Fragile states

Published November 6, 2018
The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State.
The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State.

A SERIES of analyses undertaken by various groups provides food for thought on the topic of state stability. For instance, recent findings of the London School of Economics-Oxford Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development show that fundamental changes in governance are needed to transform politics and security. However, earlier last month, we were told at the inaugural Pearson Global Forum in Chicago that to escape state fragility, effective, though gradual, checks and ­balances on power holders were needed.

The LSE-Oxford commission was co-chaired by former UK prime minister David Cameron and former Pakistan civil servant Adnan Khan. According to Khan and his LSE colleague Tim Besley, the foundations of an effective democracy — rule of law and protection of minorities — were even more important than multiparty elections. “It is the careful choice of feasible steps that matters, rather than a grand vision that encourages an unsustainable leap,” they emphasise.

They say that when internal violence takes hold of a divided society, domestic security forces — police or military — must act to defeat organised criminal violence but must still be “sufficiently subject to effective checks and balances that they cannot be used either for one group to intimidate another, or for undisciplined predatory behaviour against citizens”.

The induction of new leaders provides a “pivotal moment”. New circumstances can help reset political discussion as well as build trust.

What must states do to counter terrorism?

Meanwhile, a US Fragility Study Group has concluded that fragile states “suffer from deficits of institutional capacity and political legitimacy that increase the risk of instability and violent conflict and sap the state of its resilience to disruptive shocks”. It advises investing in security and justice for all, and backing legitimate government and inclusive politics, building accountable institutions, and aiming for local solutions.

Yet another (interim) report of the congressionally mandated, bipartisan Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States calls for a new strategy to tackle the conditions that enable extremist groups to emerge and thrive in fragile states. The task force was created under the auspices of the US Institute of Peace.

Here are the key takeaways from the interim report: a) terrorism has increased since 9/11. The report says there were 10,900 terrorism-related strikes in 2017, five times as many as in 2001; b) terrorism thrives in countries where governments do not have legitimacy or cannot ensure security, justice and basic services for their citizens; c) extremists have spread to 19 countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Sahel. The US conducted combat operations in a few while providing security aid to the majority. But terrorists continue to emerge in fragile states where “resentment against poor or predatory governance is exploited by extremist ideas and groups”; d) importantly, extremism cannot be vanquished by force alone.

The task force suggests helping fragile states build resilience against violent extremism within their own societies and chalking a preventive plan of action. But, at the same time, it points out that such a strategy cannot succeed without committing to a long-term strategy of strengthening governance in vulnerable states.

In this context, there was sound analysis by Rick Barton, former US assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilisation operations. “When threats are weaponised, their influence over the lives of others and the intimidating effect on thousands is paralysing” as evidenced in the record number of refugees and IDPs, now totalling over 60 million worldwide.

Citing Pakistan as a case study of a fragile state, he thought our main drivers of instability and extremism included “a culture of impunity and injustice, discontent in the provinces, ethnic and sectarian tensions, a rapidly growing and urbanising youth population”.

He has also questioned US policies: “Do we care enough about Pakistan to develop a constant partnership? … Do we want to interpret it as the home of thousands of madressahs that are producing armies of backward-looking, violent, radical youth or as the country where the antimodernist political parties have seldom broken out of single digits in any election?”

He concluded that “America must decide that it cares” by dedicating itself to “helping Pakistan’s silenced majority achieve a peaceful future”, while highlighting the problems that need to be addressed eg corruption, flawed justice system, poor education, etc. Addressing these would reduce the threat of terrorism, and the US could contribute to a more peaceful future in the region.

Can all this be accomplished and will ­sanity indeed prevail? That is the question.

The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018

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