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

Southasia - - CON­TENTS - By Khawaja Amer

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.

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