|HOME | BUSINESS | COMMENTARY | DILIP THAKORE|
|July 14, 1997||
India, Pak should pay out the peace dividend now
The media pundits seem unanimous there is a distinct possibility of peace breaking out between India and Pakistan. The four-day foreign secretary-level talks between these two fratricidal nations which concluded in Islamabad on June 23 have produced a joint communique which, if carried to its logical conclusion, could end the most alternately cold, lukewarm and hot war the world has known since the end of the Second World Armageddon. The US-Soviet nuclear face-off is history; Palestine is a reality; the Berlin wall has fallen; the world over swords are being beaten into plough-shares and lions are ready to lie down with lambs. But the Indo-Pak stalemate over Kashmir carries on regardless. At last the June 23 silver lining....
Certainly the joint communique promises much. Eight working groups are being set up to address all outstanding issues of concern to both sides including the future of Jammu and Kashmir and the Siachen glacier, terrorism and drug trafficking, economic and commercial cooperation and ''promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields'' (sic).
The communique is being hailed as a major breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations because, for the first time, India has agreed to discuss the Kashmir issue which it had hitherto contended was purely an internal problem for India to resolve. The quid pro quo offered by Pakistan is its willingness to discuss the issue of cross-border terrorism which it has consistently denied exporting to India.
But though there is justifiable euphoria within the ranks of right-thinking individuals in both nations, one must caution against over-optimism. The dialogue is to be continued through diplomatic channels to determine the composition and methodology of the eight working groups. This will be followed by another round of foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for September. All this could well be sabotaged by supra-nationalist hawks who are powerful lobbies, if not representative majorities in both countries. The foreign secretaries and the working groups have a long, hard road -- which they will have to tread warily -- ahead.
Yet it is a road which, however rocky, needs to be taken in the larger interest of the people of both the nations. For the past 50 years economic development in the South Asia region which indifferently houses 15 per cent of the world's population, has been stymied by a disastrous arms race which has provoked three Indo-Pak hot wars and has transformed the area into the earth's most backward region characterised by mass illiteracy, poverty and hunger.
According to the UNDP statistics, India harbours 290 million wholly illiterate adults, has a per capita PPP (purchasing power parity) adjusted income of $1,240 which is lower than the average of Sub-Saharan Africa ($1,288), and boasts 62 million malnourished children under five years of age. Pakistan, which has one tenth of India's population, is as badly off with 48 million adult illiterates, a per capita PPP adjusted income of $2,160 and 9.4 million malnourished children under the age of five.
Yet, despite these abysmal human resources development indices, the political class of these two short-changed nations are not at all diffident about striking high-profile attitudes in international fora or about the huge amounts they spend annually on lethal weapons and armaments. While India's annual defence budget of $9.6 billion (almost on a par with the amount spent annually on education by the central and state governments combined) absorbs 2.8 per cent of this nation's gross domestic product (GDP), Pakistan's annual defence outlay estimated at $4 billion absorbs 6.9 per cent of its GDP. It should be plain as the proverbial pikestaff that neither nation can afford such huge outlays on armaments.
Unfortunately both nations have also been ill-served by slippery and intellectually dishonest economists who ignoring the basic guns-versus-butter argument which every first-year economics student learns, advance complicated justifications for huge defence budgets. These economists and mandarins of the Indian Foreign Service fudge the obvious truth that such huge defence expenditures reflect a pathetic paucity of diplomatic skills.
Also whenever there is the prospect of an outbreak of peace a question which undoubtedly haunts the political and defence top brass is that of sustaining the belligerent nations' huge armed forces establishments. Some lateral thinking could set such fears at rest.
During the past five decades, India and Pakistan's well-disciplined armed forces have developed enviable civil and infrastructure construction and management skill sets. These could be very effectively utilised for nation-building purposes as well as to create new income streams for defence establishments confronted with the prospect of sharp cuts in budgetary outlays should peace break out in the subcontinent. Organisations of the armed forces competing with PWD contingents for public sector construction and development projects cannot but serve the national interest of both countries.
This, the 50th year of Independence of both India and Pakistan, is an appropriate time for the governments and ruling establishments of both the nations to pay out the well overdue peace dividend to their unfortunate citizens.
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