Letters

We Demand a Recount

The country is developing, not failing.

The unsavory inclusion of Pakistan on the Fund for Peace's Failed States Index is discriminatory and an affront to a proud nation of 180 million people (July/August 2011).

The index is hampered by the lack of distinction between a true failed state and a developing state that is effectively functional, like Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan is the world's 28th-largest economy, with a sizable GDP. It is also among the world's eight nuclear states, and its disciplined army is the fifth largest in the world. The country has democratic institutions in place: a fully independent judiciary, a vibrant and dynamic media, and a civil society that upholds progressive values. In international sports it has world rankings in cricket, hockey, and squash. Despite numerous internal and external challenges, the nation remained united to deal with the mammoth disasters that recently struck the country: namely, the 2005 earthquake and the floods last year that displaced approximately 25 million people.

Pakistan has always sided with the free world, evident from the fact that the country has remained a state on the front lines of war for 20 of the last 30 years -- in the 1980s during the Soviet-Afghan war, which was won decisively, and now, since 9/11, in the war on terror. The democratically elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has been mobilizing political will to forge national unity to fight terrorism, eliminate extremism, and carry out army operations against militants in the Pakistani tribal belt.

Pakistan's sacrifices in blood and treasure are unmatched by all NATO countries put together, with more than 30,000 civilian and military casualties so far; unabated suicide attacks killing people in markets, mosques, parks, and other public places; and raids on military installations throughout the country. For these burdens and sacrifices, Pakistan is dealt only suspicion and distrust by its allies.

Pakistan is caught up in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, within hours of the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda declared war on Pakistan and increased the number of attacks. On the other hand, Pakistan was blamed for his presence. There should be no qualms in accepting the fact that bin Laden was not kept in Abbottabad -- he was merely found there. U.S. President Barack Obama's statement on the night after the raid that intelligence provided by Pakistan led to the compound where bin Laden was residing says all that should need to be said.

The international community, instead of putting pressure on Pakistan to do too much, too fast, must support Pakistan in its endeavors to defeat extremism and terrorism. There is convergence on the broader strategic objective of winning the war against terrorism to ensure global peace and security.

Pakistan has an unflinching resolve to emerge as a progressive and prosperous country to play its effective role in the comity of nations. It is well on its way.

Imran Gardezi
Press Minister
Embassy of Pakistan
Washington, D.C.


Nate Haken of the Fund for Peace replies:

Let me be clear: We are not saying that Pakistan is a "failed state." This index does not make that determination. Rather, it identifies pressures on states that put them at risk of failure, unless state institutions are sufficiently professional, representative, and legitimate enough to deal effectively with those pressures.

The point of the Failed States Index is to provide a tool by which all stakeholders, including government, civil society, and the private sector, can clearly see which social, economic, political, and security indicators are exhibiting the most stress, so that everyone can work together for sustainable security and conflict-sensitive development over the long term. Every country in the world has a risk profile. Some states are under more pressure than others. And as Imran Gardezi points out in his letter, Pakistan is under enormous pressure, which accounts for its ranking of No. 12 in our index.

But the most important aspect of the index is not a country's rank in a vertical listing. Instead, what is critically important is the horizontal aspect of the index: that is, the indicator-by-indicator data that identify areas of weakness. For instance, a natural disaster can have a ripple effect across most of the 12 indicators. Floods destroy infrastructure, affecting service delivery. Population displacement can add to issues of group grievance among the displaced and host communities. Relief efforts can have unintended consequences with respect to local economies. Law and order can break down, providing space for armed groups to project their influence. These types of insights can be very useful for policymakers in terms of both prevention and response.

We earnestly hope that this product of our research is understood for what it is and that any controversy it may engender leads to a constructive dialogue over how to make this world a more peaceful place for everyone.

Letters

Food Fight

The new geopolitics of agriculture aren't new.

Lester R. Brown's article takes us on a breathless tour across the troubled terrain of global agriculture ("The New Geopolitics of Food," May/June 2011). At every turn he exaggerates the danger.

He begins with an assertion that last year's 75 percent increase in international wheat prices implied a similar price increase for the urban poor in India. Not true. India, like many developing countries, has used trade restrictions to insulate its domestic consumers from volatile international prices. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the retail price of wheat in New Delhi today is actually lower than it was in the spring of 2010. In real terms, wheat prices in Delhi have been declining since 2008.

Brown's second worry is that technology-driven farm productivity gains are beginning to slow. Not true. A 2009 expert report to the FAO shows a yearly productivity growth rate for world agriculture of 1.56 percent in the most recent two decades, roughly twice the 0.79 percent growth rate in the previous two decades. Brown specifically predicts that rice yields in China "may level off soon." Rice yields in China have actually increased 13 percent since Brown first made this erroneous prediction in 1995.

Brown also worries it will not be possible to increase crop production "with less water." Not true. A 2008 OECD report on the environmental performance of agriculture shows that between 1990 and 2004, while OECD food production increased by 5 percent, water use on irrigated lands declined by 9 percent. Pesticide use and excess nitrogen use also declined in the OECD region, as did soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions from farming.

Brown asserts, finally, that this year's street demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were triggered by high food prices. This ignores the testimony of the demonstrators themselves, who said they wanted jobs, personal dignity, and an end to government corruption, not cheaper bread.

Robert Paarlberg
Professor of Political Science
Wellesley College
Wellesley, Mass.


It may be the "New Geopolitics of Food," but it's the same old Lester Brown. Since 1960, he has pushed one urgent message: the need to increase production and force down prices. Brown neglects to mention that the disastrous inflation-deflation "supercycle" prevailing since 2008 is largely a consequence of this policy.

The bottom billions suffer when food prices are high, but that's nothing compared with when they're low. Most of the world's poor make a living from agriculture, and national and international policies have for 50 years relentlessly slashed prices at their expense. It should come as no surprise that they respond by abandoning their agricultural livelihoods. Growing slums and fluctuating prices are signs of the collapse in farm earnings.

The United States is responsible for instigating this regime. But Brown, casting Washington as rescuer of a hungry world, focuses on a history more friendly to his thesis: the Indian "famine" of 1966. In November 1965, as a young U.S. Agriculture Department economist, Brown predicted a catastrophe in India the next year, and President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Canada and Europe to join in a "war on hunger" to meet the crisis. No famine occurred, but to conclude that only Johnson's quick action averted it assumes the forecast was right in the first place.

Indira Gandhi had a different explanation: U.S. officials had promised to ship surplus grain "indefinitely," and Indian planners foolishly trusted them, shifting wheat acreage to cotton. Stalemated in Vietnam, Johnson needed a "dramatic rescue" to reassert American leadership in Asia, so surplus disposal became famine relief. Brown supplied the analysis that made a famine without any actual starvation deaths seem real.

Brown's version buttresses a Malthusian interpretation of the past and future of the global food problem. Instead of historical problems facing farmers squeezed by creditors, landlords, and a global trade system rigged against them, he asks us to focus on population explosions, water wars, and other speculative, future dangers. The geopolitics of food isn't new -- it's old, and it's time we changed it.

Nick Cullather
Associate Professor
Department of History
Indiana University
Bloomington, Ind.


From ForeignPolicy.com:

DALLAS WEAVER: Environmental activist NGOs oppose both genetic engineering and offshore aquaculture. If the world does end up in a serious food crisis, perhaps we should put the blame where it belongs, on the Luddite environmental activists' prevention of any technological solutions to the problem.

TFERNSLE: It is telling that Brown offers no solutions, just a grim analysis of a big problem getting worse. But there are many other people who are concerned about this problem and are publicizing practical solutions. The local-food movement encourages people to learn to eat what can be grown in their climate, which supports smaller local sustainable farms and heads off the possibility that any kind of crisis will cut off the food supply. The organic food movement supports a much more sustainable means of food production.