Nepal – the 20th failed state?

Fund for Peace (FfP), a Washington, D.C. based organisation has recently released its ranking of “failed states” – called the Failed State Index 2006. Nepal is listed at number 20, in fourth place among the South Asian countries, after Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In its preamble it states:

We encourage others to utilize the Failed States Index to develop ideas for promoting greater stability worldwide. We hope the Index will spur conversations, encourage debate, and most of all help guide strategies for sustainable security.

Of course, the debate has already spurred, especially in Pakistan as it was placed in 9th place, above Afghanistan. BBC quoted Pakistani information minister saying the report “joke of the year”. Whatever the opinions and facts, the report did succeed in spurring the debate so that’s good. But what about similar debates in Nepal? So far I have not heard a single official comment regarding the report, nor have I seen any analytical piece regarding this issue in the mainstream media. So, is this report worth debating over (in case of Nepal)? I think it is.
failed state index
Fig 1: Top 20 “failed states” in 2005 (Source: Fund for Peace Website)

Lets first analyse how has Nepal “failed” according to this report. Of the 12 indicators used to indicate the “level of failure”, Nepal scores 8.5 or above (out of 10) in eight of those indicators, which in itself is pretty grim scenario. Of these eight indicators that Nepal scores badly in, the score is 9.2 each in I3-Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance, I5-Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines, and I7-Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State. Further, Nepal scores 9.1 in I9-Widespread Violation of Human Rights; 9 each in I10-Security Apparatus as “State within a State” and I11-Rise of Factionalized Elites; and 8.5 each in I1-Mounting Demographic Pressure and I6-Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline. All of these indicators, no matter how they are scored in this report, do represent important aspects of a country’s socio-economic and geo-political characteristics.

failed state indicators
Fig 2: 12 indicators used to create “failed state” index 2006 (Source: Fund for Peace Website)

A country’s human rights record gets much highlight these days, especially in the so called ‘enlightened’ world. With a score of 9.1 for the country’s HR record, Nepal lies in the 15th place among the countries with worst human rights record. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report, Clear Culpability: “Disappearances” by Security Forces in Nepal, writes:

The most dramatic increase in “disappearances” occurred after the breakdown of the ceasefire in August 2003: according the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), for two consecutive years, in 2003 and 2004, Nepal “recorded the highest number of new cases” of enforced disappearances in the world. From January to September 2004, the WGEID transmitted 117 cases as urgent appeals to the Nepali government—more than for any other country in the world during that period.

Of course, its not only the security forces that are violating human rights in Nepal – the Maoists are equally culpable of human rights violation, including as serious cases as torture and execution. We just have to remember the bombing of a civilian bus in Chitwan last year to see the Maoists’ record in upholding human rights (or lack of it). So it is not surprising that Nepal comes so high up in the list of countries with Widespread Violation of Human Rights.

Nepal is listed as one of worst countries in terms of equity in its Economic Development. Scoring 9.2 in Uneven Economic Development, Nepal lies in 5th place among 146 countries worldwide, with only Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, China and Zimbabwe performing worse. Sad news is that the economic development in Nepal is truly uneven. If it wasn’t for the neglect of mid and far western region in the country’s development over the years, the Maoist insurgency probably wouldn’t have had as much hold in those areas as it has now, especially in the rural districts. The thing is scholars like Harka Gurung have been advocating for economic equality for these regions for years now and how many Karnali Plans have come and gone without achieving anything? Studies have even shown through quantitative methods (regression analysis) that the Maoist insurgency is most intense in areas with landlessness, high poverty, and high economic inequality (e.g., Masood and Scott 2003). And to be honest, we don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us that Nepal’s economic development is highly uneven.

I probably don’t even have to expand on why Nepal fares so badly on indicator like Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State (9.2 – joint 8th place with Burma!). We haven’t had a proper elected government for four years now, and of course the state had been perpetrating crime against its own citizens, especially in the last 15 months or so. Ever since Gyanendra’s coup in February last year the country has pretty much been a military state with massive human rights violation, extra-judicial killings and disappearances. No wonder Nepal is ranked together with the Burmese military junta.

Looking at the eight indicators in which Nepal performed very poorly, and due to which the country is ranked 20th overall and even below 20th in individual indicators, it is clear that most of them are either directly linked to the country’s geo-political problems or are their manifestations. Nepalis are well aware of their country’s Kathmandu-centric (and in general few urban towns-centric) economic and political culture. This urban-centric economic and political culture has not only alienated most of the rural population from the fruits of socio-economic and political development but also pushed them towards radicalisation by the Maoists and other groups. Although I wouldn’t say Nepal has become one of the “failed states” yet but it has come pretty close to being one in recent times, especially during the past 15 months or so.

At this moment, we should be grateful to the people who risked their lives to bring about the recent political change in the country and forced the autocratic, criminal government to back down. However, nothing has been accomplished as yet. There is still a political problem to solve, including that of the Maoist insurgency and the abolition of undemocratic, feudal structures like the monarchy. Hopefully, the leaders of the political parties and the Maoist leaders have learnt from their past mistakes and that they will now come together in finding the lasting solution to the country’s political problem. This will no doubt go a long way in bringing about change/improvement in other sectors like the economy in coming months and years. Nepal and Nepalis don’t deserve to be hovering so perilously close to being tagged a “failed state” and “citizens of the failed state”. But I do hope reports and indicators like this Failed State Index 2006 will spur debate in Nepal as well, because I for one think our leaders still don’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation the country is in.


On a side note, I was just checking what actually FfP is and what they do. Here is what I found out from their website’s FAQ Section:

Q12: What is the Fund for Peace?
A: Founded in 1957 by investment banker Randolph Compton, FfP is an independent educational, research, and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to prevent war and alleviate the conditions that cause war. Since 1996, it has specialized primarily on reducing conflict stemming from weak and failing states.

Interestingly enough, they also seem to know how to solve the crisis in Iraq, and here is the title of their press release to publicize the findings of a report from the study they conducted in Iraq:

To Avoid Full Scale Civil War in Iraq, the Fund for Peace Calls for International Negotiations on Regional Decentralization or Peaceful Partition of the Country (emphasis added)

I have no comments re: partition of Iraq though!!!