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Failed States of the world

June 22, 2007

In India we are used to bashing ourselves… our media is choc-o-bloc with news of our overheating economy, shaky infrastructure, slow justice system, corrupt politicians, inefficent public sector, poor public health, well, the list goes on …but this willingness to look into ourselves actually speaks of the good health of our political system!

India has fared well in the Failed States Index (2007), a study conducted by Foreign Policy magazine. This Index uses a dozen social, economic, political, and military indicators to evaluate whether a state can be termed as a failed state and has ranked 177 states “in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration.” Data was collected between May to December 2006 from more than 12,000 publicly available sources.

The Index cites 60 states as vulnerable and under the category of ‘failed states’. The chart on the right shows a part of the red zone, countries which are in a critical state…intensive care unit so to say.

Some of the signs of a failed state are:

…rampant corruption, predatory elites who have long monopolized power, an absence of the rule of law, and severe ethnic or religious divisions.

Well, India is number 110 on the list! Nowhere near the sixty most vulnerable. Even though we have our problems, these problems are being addressed (although slowly) by institutions like our functioning courts and a watchdog media. And we have these institutions precisely because we don’t have a religious fanatic, a war monger or a desperate despot at the helm – leaders that people of no country will tolerate or vote into power if left to themselves.

The top three failed states are Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. In fact amongst the top fifteen failed states, eight are African countries and its bad news for Pakistan as its listed at number 12, and is in a worse position than even North Korea which is at number 13! Pakistan fares badly on all counts, except for its economy.

Thankfully our other neighbour China has moved out of the top 60 (it was in that zone last year, while we were at 93). India needs stable neighbours so that it can concentrate on building its economy.

Not surprisingly, religious intolerance plays a large part in destroying a country. So are these countries paying attention to this finding? Ofcourse not, because the welfare of the people is the last thing on the mind of religious fanatics. And a controlled media brainwashes the public into thinking that either democracy will not work or that the country doesn’t have a leader worth the name to make democracy work.

I remember that when General Musharaff took over Pakistan, I was quite confounded when an eminent liberal like Imran Khan actually supported Army rule, though now he has realised his mistake. I saw him speak on television then in support of Musharraf…and as Imran is one guy I admire I was disappointed. Well, I hope Imran Khan becomes the PM of Pakistan one day….

But if you look at any democratic country, all of them have gone through bad democratic ruling parties…but slowly and surely the system improves. In India we still have a long way to go but at least we are getting there. Good democratic leaders are developed and honed by a democratic system...and I thought this was obvious….that years of bad democratic rule will eventually give birth to good leaders.

In fact the study cites India as a “dramatic example” of a country pulled back from “the brink.” It says here:

In the 1970s, analysts predicted dire consequences, including mass famine and internal violence in India, citing rapid population growth, economic mismanagement, and extensive poverty and corruption. Today, India has turned itself around. It is the world’s largest democracy, with a competitive economy and a representative political system.

Related Reading: Asian countries are suspicious of each other but like the USA
Does India share common values with the west?
Are Indian Americans a very successful group in the United States?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2007 10:01 am

    Nice find , thank you

  2. vinod permalink
    July 25, 2008 10:38 am

    One thing (that is little known) India has going for it much more than Pakistan, is India’s education system. What we have in our schools and universities is globally competitive. What Pakistan has in its school, if globally competitive, is enormously expensive or if affordable is mediocre in standard. And its top tertiary institutions are falling in grade year by year.

  3. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 25, 2008 11:15 am


    It would be useful if you could substantiate with quantifiable criteria your two observations (1) that what we have in our schools and universities is globally competitive, and (2) that what Pakistan has … if globally competitive, is enormously expensive or, if affordable, is mediocre …”. I do not think there is much difference between Pakistan and India in this regard. In fact a relatively new phenomenon in India, after the beginning of liberalisation, is the emergence of institutions that are both expensive and mediocre.

    As to top tertiary institutions falling in grade year by year, this is true over much of the world, including the US and Europe. I don’t have hard data, but a number of my friends and relatives, who studied in and are now teaching at some of the top universities (Ivy league, Oxbridge etc.) tell me that a gradual but progressive degradation in quality of faculty is a common phenomenon. This is because increasingly, higher education is expected to serve the needs of the employment market rather than sustain the quest for learning and knowledge creation.

  4. Ravi permalink
    July 25, 2008 7:21 pm

    I agree with vivek k regarding his stand on India and pakistan. They aren’t that different. I m not sure about the degradation in quality of faculty. In any university a faculty gets fame, research funding and tenured solely based on the progress he/she made in research which is reflected by the publications. If this is the measure (I suppose its the only way) then the number of publications on the average by an nontenured professor is more over the past few years and it kept increasing every year. In 1960, a professor in CalTech considered for tenure if he publishes 70 articles approximately but now its over 700!!! I m not sure how this resembles the degradation in quality of faculty?

  5. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 25, 2008 7:41 pm


    The phenomenon you refer to, of a tenfold increase in number of papers, is just part of the “publish or perish” syndrome. If you read the prolific output of such people, a large part of it is just recycling of the same basic ideas. I think if a professor, in addition to doing full justice to teaching responsibilities and guiding doctoral students, can produce two or three really outstandingly original papers in a year, worth publishing in a peer-reviewed or refereed journal, and a pathbreaking book during every sabbatical, that is a major achievement. He or she can then be considered to have really earned their tenure.

  6. July 25, 2008 8:55 pm

    Ravi, quality not quantity should be the barometer. 🙂
    There are also some concerns because of leasing the ivory tower. When the paycheck of academic researchers is written by corporations, it has the potential to compromise research and taint decision-making process.

  7. Ravi permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:02 pm

    Vivek K

    Its really rare to see things happen like you mentioned. Top schools like Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, CalTech…only hire 15 graduate students a year. Their faculty/student ratio is idealistically 1. But the problem is its not that easy to produce 2 or 3 publications a year. Trust me we are working on this problem for more than an year with collaboration from 2 top schools.
    The faculty need to have a research group with at least 10 graduate students and 2 or 3 post doctoral students then only they can do that feat. The faculty need to attend conferences and seminars to update their knowledge besides meeting up with funding agencies and writing proposals then sent them to NSF or other private agency to get funding for coming years. On the average a professor who considered to be prolific spends at least 2 hours in reading and responding to his emails.

    While doing all these things even the university administration turns a blind eye to the teaching cause its ranking goes up only with the rise in the research grants they get, the faculty reputation and number of science/nature/cell publications. Thats why all the good universities hire teaching faculty and you got some really schools who teach extensively. But teaching and research doesn’t go together. I have never seen one so far maybe I m generalizing from a small sample. Even if they do they must take on the paths but not both. Our department head is an excellent teacher but he never teaches cause he travels at least 3 days a week to get new funding to his/department research. The same is the situation with any other research university.

  8. Ravi permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:06 pm

    Vivek K

    Yes a professor could write a path breaking book during his sabbatical. But they go on sabbatical to do collaborative work and the system is so flexible it gives full freedom to a professor to do whatever he wishes.

  9. Ravi permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:14 pm


    I m with you regarding the barometric measure 🙂
    Conspiracies are everywhere and universities are not exempted so as the professors.

  10. Ravi permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:14 pm

    WOW! this topic is going somewhere…lol

  11. vinod permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:16 pm


    I’m sorry I only have anecdotal evidence. My housemates are Pakistanis and I’ve discussed with them about the education system in Pakistan. If you want good education you’ll have to join some of the expensive Catholic schools there. The central board schools simply suck big time.
    One of my housemates has a business idea of running schools in Pakistan that provide a decent standard of education for an affordable price. That’s all I have for now.

    Anyway, it is very illuminating to read your insights into tertiary education.

  12. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 25, 2008 9:46 pm

    Vinod, Ravi:

    I think we have gone way off-topic on this post, and although it was triggered off by Vinod’s comment, I must confess to my share in steer the discussion way off-course.

    Nita, my apologies for this. And considering that the only comment which is not off-topic is Bachodi’s, which does not really do much more than compliment you, maybe this is a post that WANTS to be something else. How about changing the title.

    And coming back to the original topic, it is not easy as some western foreign-policy journals (or think tanks) make out, to brand a State as “failed”. A lot has to do with the political value system that the “judges” subscribe to.

    You have a good point Vivek…but what title do you suggest? I often keep a title by looking at it from the point of view of someone searching for the subject in google. If you have a better title suggestion, it’s always welcome. – Nita.

  13. Vikram permalink
    July 25, 2008 10:41 pm

    Well, India may not be a failed state. But it seems less stable, politically, economically and security-wise than it was early in its independent history. This is not necessarily a bad thing, many new classes of people have found a voice through the political process, linguistic groups, Dalits and even right-wing “Hindus”. The question is, can the democratic process accommodate the aspirations of all the different groups of people in our country ? Hopefully we see a future, where the BSP jettisons its corrupt members, the BJP dilutes its Hindutva agenda, the Shiv-Sena genuinely represents the interests of all Maharashtrians etc. Only then can we say that India is a successful state.

  14. Ravi permalink
    July 26, 2008 7:16 am

    “””Nita, my apologies for this. And considering that the only comment which is not off-topic is Bachodi’s, which does not really do much more than compliment you”””

    LOL@Vivek K

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