By Semu Bhatt
Given the deep rooted cultural ties between India and Pakistan, it would only be logical to expect the two countries to enjoy good neighbourly relations. However, India-Pakistan relations are governed less by logic and more by emotions -rooted in history, and running on extremes. During times of emotional surge - when the two countries are taking steps toward peace -- bonhomie is at peak. People talk of the inevitability of peace and a sense of proximity given the shared culture and history. But when there is an ebb in ties, the same people instantaneously discount possibility of reconciliation.
The bottom line is that cultural and historical commonalities between India and Pakistan are marred by a deep-seated distrust, and these contradictory emotional undercurrents make it difficult to have a sustained and balanced dialogue, let alone conflict resolution.
It is obvious that India and Pakistan's continued hostility draws a huge cost from both. Certain segments of society and government believe that these costs are not only manageable, but also necessary. To counter this sense of inevitability, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of past, present and future costs of conflict and the benefits of peace and reconciliation. We also need to examine the co-existence of need for peace with the compulsion of hostility in India-Pakistan equation. When the general population of both countries comes to understand that the costs emanating from the India-Pakistan conflict are insurmountable and have far wider ramifications beyond military and economic costs, and that there are vested interests in continuation of the conflict, only then there will be a demand for peace.
Conflict has many direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include military costs, human costs, trade opportunity costs and diplomatic costs. It is possible to put numbers to these costs and they are extensively written about. Indirect costs, however, include overlooking social development and internal security, negative transformation of the society and government institutions, and the creation of a conflict economy. These indirect costs, in the long term, are more detrimental to the nation than the immediate military and economic costs.
India and Pakistan are home to one-fifth of the world's population. Out of a combined population of 1.37 billion, nearly 411million live below the poverty line (one-third of world's poor), 486 million are illiterate (more than one-half of world's illiterate), while 140 million people are unemployed (nearly one-fourth of world's unemployed) and millions of others are only marginally employed. Both countries jointly account for 5% of world GDP, 3% of total military spending of the world and 10% of world's conventional weapons imports.
It is a no brainer that the India-Pakistan conflict diverts funds to defence at the cost of development, and that peace between the two countries could reverse this flow. Even a small cut in defence outlay could release funds that can make major difference in social development. For example, if both countries end localised conflicts like Siachen, or stop their race to modernise their defence forces, they can benefit greatly in monetary terms. By demilitarising Siachen alone, India could build 1,500 schools and Pakistan 400 schools every year (at a cost of Rs. 10 million per small school). For the price of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, they can provide mid-day meals to 100,000 schoolchildren for a year.
The indirect costs of military conflict are innumerable. In Pakistan, the conflict with India, along with Pakistan's involvement in the Afghan conflict, has resulted in the creation of a massive conflict economy. The elements of this economy include: the income of jihadi and separatist outfits feeding off this conflict on both sides of Kashmir, a multi-million dollar arms race (aided by the very countries that pay lip service to Indo-Pak peace), excessive expenditure on intelligence networks, and last but not least, the Pakistani military - for which the conflict with India serves as a raison d'Ítre to justify its size and need for money. It is in the interest of these elements that the India-Pakistan hostility continues.
In India, peace in Kashmir remains elusive. The total human cost of four wars between India and Pakistan comes to nearly 25,000 casualties. Compare this to the 80,000 lives lost in Kashmir since the insurgency began. And the cost of this conflict in Kashmir extends far beyond these human lives lost. An entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up in the culture of violence. The streets of Kashmir are now witnessing this very youth venting their frustration at the hopelessness of the situation by pelting stones.
Both countries have failed miserably in securing their respective internal security situations, due to their obsession with each other -- to the extent that areas of both countries are beyond State writ. Pakistan has its hands full on the western flank, while India is struggling to rein in the 'red terror'. These uprisings are not related to the Indo-Pak conflict - discounting the habitual allegations about ISI-RAW involvement - but unless there is peace at the border, neither India nor Pakistan can deploy enough security and monetary resources to deal with these internal insurgencies and conflicts.
The most important indirect cost of the India-Pakistan conflict is the weakening of social fabric and erosion of human values. Within India, the conflict has taken a communal connotation, severely undermining the secular fabric of the nation, and encouraging political hardliners. The Gujarat communal riots of 2002 are a grim reminder of this. Pakistani society, on the other hand, increasingly has to battle extremist religious forces. The same terrorist groups who were involved in Kashmir are now polarising Pakistani society along religious, ethnic and sectarian lines. Of course, Pakistan's ability to loosen the grip of religious extremist elements also depends on the situation in Afghanistan, equation with Iran, Shia-Sunni dynamics within the country and relations with India. Although India is only one of the many factors in determining the future of religious extremism in Pakistan, because of its interdependence with other factors, it contributes to Pakistan's social costs.
Given that the high costs of conflict, why don't we say enough is enough? First, there is a lack of awareness amongst people about the high costs related to the conflict. Second, they have been fed on the belief that such costs are necessary to protect the national territory and that the costs are manageable. Third, protracted conflict has created groups of vested interests who benefit from the continuation of conflict. Fourth, there is no understanding that a continuation on this trajectory is not sustainable.
In the changed geopolitical landscape, it would be folly to think that what happens across the border will have no repercussions on our own country. There is a need for India and Pakistan to recognise that their future lies together, and not at the expense of the other. Aman ki Asha is a good initiative in this direction. However, sustained efforts are needed to create awareness about the serious future costs that both countries will have to bear if we do not change our trajectory. The deteriorating ground realities of both countries, especially Pakistan, may not give us another chance at peace if we miss this opportunity.
The writer is an independent analyst on security and governance issues and co-author of Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan (International Centre for Peace Initiatives, Mumbai, 2004)
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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Page 56 of 174
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