When Nation-Building Ends With Failed States

Two items out of Afghanistan and Iraq reveal, many years after the fact, the perils of nation-building with no idea that any nation is an imaginary community and that there are layers of identity beneath the often-imposed national veneer that are powerful and hard to control forces once unleashed. These layers can be narrow ethnic membership or they can be religious fundamentalist groups. Either way, the results are not pretty.

First stop, Afghanistan where women decided to demonstrate against the new law, designed to appease the Taliban (as if appeasing religious fundamentalists ever worked) and that basically legalize rape.

By installing a weak government whose capacity is limited to the urban areas and who is seen as a Western puppet before dealing with the Taliban once and for all, the coalition of Western forces guaranteed their comeback especially by not dealing with their bases of support in Pakistan. Ultimately, it is the women who pay the price for this. Incapable of confronting religious fundamentalists that undermine its legitimacy, the government sees no other option but to accommodate and attempt to placate them by passing ultra-patriarchal legislations.

On Iraq, where ethnic divisions were masked by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and have now made a brutal comeback, we get this:

In the five years that have followed the invasion of Iraq, the number one cause of civilian death has been kidnapping followed by execution according to the Iraq Body Count NGO. According to its data, 19, 706 were kidnapped and subsequently killed, a significant numbers of such murders involved torture. And that is probably a conservative estimate based on the methodology used by IBC.

Both stories reveal problems tied to states with limited capacities, that is, unable to establish their legitimacy with the population through the delivery of services such as infrastructure and security. There is a double movement at work here. Religious fundamentalist or ethnic groups undermine the state and prevent it from providing services, therefore the population does not consider the state a legitimate entity and people turn to religious fundamentalist or ethnic groups for their security and basic necessities. The more people rely on these non-state actors, the less the state has a chance of establishing its legitimacy. The results are either accommodation of non-democratic groups, such as the Taliban, or persistent violence, as in Iraq.

For both countries, the future looks like failing or hollow states with non-democratic communautarian patriarchal rule with much violence involved.

One thought on “When Nation-Building Ends With Failed States

  1. Important data would be how many of those Iraqi deaths were of that grisly variety in the last year, after the glorious Surge had done its Wildest Dream magic.

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