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.

Southasia - - CON­TENTS - The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of Southa­sia.

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.

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