Politico-economic instability : Is Nepal a failed state?

Nepal’s post-democratic regime is characterised by a prolonged civil war, unpredictable political crisis and break-down in legitimate power as public institutions became dysfunctional to provide basic services to the people. The societal relations are fractured. Therefore, chaos and anarchy has become a common feature in Nepal’s vulnerable post-conflict environment. Fortunately, the country has not still lost its control over the territory or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. This may indicate that Nepal is not yet a failed state, but based on available inform ation and standard international practices, it can safely be said that it is a ‘failing’ or ‘fragile’ state.

Nepal is passing through a difficult process of political restructuring, where even influential parties and their representatives in the ministries feel that there is a lack of authority to make individual or collective decisions. They are unable to deliver public services. This indicates the symptom of a failing state.

A recent study carried out by the US Foreign Policy Magazine and the US-based Fund for Peace think-tank has ranked 146 countries across the globe under the “failed states index”. The ranking is based on the compilation of 12 criteria spanning the social, economic and political spheres. Sudan tops the list. Despite the US-led troops, Iraq is fourth in the index and Pakistan is ranked as world’s top 10 “failed states”. The reason Pakistan is designated as a failed state is because of its inability to police the tribal areas near the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal border region, devastating earthquake and rising ethnic tensions. Nepal is ranked 20th as a poor performer. With a competitive economy and representative political system, the report pulls India out from the ‘failed state’ category.

It is in fact difficult to formulate a non-controversial definition as to what constitutes a ‘failed state’. Many intellectuals including Noam Chomsky have designated even the United States as a failed state. Chomsky considers that the failed states

are those “that don’t protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction, that regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law,

and that suffer from a ‘domestic deficit’, having democratic form but with limited substance.”

In Nepal there is no heavy reliance on black market. The compliance is low but people have not denied tax payment. However, the concern is the engagement of a significant number of individuals and organised groups in large-scale civil disobedience. This may transform the ‘failing state’ into the ‘failed state’. The World Bank identifies about 30 “low-income countries under stress” as a failed state. DFID names 46 “fragile” states of concern and CIA report gives 20 names as failing states. Kofi Anan once said, ‘ignoring failed states creates problems that sometimes come back to bite us’. Marty Logan in IPS questions ‘when does a conflict become a crisis?’ He refers to UN observation stating that in Nepal’s case it could be very soon. This indicates the severity and vulnerability of a ‘failing’ state.

The United Nations’ Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) has the provision to seek humanitarian aid for a troubled nation. There is a risk to be branded as a failed state if we are overwhelmed with such assistance. Such aid materialised in Chechnya, the Occupied Palestine Territories and 12 African nations in 2005. As the assistance proposal for development partners is in an advanced stage, we need to carefully assess the status of aid utilisation in Nepal, which is not very encouraging. First, accepting CAP may mean to accept that Nepal is a failed state and second, as experienced elsewhere, CAP has normally failed to meet the target because of the diversion of humanitarian aid from long-term development to short-term gains.

International capital inflows do not necessarily protect countries, which fall into the ‘failing’ state. Furthermore, if it was merely the question of raising money, we know although Iraq and Afghanistan received eight billion dollars a month in economic aid and military support they rank among the world’s top 10 weakest states. Nepal’s economic empowerment index is below social and political empowerment index. But Sudan receives 7.5 score on its economic growth, and performs badly with more than 9.0 score on each of the other criteria considered in ranking the ‘failed state’ category.

The indexing exercise intends to provide early warnings to safeguard “borderline” countries from collapsing. Of the top 20 “critical states”, five countries are in South Asia, which include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma. Therefore, a micro level impact of the change in selected indicators is extremely important to maintain country at a ‘stable’ and ‘most stable’ state. The question is, will Nepal be able to protect itself from the ‘failed’ state category? If so, how?

Dr Pyakuryal is economics professor, TU