The obvious cost of the India-Pakistan conflict is the military costs, the defence outlay and acquisitions that the media and analysts tend to focus on. In reality, the military costs emanating from this conflict include human costs and policy losses that are rarely factored in. These costs have both direct and indirect components and vary according to the intensity and type of confrontation.
The enduring impact of the war is the most taxing and yet rarely discussed military cost emanating from the Indo-Pak conflict.
We all know that wars claim lives. As many as a combined total of 25,000 military personnel have been killed and over 40,000 wounded or maimed, during the four Indo-Pak wars. Even during "peace time", low intensity warfare along the border claims hundreds of lives every year. In India, 70-100 Indian soldiers are killed a year in this conflict -- a total of 6,300 since 1948.
Since 1984, Siachen - the world's highest battleground, 22,000 sq ft above sea level - costs India a soldier every two days and Pakistan a soldier every four days. Ironically, enemy firing accounts for hardly three per cent of the casualties: it is the extreme climate conditions of the glacier that cause the most damage. Besides casualties, soldiers pay the price in psychological disorders, frostbite, hypoxia, high altitude pulmonary and cerebral edema and snow blindness.
In another high altitude conflict zone is Kargil, both Indian and Pakistani troops have been manning impossible border posts along the Batalik-Kargil-Drass sector since the Kargil war of 1999. Some posts here are as high as 18,000 sq ft above sea level. Temperatures dip to -40 to -60 degree Celsius in winters. From 4,000 troops pre-1999, now 20,000 Indian troops man the sector, causing a huge drain on army manpower.
The human costs of conflict are not restricted to the military. Approximately, 100,000 civilian families have suffered directly on account of four wars through civilian casualties and internal displacement. Temporary displacement during heightened tensions has become a regular phenomenon for the people (mainly Kashmiris) residing in the border areas. The Kargil war displaced 130,000 Indians and 40,000 Pakistanis. The 2002 standoff following the December 2001 parliament attack displaced 155,000 Indians and 45,000 Pakistanis. Although the displacement is often temporary and the people are compensated for any economic loss endured, the compensation is very low in relation to the psychological and economic costs they suffer.
The cross border artillery exchange claims 100 civilian lives and 250 livestock every year in Indian villages close to the border. It also damages standing crops and property (including over 200 houses annually). Several hundred people have lost limbs to land mines particularly near the Line of Control in the Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu.
It is safe to assume that the costs borne by people on the Pakistani side of LOC are correspondingly high.
The mounting defence budgets and the huge weapon modernisation allocations, the money spent on maintaining troops and creating infrastructure in uninhabitable terrains, the rehabilitation costs for displaced civilians, economic losses due to flight of foreign investment or closing of air spaces, war taxes - these indirect costs of military conflict are more far reaching than the direct cost of war. It is these indirect costs that really reflect the financial component of military costs emanating from the Indo-Pak conflict.
The direct costs of four wars, plus the costs of the year-long mobilisation in 2002 are approximately Indian Rupees (INR) 20,000 crores for India. India spends INR 2,200 crores annually on protecting just the Siachen Glacier, making it the most expensive air maintenance operation in the world. It costs approximately INR 50,000 per soldier for the special clothing needed for temperatures that drop to -50° Celsius.
Similarly, the Kargil war cost cost about INR 3,500 crores in direct expenses. However, the cost since then to secure and patrol the Kargil-Dras-Batalik sector - is approximately INR 3,500 crores annually. Add to this the immediate cost of over INR 1,000 crores to purchase materials for high altitude warfare and survival; a few thousand crores for the subsequent infrastructure development to facilitate army deployment on mountain peaks; an additional few thousand crores for the urgent induction of advance satellites and other technology (like un-manned aerial vehicles or UAVs) to enhance intelligence-gathering; plus INR 500 crores in rehabilitation for displaced civilians.
Again, there would be correspondingly high costs on the Pakistani side.
India and Pakistan have both come to pay for their policy mistakes. Obsessed with each other and imprudently engaged in an unwinnable arms race and nuclear posturing, they have neglected internal security and the social development of their people, and rendered the subcontinent one of the most dangerous regions in the world.
Their continued animosity and battle for military one-upmanship has resulted in a vicious cycle of arms acquisitions. Each arms deal by one country triggers off an arms procurement spree in the other. Many western countries exploit this psychology by selling arms to both. In the first six months of the 2002 conflict, Britain issued 148 military exports licences to India and 18 to Pakistan. The US signed defence deals with both the countries during the same period. China, Russia, Israel and France are also in the fray to make money out of our madness. These are the very countries that publically term South Asia as the nuclear flashpoint of the world, but continue to quietly sell arms to the two rivals.
The maximum impact policy cost comes in terms of nuclear empowerment of the two hostile nations. One-fifth of the humanity is living under the constant threat of a possible nuclear outbreak if a future war or mobilisation careens out of control. Given their emotionally charged relationship, fears of a nuclear showdown in case of future Indo-Pak war are not unfounded.
Over 500,000 soldiers manning Kashmir have been able to reduce terrorist violence in the state, but are unable to ensure peace, as is evident from the recent protests. Worse, Kashmir-centric terrorist groups have begun to target other parts of India. The Indian security apparatus works overtime every time there is a major festival or event, in order to anticipate terror attacks. Stung by its Kashmir experience and marred by human rights violation accusations, the Indian army is reluctant to engage in another internal battle to quell the Maoists - the red fault line threatening to split India vertically.
On the other hand Pakistan, obsessed with the eastern border, has been slow to understand that terrorism does not work in watertight compartments. The Pakistani army is now stretched fighting the very forces it had nurtured as strategic assets. Terrorist violence in Pakistan claimed nearly 4,000 civilian casualties from January 2009 to September 2010. With the country polarised along religious, ethnic and sectarian grounds, and devastating floods impacting over 20 million people this year, it will take a mammoth effort on part of the Pakistani establishment to bring the country out of its current downward spiral. Fighting the terrorist groups selectively will be hugely detrimental to Pakistan's own cause.
It is ironic that after an over six decade-long rivalry India and Pakistan have no option but peace if they want to focus on suppressing the violence within their respective borders. They must do this to get their houses in order.
These broader dynamics mean that the media must understand and underline military costs of the India-Pakistan conflict. We need to be highlighted the human costs exacted on civilians; that the monetary costs are wide ranging and unmanageable; that the policy compulsions based on enmity have left us to deal with fragmented nations, tools of terror and weapons of mass destruction.
It is only when the people of both countries understand the horrors that await them in future on this conflict trajectory that they will rally for peace.
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)
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