Pakistan on global indexes

Published: October 11, 2011
The writer is a research associate on political economy issues at the University of California, Berkeley

The writer is a research associate on political economy issues at the University of California, Berkeley

Things in the good old days were simpler — there were just lies, damned lies and statistics. Today, we also have an ever-growing range of indexes comparing countries on diverse dimensions, ranging from governance to economic competitiveness. Pakistan unfortunately, lags behind on most such indexes. However, the two that have rankled Pakistani (supersensitive) national honour the most, are the Transparency Corruption and the Failed State Indexes.

The Corruption Index started in 1995, when Pakistan was ranked the third most corrupt country in the world. In 1996, it slipped to second place, behind close friend Nigeria. In 2010, Pakistan ranked 36th. Actually, national rank is a comparative concept. Even if corruption in Pakistan stays unchanged, its rank can change if other countries score differently or if new countries are added to the index. Pakistan has improved ranks mainly because the index initially ranked 40 or more countries but today, covers 175 or more, with many new countries scoring worse than Pakistan. Similarly, the inference about skyrocketing corruption that certain media outlets had drawn from Pakistan’s deterioration from rank 42 in 2009 to rank 36 in 2010 was inaccurate. Pakistan’s deterioration must be gauged by its absolute scores and not rank over the years. The index scores range from 10 (least corrupt) to 1. Pakistan’s score has fluctuated monotonously between the narrow range of 2.1 and 2.6 since 1995, except in 1996 when it dropped to 1. The worst scores since 1996 were in 2005 and 2006 (2.1).

Moreover, this index does not measure actual corruption incidence but people’s perceptions about it, based on different surveys with diverse methodologies. Hence, the index does not claim high accuracy and the small variations in Pakistan’s scores over most years, across different civilian and military governments, are statistically not significant. The results of this index, over the years at least, do not strongly support the common belief that corruption skyrockets under politicians. There may or may not be some truth in this belief, even if we defined corruption narrowly as bribery and nepotism. However, transparency defines corruption more broadly as “the misuse of public office for personal gains”. So, corruption also includes dismissing judges and muzzling the media to prolong one’s dictatorship. Viewed so, it becomes even more difficult to rank politicians as worse than generals on corruption.

Moving on to the Failed States Index, its website reveals that Pakistan — which ranks around ten from the bottom since 2006 — wrote a protest letter to the index-producers arguing that it is not a failed state since it possesses a large army and nuclear bombs. The cheeky-minded may retort that these are the very reasons for Pakistan’s many failures today. The index-producers responded more soberly that a low rank on their index does not mean that a state is a failed one, but only that it faces more stresses than higher-ranking countries. Why then call it the humiliating-sounding Failed States Index inaccurately, rather than the State Stress Index? Perhaps it has to do with marketing considerations, since the catchy current title may attract more attention than a stodgy one.

More fundamentally, the index is not based on an analytical framework that identifies the various dimensions of a state on which it can fail. Thus, there is no clear basis for deciding whether the index’s 12 sub-dimensions, e.g., human flight and uneven development, are all valid and jointly exhaustive sub-dimensions of state failure. Unsurprisingly, one finds peaceful but economically stressed Zimbabwe, bracketed with war-ravaged Somalia. Moreover, like the corruption index, it is also based largely on subjective assessments, given the complexity of these subjects.

Nevertheless, despite their weaknesses, these indexes highlight critical governance challenges and constitute a timely wake-up call for the napping government. However, one must understand their purpose and limitations clearly to avoid misinterpreting their message.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Oct 11, 2011 - 11:49PM


    Good of you to point out the caveats in these kind of “measures”.

    Perhaps you could have said more about the sample size and possible biases arising therein.

    These measures will always remain a little controversial.

    I was discussing the PIDE Inflation Expectations Survey with its Director. You would think that such a survey would be pretty straightforward. He agreed with me that some of the responses they were getting were counter-intuitive and others just not very intelligent!


  • Oct 12, 2011 - 12:09PM

    I always admire the way immediately find out hundred reasons to deny any negative comment. Bravo.


  • Ghaznavi
    Oct 12, 2011 - 1:06PM

    Good Points!!

    As a student of statistics; although the same results can be viewed in different ways to reach any number of possibilities (like a glass half empty of half full); however it gives good indicators on a relative scale.


  • N
    Oct 12, 2011 - 5:27PM

    Where do we fall on the following indices?
    • Denial
    • Blame others
    • Paranoia
    • Export of “strategic assets”
    • Self importance -“inherently superior” to others


  • csmann
    Oct 12, 2011 - 7:45PM

    the catchy headline of ‘failed stae’ is to wake up people of the concerned country and do something positive; not why this and why that


  • Azhar Ayaz,
    Oct 15, 2011 - 10:39PM

    Great analysis of Indexing bodies… Could you please share ur analysis on the historical/current ranks of Pak with the factors you consider useful!


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