Race to Nowhere
In poverty-ridden India and Pakistan, food should have been the first priority. But the leaders amass arms while the people starve.
Were it not for the perpetual standoff and occasional firefight between Pakistani and Indian troops, the relentless efforts of both countries to go on increasing their military arsenal, while large swathes of their population wallowed in abject poverty, would have been dismissed by the world as intellectual bankruptcy. But, in the backdrop of an endless standoff, such actions are a source of common concern as a threat not only to regional, but also to world peace. This concern was voiced by outgoing US vice-president Joe Biden, in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently, when he remarked that, “the use of nuclear weapons in south Asia cannot be ruled out.”
India’s weapon-mania - it has recently inducted a Scorpene class French submarine to its naval fleet - may be explained away as an indicator of its ambition to emerge as a leading power in South-east Asia and the Indian Ocean as well as a counterweight to China. And, to boost such dreams, it has a burgeoning economy, besides other resources.
By S.G. Jeelani
Nonetheless, the wisdom behind flexing military muscle, when millions of its people have to go to sleep without a morsel of food, is questionable. Had even half the expenditure incurred on amassing weapons been diverted to reduce poverty and feed hungry mouths, it would have added more gloss to India’s leadership claim.
What was the urge for India to go nuclear, for instance? Nukes do not make a country great. Even today, out of 193 UN member countries, only seven, - the Big Five plus Pakistan and India are openly nuclear states while Israel and North Korea are also believed to have the capability. That makes nine. But the rest of the world does not lose any sleep over the issue because people know that nuclear weapons are not meant to terrorize others.
South Africa and Brazil were in the run but gave it up voluntarily. Even Iran has undertaken to shut down its nuclear programme under a deal with the Big Five 5+1, whereas Japan, which has a history of hostility with China, shuns any idea of acquiring nuclear capability like the plague.
Those who eschew the temptation to become nuclear powers know that acquiring the capability does not bring in any tangible benefits either in the short or long term, because, nukes are not for use in everyday conflicts. There is so much bloodshed going on in Syria for instance and both the U.S. and Russia are involved, but neither is using any nuclear bomb, because, nuclear bombs are to be used in most dire situations. Therefore, they rust on the shelf. The Big Five can afford it. Perhaps they had a particular compulsion in the first instance, to acquire nuclear capability. But that does not hold for others. Therefore, other countries going nuclear triggers suspicion about their intent and they are kept under watch by the international community.
So, what was the imperative for India to enter the League? What did it gain by the Pokhran tests? Did that improve its economy or make it great? Did it solve any of India’s internal problems or external disputes with China and Pakistan? By contrast, it was more impactful for India to send its satellite into space and its rocket to Mars.
But, if India’s Pokhran test was thoughtless, Pakistan’s Chaghi blast was utterly senseless. It was impulsive and totally reckless. Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto had earlier signalled his determination to make a nuclear bomb even if the people had to “eat grass.” His wish was fulfilled. Pakistan has the bomb and the people are largely bereft of food, shelter, potable water and health facilities. They are virtually eating grass.
Why did Pakistan try to race with India in this field? Why did Pakistan’s policymakers adopt the posture of a rival to India? Canada and U.S. are also neighbours. But Canada did not go for nukes, though America is a nuclear power. Nor does it rival the United States in any sector. Each pursues its independent course.
In its craze for rivalry, Pakistan forgot that with all its might, it could never emerge as the leader of South Asia, where India is the largest country. This rivalry led to wasteful competition in the field of armaments. Yet, government after government in Pakistan followed the line with religious solemnity, draining away oodles of money on arms while neglecting important social sectors. There was nary an assessment of cost and benefit.
India is bigger than Pakistan in every respect. It is six times bigger in size. It has a population that is several times larger. Its $2 trillion economy is 10 times bigger than Pakistan’s $245 billion economy.
The same applies to other sectors, like resources, military capacity and so forth. But this fact was never given a thought, by Pakistan’s policymakers, who lived in a cocoon of fantasy and tried to be equal to India. This kind of convoluted thinking recalls the story of the mother frog in Aesop’s Fables, who, in order to become equal in size to a calf, inhaled and inhaled till it exploded.
Pakistan tested India’s military strength four times and every time it got a bloody nose. While the Dhaka debacle was historic in the disgrace it rendered to Pakistan, it was equally humiliating when the Soviet Union brokered peace between Pakistan and India after the 1965 war.
Furthermore, to Pakistan’s misfortune, the race remained confined to the unhealthy policy of guns for butter - building military capability at the cost of healthier pursuits, such as scientific research or increasing Pakistan’s industrial capacity.
Indeed, Pakistan’s misfortunes flow from its craze to be equal to India in military power. That is what has dealt a death blow to democracy in Pakistan. It gave the country repeated martial laws and even when there is an elected government in the country, the army pulls the strings in every sphere.
What benefits Pakistan would have gained, what heights it could have scaled in various fields if only it had cut itself loose from the Indian obsession, is beyond imagination. The scope was infinite. Relieved of the albatross round its neck, the country could have charted its own course, channelled its resources to constructive pursuits and let India go its own way. Isn’t it interesting that Pakistan did not race with India to build a prototype of Bengalaru, the Indian copy of Silicon Valley.
Suppose Pakistan did not build the nuke. Suppose, even, that it ignores whatever India does to increase its military toys. What danger could that pose to Pakistan? The bogey of India attacking Pakistan is just that - a bogey. It is utter gibberish and is purposely circulated to keep the people in a state of perpetual paranoia.
The fact remains that India never attacked Pakistan in spite of its military superiority. To the contrary, it was Pakistan, the smaller of the two countries that had the temerity to attack India time and again in spite of repeated defeats.
India’s record, by contrast, shows that it repeatedly tried to cultivate Pakistan’s goodwill. After the 1971 war, it was India that released more than 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war and unconditionally vacated 14,000 sq. km of Pakistani territory it had occupied during the war. India also refused Bangladesh’s request to hand it over to them the Pak army officer it had asked for. Pakistan’s India policy needs a radical change of which. abandoning the arms race should be the first priority.
If India’s Pokhran test was thoughtless, Pakistan’s Chaghi blast was utterly senseless.