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New 'Peace Index' of Nations a Puzzler

Aparna Pande

The Human Development Index (HDI) developed by the United Nations was formulated after decades of research and includes all the countries of the world. However, over the years a number of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) have also developed their own indexes and rankings which lack the thoroughness of the HDI. The latest addition to the index category is the Global Peace Index (GPI) published by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Peace is an elusive concept, and philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Kant and others have attempted to define it without complete success. However, we live in a world of quantitative science, and as a result, there is a desire to quantify and rank everything, even peace. The fourth edition of the Global Peace Index was published last month. Ranking 149 countries using 23 indicators, the GPI indicates whether or not a country is more peaceful or less peaceful.

The GPI defines peace as “harmony achieved by the absence of war or conflict,” and thus only those countries that do not have any internal tensions or conflicts with any of their neighbors are at peace. What this does is limit the number of countries that can ever be defined as “being at peace.”

The fact that all five Scandinavian countries are in the top ten and that New Zealand is the country most at peace reflects this point. As is to be expected, and the report points this out, island nations — with the exception of Sri Lanka — have fared well in the rankings.

The world’s fastest growing economy, China, is ranked 80 out of 149, and the second fastest growing economy, India, is ranked 128. India has internal problems and external tensions, but it has always had a peaceful transition of power and civilian control over the security forces. What is interesting is that countries like Iran (104), Saudi Arabia (107), Thailand (124), and Uzbekistan (110) — all of which experienced immense internal turmoil — are under autocratic rule and still ranked higher than India.

In South Asia, Bhutan — the country which developed the happiness indez — is ranked 34 and Sri Lanka (124) is ranked higher than Pakistan, even though during the last year the military offensive against the Tamil separatists involved violence and suppression of human rights.

What is also interesting is that United States (85) is five ranks below China. China has an unsettled border with India, internal conflicts in Tibet and Xinjiang, and social unrest, yet it still ranks higher than the U.S. — a country which has a peaceful border and no internal insurgencies.

Quantitative analysis is a useful tool in social science, but it is only one of the many tools which are used for analyzing countries. What we must not forget is that most often tools like indicators, variables, indexes, and rankings are misused for political purposes.

If we look at the media reactions across South Asia, nations like India have not paid any attention to this report. However, in countries where domestic consensus is lacking, the report has been used to beat up on the government of the day. In Pakistan, sections of the media and political figures are using the report to berate the government. Moreover, they have apparently not read the entire report. While placing Pakistan at 145, the report admits that there has been “an improvement in the measure of relations with neighboring countries and a slight rise in political stability” in the last year.

While it is important for governments and countries to be kept on their toes with the help of a variety of international watchdogs, we must not forget that the real test of a government’s competence in providing peace, or lack thereof, comes from elections and not rankings.

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