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Politics & Policy
July 25, 1999

For the record
Politics & Policy
Give sanity a change

By Brig(Retd) Sher Khan

"There are at least three main pillars which go to make a nation worthy of possessing a territory and running the government. One is education -- Next, no nation and no people can ever do anything very much without making themselves economically powerful in commerce, trade and industry. And lastly, when you have got that light of knowledge by means of education, and when you have made yourselves strong economically and industrially, then prepare yourselves for your defence . " Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as quoted in Human Development in South Asia 1997 by Dr. Mahbub ul Haq, For whatever reasons, the priorities that the Quaid expounded got reversed soon after Pakistan's coming into being, and have so continued ever since without any change likely in the foreseeable future.

At a time like this, when the guns have just fallen silent along the Line of Control, while the call to war by hawks in Pakistan and India is still ringing in our ears, and the outbreak of an all-out war seems to have been barely averted, it might seem insane to even talk about a call to sanity. Despite and notwithstanding the adverse comments in the wake of recent events in Washington and the subsequent climb-down, or call it capitulation if you will, it is beyond doubt that Pakistan just barely avoided being sucked into a catastrophic war which, like the last three with India, would have achieved little but would have nonetheless pushed us back several decades. The Prime Minister in his address to the nation on July 12 said just as much; it is insane to take food out of the mouth of the starving million in both countries so as to buy bullets for feeding the guns aimed at each other. If only this wisdom had dawned upon him and his Indian counterpart before tensions rose to the high pitch that they did in May and June, and the pious hopes contained in the Lahore Declaration signed with so much ceremony barely a few weeks earlier had been allowed to take practical shape, both countries and their people would have been spared the strife, the human suffering and squandering of enormous resources which could have been put to much better use to make some slight improvement in the quality of life of people on both sides of the border.

The hostilities, fears and suspicions that have bedevilled Indo-Pakistan relations date back to the carving out of a separate state out of British India in 1947, and the bloodshed that followed with the migration of millions of people across the newly created borders. Right on its heels came the war in Kashmir; the divided territory of this princely state, and its future, has continued to be a bone of contention, and the core issue that has defied resolution to this day. Perhaps, in hind sight, Kashmir may not have been perpetuated into an irresolveable dispute between India and Pakistan had the United Nations not intervened in 1948, at India's request, and instead let the two countries fight it out and resolve the dispute between themselves as best they could. Three wars later, the problem is more complicated than ever before. As the smaller of the two adversaries, Pakistan continues to be suspicious of Indian designs; it feels that India has not really accepted the results of Partition and wants to re-unite the subcontinent into its previous shape. For whatever it was worth the Indian Prime Minister, Mr . Atal Behari Vajpayee, tried to allay these fears when he visited the Minar-e-Pakistan last February; the sentiments that he expressed may well have become a thing of the past, given the jingoistic wave that has swept India in the last couple of months . Many view us as a thorn in the side of Indians who, possessed by the Big Brother Syndrome, are riled at their inability to bring the smaller and weaker brother to heel. Consequently, both countries continue to spend enormous sums of money to arm and defend themselves against the other, the scale of the expenditure and expansion of the respective armed forces increasing with each new conflict, much to the detriment of over a billion people who inhabit both countries. Mutual suspicion continues to mark and drive their policies and actions.

Some excerpts from Dr. Mahbub ul Haq's study referred to earlier will help put things in their proper perspective,

- Defence expenditure exceeds spending on education and health in Pakistan by about a quarter. In India, defence spending consumes two thirds as much resources as does combined spending on education and health. On the other hand, the rich industrial countries spend three times as much on education and health as on their military.

-South Asia is expanding its standing armies at a time when other countries are reducing theirs.

-Both India and Pakistan carry a heavy burden of defence expenditure. However, this burden is naturally much heavier, on Pakistan, which has only one-seventh of the population of India and one-fifth of India's GDP. While India spent 3.6 percent of its GNP on defence, Pakistan had to commit as much as seven percent—While India finances 19 soldiers per every 10,000 citizens, Pakistan has to support 49 soldiers — and still the total strength of its army is only one-half that of India .

-The simple fact is that wars are total wars. They are not fought on a per capita basis. That is why a smaller nation normally bears a heavier defence burden than the larger combatant as long as the state of confrontation continues. That is why the smaller nation has an even higher stake in a peaceful settlement of bilateral disputes.

-The total military spending in India and Pakistan was in the region of $14 billion in 1994. It carried a high human cost in terms of denying urgently-needed social services, not creating enough jobs, and putting even greater pressure on foreign exchange reserves which were already under tremendous pressure.

-The human cost of arms purchases — some illustrations.

A battle tank costs $ 4 million. For the purchase of each tank, 4 million children can be immunised. A modern submarine along with support programmes costs $300 million. Pakistan has ordered 3 Agosta 90B submarines from France at a total cost of $ 1 billion. This cost would have provided primary school education for a year to 17 million children, and provided safe drinking water for one year to 67 million people, and provided family planning service for one year to an additional to 9 million couples. (Similar benefits would accrue to India but on a much larger scale, if it were to forego its military expansion /modernisation programme.

-The standing armies in South Asia employ more than 2 million soldiers at present . About 90 per cent of these soldiers are in India and Pakistan. In both these countries, employment in the armed forces has become a major source of overall employment. Both countries have resisted various proposals for reducing the strength of their standing armies and opting for a system of universal military training and draft in times of emergencies, as practised in the western industrial nations. The present system not only exerts great pressure on budgetary resources in these countries, it also makes it difficult to reduce military spending suddenly or drastically, since alternative employment opportunities must first be created for such vast armies.

-The armed forces of India and Pakistan are a very disciplined group, possessing considerable skills. It is possible for both these countries to deploy some of their demobilized soldiers in building the economic and social infrastructure, such as rural-to-market roads, bridges, wells, lining of canals, basic health centres, school buildings, and many other community facilities. However, any large-scale demobilization would require considerable activation of the private sector, where surplus personnel can find productive and remunerative jobs.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan in his latest address to the nation, carried live by BBC TV besides PTV and PBC, held out the olive branch to India to engage in a meaningful dialogue for the peaceful resolution of all issues and disputes between the two countries. The Indian Prime Minister has said, according to press reports, that the Lahore Declaration signed in February last is still available to resolve all issues. If indeed both the Prime Ministers are sincere in what they say, it is still not too late to pick up the thread of talks where they last left off, and engage in meaningful dialogue on all contentious issues, despite what the hard liners on the fringe might say to the contrary. As the late Chairman Mao said, "Nothing is impossible in this world, if you dare to scale the heights." Let Kargil, which nearly took us to the brink of all-out war, become a catalyst, a turning point for the improvement of relations between the two adversarial states in South Asia and for the betterment of their one billion plus citizens. Then, at least, the recent wave of human sacrifice and suffering would not have been entirely in vain.