Bangladesh in the Failed State Index

Posted in politics by jrahman on July 19, 2009

In a 2007 survey of how Bangladesh was viewed by the American foreign policy establishment, fellow Drishtipat Writer Tazreena Sajjad described a failed state thus.

In layman’s terms, they are generally categorised by what they do not, or cannot, do. Failing and failed states do not control their territory or their borders, creating the scope for groups to move in and out without hindrance. Such states also do not control many areas, which can be under control of rebels and warlords, and do not provide basic services (health, nutrition, infrastructure, public services). Finally, they cannot fulfill international treaty obligations, and agreements of international concern. The most extreme examples are, of course, places like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Haiti and, increasingly, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Every year, the US based Foreign Policy magazine publishes an index of failed or failing states — details here.  The index is a sum of 12 specific factors.  A country can receive up to 10 points for each factor, with a higher score meaning a worse (ie failing) outcome.  There may be serious methodological issues with trying to quantify something that is essentially qualitative.  And one has to be very cautious about using an index that consistently ranks North Korea as a less failing state than Pakistan when we won’t find many Pakistanis willing to have Kim Il Jong running their country (this point is explained better here).

These methodological issues notwithstanding, the index is relevant for two reasons.  Firstly, it is a high profile index that US foreign policy apparatchiks pay attention to.  And when all is said and done, we still live in a world where if the American establishment is concerned that a particular country is ‘trouble’, it is likely that the country will find itself in trouble eventually.  And second, we should still go through the index to see whether the findings reflect our ground realities. 

For example, in 2008, Bangladesh scored higher than Haiti — a country used by Ms Sajjad as an ‘extreme example’ of a failed state.  That is, after 18 months under an experiment that was supposed to improve our republic, Bangladesh was more of a failed state than Haiti — this unfortunate result didn’t come as a surprise to those of us who rejected that experiment from a very early stage.  

The 2009 index is now out.  Bangladesh has improved its ranking — it is now the 19th (same as in 2006) and a significant improvement from last year’s 12th ranked failed state.  But Bangladesh scored 98.1 this year, compared with 96.3 in 2006 — that is, we are still more of a failing state today than 3 years ago. 

Of course, 2006 was the last year of BNP rule, whereas we have now had over 6 months of AL rule.  It is natural to wonder exactly how things compare between now and 2009.

The table below summarises Bangladesh’s performance across the 12 categories since 2006. 


A green number in 2009 means on this measure, Bangladesh has improved since 2006.  Red means it has slipped. 

Improvements have occurred in: demographic pressure, group grievance, human flight, deligitimasation of the state, human rights, and security apparatus.  Of these, improvements in the state’s legitimacy, human rights, and security apparatus front seem notable, and the AL government should deserve at least some of the credit.

Things have on the other hand slipped in: refugees, economy, public service, and external intervention front.  Of these, refugees issue actually improved since 2008 — the big decline was in that year.  And arguably the economic decline is something that the AL has to cope with, even if it isn’t its fault. 

But the other two categories present a startling picture.  On public services, things worsened substantially in 2008, and then continued this year.  Evidently, things are even worse than at the end of Hawa Bhaban induced erosion of our public services.  And exactly the same story holds for foreign intervention — we are now more at risk than during the so-called ‘notorious era of Jamaat linked jihadi terrorism’. 

These indices have methodological problems.  But if institutions allied with the global hyperpower thinks we are ‘more at risk of intervention’, then we should worry.  And anyone who knows anything about the Bangladeshi public service reality would know that Hawa Bhaban was replaced by the cantonment in 2008.  It is, indeed, saddening though if cantonment is going to be replaced by some other illegitimate source of power.


3 Responses

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  2. Saif said, on July 19, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    This index is nonsense. I do not understand how there are large shifts in a variable like “demographic pressure” from year to year, when it is inherently a long-term variable. What has changed?
    I also wonder how much the foreign policy establishment pays attention to Foreign Policy. I think there has been a noticeable trend in the last couple of years for FP to try to put out more sensationalist covers in an effort to attract readers, and this has been to the detriment of the quality of their pieces. So FP now ranks countries the way US News ranks colleges.

    (’s write-up on Bangladesh in the feature on the Index early on got basic facts wrong. I don’t remember the exact specifics (and don’t have the time to do a google archives search) – but I think it was something to do with Khaleda Zia winning the elections. Not a lot of cause for confidence in their reporting.)

  3. jrahman said, on July 20, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Saif, you’re right that Foreign Policy is becoming rather sensationalistic. Maybe they will lose crediility, and we won’t have to worry about being declared a ‘failed state’ by this particular mob.

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