.e. reducing fragility) in Bhutan, China and Sri Lanka. On the other hand, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and India show increasing fragility to different extents. India tops the table - i.e. the increase in the fragility of India outpaces all its neighbours over the past decade. China outperforming India over the past decade in terms of growing stability may be a conclusion broadly acceptable to many. Nevertheless, the extent of the divergence between the two in this period may be questioned. In part the problem arises from the opaque character of the indices adopted. So India, Japan, and South Africa showing very significant increase in fragility as compared to China or Zimbabwe showing strong improvement raises questions about the validity of the methodology. Is this an accurate depiction of broad trends? The answer can only be in a specific analysis and this comparative assessment may not be very helpful. The latter in fact throws up far too many contradictory, if not bizarre – to common sense at least – conclusions.

The methodology leads to other conclusions that appear somewhat dubious. These include: (a) fragility in Iraq and North Korea has decreased i.e. these states have become more stable; (b) in comparative terms Afghanistan and Pakistan have performed better than has India over the past decade; (c) the score assigned to Pakistan places it in the category of those who have only marginally worsened over 2007-16. It has therefore exhibited a declining fragility compared to Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and has substantially outpaced India. This is a conclusion at considerable variance from most country specific analysis of Pakistan and the region over the past decade.

When a methodology throws up results at odds with empirical trends and realities some course correction appears necessary.

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