By Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy*
In the 2016 edition of the Fragile States Index (FSI) brought out by the Fund for Peace (FFP), Afghanistan is listed in ‘High Alert’, scoring 107.9 points. It is placed 28.3 points behind India (‘Elevated Warning’); and 6.2 points behind Pakistan (also in the ‘High Alert’).
All these scores were based on an assessment made using values placed on various indicators: Demographic Pressures, Refugees and IDPs, Uneven Economic Development, Group Grievance, Human Flight & Brain Drain, Poverty & Economic Decline, State Legitimacy, Public Services, Human Rights & Rule of Law, Security Apparatus, Factionalized Elites, and External Intervention.
However, the points of reference used for identifying, calculating or determining the values to be placed against each indicator for each country for each year, are unclear. Perhaps this is the bane of standardised reports on matters that cannot be truly standardised. While superficially, the report gives a general idea of the status of fragility of each country, the purpose and the use of the report ends there. The absence of specifics in the final report, particularly regarding how the parameters were evaluated in the contexts of their relationships with each other, sticks out jarringly.
An individual who is less informed regarding issues such as fragility of countries would be given an impression of a reality that is not always quite what it appears as on the surface – and that is intellectual disservice, and, needless to say, defeats the purpose of undertaking the task itself. Moreover, bringing out standardised reports to illustrate the fragility of states becomes further complicated when conflict ridden states are assessed along with those who are not equally conflict ridden or who may or may not share similarities in contexts vis-à-vis the persistence of conflict.
In cases such as Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria, the situation on the ground has been known to change rapidly – and almost even on a daily basis. That the report in question which was published on 27 June 2016 is a collection of findings based on data collected between 01 January 2015 and 31 December 2015, means it does not entirely capture the current state-of-affairs in Afghanistan in a succinct manner, and is also outdated to an extent. Perhaps it is also because mere numbers and rankings can hardly ever deliver contextual explanation of complex situations beyond a certain point.
However, the 2016 FSI does attribute 9.9 points under External Intervention, 8.8 points under Factionalized Elites, 10 points under Security Apparatus, 8.7 under Human Rights and Rule of Law, and 9.1 under State Legitimacy categories. To a fair extent, these rankings can still hold true in the case of Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it still raises some questions such as: what all forms of external interventions were taken into consideration while assessing Afghanistan’s External Intervention rank? Was it just the foreign assistance, or were covert actions by some countries to undermine security in Afghanistan also considered? If only one of these were taken into account, then the assessment would be incomplete. If both were taken into account, how were these two very different forms of interventions assessed? As regard to Rule of Law and Human Rights, the state of affairs requires to be assessed based on how much of it was brought about by the state and how much of it was brought about by non-state actors. This distinction is unclear in the rankings and in the text of the report, because Afghanistan was once completely under terrorist control and has moved forward to the current day status. Conversely, Pakistan, whose territory has never completely been under terrorist control, has deteriorated in many ways in that category. Yet, Afghanistan is ranked behind Pakistan in this category.
Moreover, the Afghanistan scored +5.6 in the 2016 FSI’s assessment of Decade Trends, thus falling in ‘Some Worsening’. But at present – politically, economically, and security-wise – the country is in a situation in which is far worse than what it was in 2006. ‘Some Worsening’ might not be an entirely appropriate term to describe the current situation in the country. Currently, according to reports, roughly 10 per cent of the country’s territory is not under the Afghan government control.
At present, in Afghanistan, political stability is a pipe dream; insecurity is at an all-time high; the army is extremely stretched, and experts have warned that the army runs a real risk of a collapse in a year if circumstances do not change; election and electoral reform related roadblocks and problems still persist; power brokers all over the country have begun align themselves; the geopolitics of this conflict has become further frustrated; the total outbound migration of Afghans was next only to those of Syrians; and governance is hostage to political tugs-of-war, retarding the pace of any attempt improve; criminal activities are witnessing a surge.
Overall, although the report shows that Afghanistan is in ‘High Alert’, the assessment is useful only to the extent that the readers are made aware that it is in that category – which too is an update nonetheless, but one that is of not much use. Lastly, the lack of clarity on the relationships between parameters (and related questions) make it difficult to use/quote the findings as compiled in the current form.
* Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
Assistant Director, IPCS
E-mail: [email protected]