IPCS Review

The FSI Report: Is Bangladesh a Failing State?

17 Aug, 2013    ·   4090

Prof Delwar Hossain reviews the FSI report and debates on State Failure with a special focus on Bangladesh.

Since the end of the Cold War, several categories are used to understand the capacity, performance, changes and dynamics of the State – including ‘competition state’, ‘failed state’, ‘crisis state’, ‘fragile state’, ‘rogue state’, ‘weak state’, ‘ineffective state’, ‘neo-patrimonial states’, ‘warlord states’, ‘quasi states’, a ‘country at risk of instability’ or ‘under stress’, and even a ‘difficult partner’. Most of these categories are highly political and controversial.

Failed State (FS) is one of such categories. The ranking of states based on Failed State Index (FSI) has drawn enormous attention from its critics who even termed the concept meaningless and a western myth. Analysts have questioned both the methodology and parameters of failed state. However, the attempt of ranking the state based on FSI explores the nature of states with particular focus on their capacity and sustainability in the era of a global age. The pivotal reference point is the post-cold war era as indicated above.

Bangladesh is ranked 29th in the bottom of the 2013 Failed States Index along with Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in the same category or below. Barring India, all major actors of South Asia could not score enough points to raise their ranks at least at the moderate level.

Bangladesh’s position has moved between 12 and 19 during 2005-10 and it ranged between 24 and 29 during 2011-13. Bangladesh has improved its FSI ranking from the lowest 12th to the highest  29th over the last nine years. What does it signify for Bangladesh as a nation-state? At a larger level, the same question may be posed to many of the developing countries in the world as they are also part of ranking. More specifically, is Bangladesh a failed state?

The positioning of Bangladesh in the FSI Ranking over the years clearly indicates that the country is almost a failed state. Paradoxically, it has really failed to demonstrate the capacity and performance of Bangladesh as a post-colonial state. While looking at the 2013 ranking one may easily get bewildered.

The following positions are particularly puzzling in the 2013 index: Bangladesh (29); Myanmar (26), Iraq (11); Syria (21), North Korea (23) and Libya (54).

The level of failure as a state in the cases of Myanmar, North Korea and Syria with authoritarian regimes in power, closed societies and command economies for decades shows difference with Bangladesh only by the range of 2-5 points in total score. Politics, society and economy in Bangladesh are almost a contrast of these nations which do not reflect in the rankings of FSI. Rankings of these states, for example, have failed to capture the continuum of failure mentioned in the table. Bangladesh suffers from political violence, political instability and corruption as part of its process of political development. On the other hand, the country has been able to establish a liberal democracy, open market economy and democratic society. The country has achieved notable success in social indicators including women empowerment. The sustained growth rate of gross domestic product (GDP) has widened the opportunities for livelihoods at rural and urban levels. Ironically, the FSI ranking has been unable to shed light on these vital aspects of scio-economic and political development due to methodological problems.

Both in conceptual and empirical terms, the FSI ranking rather shows that it is untenable to rank the Westphalian state as a human organization. State is so dynamic, multidimensional and context oriented that cannot be captured in the parameters measured by numbers. It is more of qualitative assessment that may give an idea about a state regarding its failure or any tendency. The difference between Finland (178) or Sweden (177) and Somalia (1) or South Sudan (4) cannot be understood by the difference in their rankings. Similarly, one cannot understand the difference between Bangladesh (29) and Kazakhstan (109) or Mongolia (129), by highlighting their positions in the ranking.

Experiences of statehood in the post-colonial states, any conceptualization of efficacy and capacity of states should be linked with nation-state building process. A state is failed or fragile because it has deficiency in its nation-state building capacity for ensuring political, economic and social stability in its polity. The failure in nation-state building process provides an explanatory variable as to how a transition from a normal state to state failure becomes possible.

However, from an academic viewpoint, there may be a rethinking of FSI as applied by the Fund for Peace for giving a real meaning to this idea. Three points are critical in this regard. First, the term or category ‘failed’ needs to be given up considering the fact that no state is ‘failed’ in reality. Historically, states are engaged in a process of social change which is dynamic not static. It is a long drawn struggle for survival and emancipation. Second, the weightage in every indicator of the index and total points needs to be changed in order to see the real difference between or among the states in the survey. Finally, there is a need for more academic engagement on capacity of states which would help further refining of our conceptual framework to understand various dimensions of states in the era of globalization.