A recent publication of the Cornell University Press on Strategies For Governing: Reinventing Public Administration for a Dangerous Century by Alasdair Roberts includes thirty-one State types that have been identified over the last hundred years. This glossary is set in the alphabetical order: starting with the ‘Administrative State’ under ‘A’ and ending with ‘Westphalian State’ under ‘W’.
In the context of the Indian sub-continent, we have the civilisational State (India), Garrison State (Pakistan), Nation State (Bangladesh), erstwhile Protected State (Bhutan), Failed State (Afghanistan), Fragile State (Sri Lanka) Expat State (Nepal, which was till a quarter century ago was still a monarchy) and Maldives, an island State akin to a city State. The asymmetry in terms of geography, demographics, languages, economy and military might among these South Asian States is so pronounced that it does not need any elaboration. This perhaps explains why South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) never really took off as a regional group. South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) is a dead letter, even as we go ahead with Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with UAE, Australia and UK, among others.
Understanding the ‘character’ of these States will help us to know them better, and it will enable us make a realistic assessment of what is possible not only on the diplomatic front, but also in terms of cross-border trade , joint infrastructure projects and people to people contacts.
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India is a civilisational State – not because it has an unusually large population and territory with linguistic, cultural and religious diversity but because it is bound together by shared values and civilisational texts — the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which also describe the ancient geography stretching from Gandhara (now in Afghanistan ) to Paurashpura (Peshawar, now in Pakistan), to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Kamrup (the northeast of India) with lead protagonists travelling across these geographies. So, while the modern State of India became a Republic on 26 January 1950, the inspirational core came from Bharat, which represents the civilisational idea of the nation. In his lead article on the civilisational States of India and China, columnist Rachman Gideon of Financial Times argued that the Indian identity predated the Mughal and the British Empires as well as the innumerable dynasties that held sway over different parts of the country. Unlike the Roman empire, which had Rome as the epicentre, Bharat was unique as a political and economic power. It was multimodal — from Gandhara to Kalinga to Pataliputra; spiritual centres dotted the entire length and breadth of the subcontinent.
Although the territory of Pakistan was part of the civilisational State of Bharat, it consciously chose to disinherit its past. In the process, it became a Garrison, with the army as its most dominant institution – for even though elections are held periodically and legislatures continue to frame laws, the actual power vests with the generals. In his magisterial study on Pakistan as a garrison State, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed underlined key traits of such a set up: in 1947, the Pakistan military was poorly armed and lacked the infrastructure and training needed to function even as an effective branch of the State. ‘However, as of today, Pakistan was a middle-range power possessing nuclear weapons with army as the most powerful institution in the country with de facto veto powers over politics’. The famous quip about garrison States is that while other countries have armies, in a garrison State, the army has the country under its thumb.
One consequence of the garrison State in Pakistan was its refusal to hand over power to the democratically elected Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which had polled the highest number of votes, and won maximum seats in the National Assembly in the 1970 general election. This led to the emergence of the nation State of Bangladesh, which is today the fastest growing nation in the sub-continent and has left India behind in several social sector parameters. Compared to a multinational State, which by its very nature must be ‘federal’, a nation-State is unitary and there are no provincial satraps to challenge the central authority.
Bordering Bangladesh is the State of Bhutan, which had a Protectorate status when Pax Britannica reigned supreme in South Asia. A protectorate is a country with complete internal autonomy but restrictions on foreign affairs and defence. Post-1947, the bilateral ties between the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and the Republic of India have been termed as a “special relationship”. India remains influential over Bhutan’s foreign policy, defence and commerce but Bhutan is not a protectorate of India.
Also bordering Bangladesh, Bhutan and India is the Federal Republic of Nepal, which till 2008 was a monarchy – in fact the last Hindu monarchy in the world. It now describes itself as Federal Democratic Republic with a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Nepal is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural State, with Nepali as the official language. The two unique features of Nepal are that it sends its famous Gurkha troops to three armies – India, UK and its own, and its expat population exceeds the population which lives in its territory. It can, therefore, also be called an expat State.
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The failed and the fragile
Let’s now turn our attention to our north west. Although India does not share a frontier with Afghanistan, we have had a civilisational connection with Afghanistan from times immemorial and State failure in Afghanistan has an impact on non-State actors in India. State failure in Afghanistan results as much from international policies as from the actions of the Taliban. Geography, ethnology, sectarian fissures and climate, all make the country notoriously difficult to govern at the best of times. Neither does the Taliban have any major international patron or diaspora to underwrite it, and the country is riddled with a narcotics industry that has proved stubborn and is in many areas the only source of economic activity. Afghanistan has, therefore, uniquely, neither legitimate resources, revenues, reserves, nor resilience. However, a failed State is a problem not just for itself, but for all those who are situated in its vicinity.
While Afghanistan has failed, Sri Lanka is ‘a fragile State’. A state whose government has a ‘weak capacity to carry out its mandate, where people lose their faith in the currency and in the government, and there is increasing internal strife’. Sheer economic mismanagement also makes a nation fragile. Sri Lanka’s economy is in absolute doldrums on account of unwise investments and the ethnic strife between the majority Sinhala and the Tamils, who continue to assert their ethnic identity, especially in areas where they have demographic dominance. India has pleaded with the IMF and World Bank to give a concessional line of credit to Sri Lanka.
Another island country in the region is the Maldives which is more like Machiavelli’s city State in which one faction is always out to oust the other from power. The ruling faction is more interested in the perpetuation of its own power, rather than in social welfare programmes for the islanders.
Sanjeev Chopra is a historian and Festival Director of Valley of Words. Till recently, he was the Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. He tweets @ChopraSanjeev. Views are personal.
This article is part of ‘State of the State‘ series that analyses policy, civil services, and governance in India.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)