Playing With Destiny
Despite the lop-sided spending on defence as against other social sectors, leaderships in both India and Pakistan could extricate their countries from the mad arms race, were they to realize that disproportionate defence spending would get them nowhere w
There are millions who are starving today in India and Pakistan but governments of both countries continue to spend a lot more on bombs and bullets rather than on bread.
The only logic for the arms race on both sides is the much publicized deterrence theory. But at what cost? About 50 percent people in both Pakistan and India combined make less than Rs.300 per day on which their whole families live. It is a fact that Pakistan and India are home to two largely poor populations that lack access to basic health, education and job opportunities. In such miserable conditions, the leaderships of the two countries need to answer whether their massive defence budgets are the real answer to the situation in the region and are they really fighting the right enemy? Here it is very pertinent to know who the real enemy is. They need to know that the real enemy is poverty. The Indian defence budget for 2016-17 is Rs 19.78 trillion. Pakistan is said to have set aside Rs 860 billion for defence in its 2016-17 budget.
Economists are of the view that if a couple of billions are shifted from the defence budget and transferred to health and education - the two most neglected sectors - the destiny of people in both the countries can change. It is a bit too disturbing to note that education and health are the two sectors which have never received more than 4 per cent of the budget as against defence which gets about 20 per cent. Needless to emphasise that education, health and social welfare are crucially important for the overall prosperity of the common man, but there is hardly anyone in the planning division to raise demands for due share in the budget to meet the financial requirements of these three sections.
What happened in Japan after the World War II should be a lesson for both the countries. Japan was not allowed to build its military as such funds were not required for military development. All available resources were diverted for the prosperity and well-being of the people. In the three decades of economic development following 1960, Japan ignored defence spending in favour of economic growth, thus allowing for rapid economic growth referred to as the Japanese post-war economic miracle. With average growth rates of 10 per cent in the 1960s, 5 per cent in the 1970s, and 4 per cent in the 1980s, Japan was able to establish and maintain itself as the world's second largest economy.
Citing the example of Japan, economists in both the countries raised voices from time to time questioning
the justification of spending billions and billions on weapons when millions of people were living in abject poverty. They did not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, their children died due to preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhea and those who somehow managed to grow were ending up loitering in the streets because their families couldn’t afford to send them to school. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and both feel compelled to remain so due to unpredictable relations between each other leading to a trust deficit. In an ideal world, both the countries could spare the huge funds spent on buying weapons to meet the needs of their growing populations. Funds thus saved could be spent to heavily subsidize essential food items, better education and health, as well as reducing child labour and environmental pollution.
India and Pakistan have the dubious honour of having the world’s largest number of poor people. While the condition of Pakistan’s economy is evident from its continuous reliance on foreign aid and loans, India despite being the largest economy of the region has also remained unconcerned about the poverty situation in the country. An enormous chunk of the population lives below the poverty line, without any access to basic facilities. Though a comparison of the two countries might not be possible on a level playing field due to the size of the two economies, one thing is common between them and that is hatred for each other. And that’s why despite numerous issues in both the countries that deserve the attention of the leadership, there are always finances available for defencespending.
According to a report, Pakistanis are fast becoming a shattered nation. The alarmingly high level of malnutrition in Pakistan in the past few years is far worse than sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of Pakistani children have been identified as stunted and underweight, because of hunger, disease and poverty. While the future of millions of children is threatened by hunger, succeeding governments in Pakistan have continued to pour undisclosed billions into conventional and nuclear weapons.
Dr. Murtaza Haider, the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto in one of his articles concludes, “As for millions of other partially-fed Pakistanis, whose future is supposedly guaranteed by nuclear and other bombs, there is an urgent need to secure their present. Thousands of nuclear weapons did not prevent the Soviet Union from disintegrating after it failed to feed and clothe its citizens. Pakistan must avoid the same fate by putting bread before bombs.”
Sadly enough Pakistan grows more wheat today than ever before but a large population is not in a position to buy food as it is beyond the purchasing power of the poor. If food price inflation is higher than that of other items, it becomes a matter of life and death for the low-income classes. Today, on an average, a low-income Pakistani family spends nearly half of its income on food and yet is not able to feed its children properly.
Pakistan’s security problems cannot be solved by better weapons. Instead, the solution lies in building a sustainable and active democracy, an economy for peace rather than war, a federation in which provincial grievances can be effectively resolved and by creating a society that respects the rule of law. Dr. Pervez Hoodhbhoy in one of his articles writes, “Both (India and Pakistan) must announce that they will not produce more fissile material to make yet more bombs. Both must drop insane plans to expand their nuclear arsenals. Eleven years ago a few Pakistanis and Indians had argued that the bomb would bring no security, no peace. They were condemned as traitors and sellouts by their fellow citizens. But each passing year shows just how right we were.”
Dr Shershah Syed, whose services to women’s reproductive health are widely acclaimed, in a widely circulated email wrote, “Today we are celebrating the atom bomb day when we are a country where millions of children are not going to school — where millions of kids start their morning without food and will work in factories.…” According to the Pakistan government’s National Nutrition Survey, 60 per cent of families in the rural areas (72 per cent in Sindh) and 52 per cent in the urban areas suffer from moderate or severe hunger. There are the families that are described as food insecure.
Malnutrition among children is indeed a global problem. Each year, five to seven million children die of malnutrition. South Asia, however, is one of the worst hit areas as it is home to half of the world’s malnourished children. The UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report revealed that 48 per cent of children in India, 43 per cent in Bangladesh, and 37 per cent in Pakistan had stunted growth. While India’s economic miracle is praised all over, it does not change the fact that child malnourishment is more prevalent in India than in Pakistan.
According to a report jointly commissioned by UNICEF, the World Bank and USAID, 50 per cent of children born in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan in 1999 weighed less than 2.5 kg. Research has revealed that underweight children at birth rarely catch up in weight and height later. In Afghanistan, 40 to 50 per cent children are estimated to have stunted growth.
Oscar Arias Sanchez (1987 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) writes, “The existence of nuclear weapons presents a clear and persistent danger to life on earth. Nuclear arms cannot bolster the security of any nation because they represent a threat to the security of the human race. These incredibly destructive weapons are an affront to our common humanity, and the tens of billions of dollars that are dedicated to their development and maintenance should be used instead to alleviate human need and suffering.”
It is, however, encouraging to note that amidst the recent rhetoric of war, the leaderships of India and Pakistan have at least managed to discover that poverty is the real challenge their countries face. According to an editorial published on 7th October, 2016 in the daily Dawn, Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the conversation when he asked the people of Pakistan to wage a war on poverty, illiteracy and infant mortality, “and let us see who wins.” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded by saying that this challenge cannot be met with “blood and ammunition.” So at least there is a realization that both countries spend far too much on their military capabilities and not enough on their citizenry, particularly the poor.
If a couple of billions are shifted from the defence budget and transferred to health and education - the destiny of people in both the countries can change.
The writer is a veteran journalist.