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A lose-lose game - By: Naseer Memon, The News, 30th October 2016



India and Pakistan are entangled in a fresh spate of border conflict. At the edge of war, both the countries have severed even cultural ties by banning movies and TV plays aired from other side of the borders. 

Mired in chronic penury, illiteracy and morbidity, both India and Pakistan boast their nuclear arsenal amid hysteric war anthems. Media incessantly sprinkles fuel to keep the flame of hatred alight. Amid all this mania, almost one and a half billion people remain on the tenterhooks. A foreboding Global Hunger report predicts that India and Pakistan are among the countries where hunger would relentlessly hover even after 2030, rendering a vital indicator of sustainable development goals unattained by the two countries. 

Perennially obsessed with war euphoria, both countries flippantly ignore their ignominious profile on human development index. Imprisoned to conventional security paradigm, both neglect the state of human security in their countries that claims millions of impoverished lives every year. 

Spending more than 50 billion dollars on defence, India is the country where more than a quarter million farmers committed suicides between 1995 and 2010. A former prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, once bemoaned that malnutrition is a national shame for his country. Pakistan, likewise, is the land of an appalling state of disparity where 20 per cent richest consume seven times more than the poorest 20 per cent population. 

A cursory look at the human security landscape of the two countries exposes socio-political fault lines that should merit urgent attention of the two governments elected by people. Human development imperatives are discriminately treated like a stepchild in both countries. 

According to the Human Development report-2015 of the UNDP, India ranked at 130thnumber and Pakistan at 147th out of 188 countries. Bragging about their jealously-guarded nukes, both countries seldom repent for abdicating their primary responsibility towards their citizens. 5.6 million children in the primary school age in Pakistan and 2.8 million in India are not going to school. 

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), literacy rate is 55 per cent in Pakistan and the country stands at 160th rung in among all countries of the world. Similarly, a quarter of the Indian population is illiterate. In absolute numbers, India has 287 million illiterate people, which is more than the total population of Pakistan. 

India and Pakistan spend only 3.8 and 2.4 per cent of their GDPs on education. Current population growth rate has outpaced literacy rate in both countries and universal literacy would remain a forlorn hope in the foreseeable future. This tendency has condemned both countries to perform poorly on the global innovation index with India on 81st and Pakistan even more disgracefully on 131st number among 141 countries. This explains the reason for Pakistan’s conspicuous absence among the top 100 universities of Asia. 

Health sector performance of both countries is equally disgraceful. According to the World Bank data, mother mortality rate (i.e. deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births) is 174 and 178 in India and Pakistan respectively. Similarly, infant mortality rate (deaths of infants per 1000 live births) is 38 in India and 66 in Pakistan. The two countries are ranked at 143rdand 149th number respectively among 188 countries. Miserly spending 4.7 and 2.6 per cent of their GDPs on health, India and Pakistan invest only US$61 and US$37 per capita on providing health services to their citizens. 

On the contrary, both countries are very generous in spending on building arsenal and military power. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India’s current year’s allocation for the defence budget is 51 billion dollar and that of Pakistan is 9.5 billion dollar. Total military strength (including active, reserve and paramilitary forces) of India is 4.7 million compared to Pakistan’s total strength of 1.4 million. Per thousand capita military strength of India is 3.9 compared to a twice higher military density of 7.3 in Pakistan. 

Pakistan and India together are home to 350-400 million poor people, yet both countries feature the list of world’s top ten arms importers. According to SIPRI, India is the second and Pakistan is 10th largest importer of weapons. India annually imports arms worth $3078 million and Pakistan’s arms annual import bill is $735 million. Interestingly, USA is the second largest source of Indian arms imports after Russia. Whereas Pakistan’s largest share of arms imports comes from China. 

In the race of militarisation and a perennial border tension, both countries have decelerated cross-border business flow. With a gigantic market of 1.5 billion, both countries could have transformed their economic outlook through a robust bilateral trade which is currently harnessed hardly one-tenth of its potential. Peace economy’s dividends would have been enormous compared to the war business which hemorrhages precious resources of both countries. 

Chinese foreign policy, on the contrary, is rooted in a business driven pragmatism and distinctly demarcates politics and business ties. China has equally strained political relations with India, yet their bilateral annual trade has surpassed $80 billion compared to Pakistan and India’s scant bilateral trade of only $3 billion. China astutely maintains cordial business cooperation with several estranged bedfellows. 

The US and China militarily abhor each other, yet the US is the biggest trade partner of China and their annual trade volume is well over $520 billion. Japan and China’s discontent is far graver than that of India and Pakistan, yet both countries resorted to forbearance and are currently engaged in an annual trade of over $300 billion. China’s sore relations with Taiwan could not deter their mutual trade of approximately $200 billion annually. Vietnam and China are old adversaries who fought a war in 1979 when China tried to repulse Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. Both countries are engaged in a high profile squabble in south China sea over Paracel and Spratly Islands. However, a protracted acrimony did not preclude both countries from maintaining trade ties. Their two-way annual trade has reached $66 billion and China is the largest trade partner of Vietnam. 

With a strictly controlled open market paradigm, China has given unprecedented boost to its economy. Although reckless labour exploitation, environmental degradation and substandard quality of products have stigmatised China’s economic model, it has flooded markets with its good both in the developed and under-developed countries. Ensuing economic gains enabled China to lift more than 600 million people out of poverty quagmire between 1981 and 2004. Its economic miracle swelled its per capita income fivefold between 1990 and 2000, from $200 to $1,000. In the following decade from 2000 and 2010, China’s per capita income continued to rise by the same rate — from $1,000 to $5,000. 

In the contemporary globalised world, countries detach political antipathy from business relations. In fact, regional cooperation models guarantee prosperity for all by creating peace-bridges. Economies are getting more and more integrated and inextricably intertwined. 

Pakistan has tremendous potential to become a leading economy in the region. Having a humongous market of over 200 million and endowed with profusion of natural resources and manual labour, Pakistan can take economic strides within few years. Unfortunately, political isolation stemming from inimical foreign policy staggered over decades has eroded Pakistan’s economic gains accrued during the initial three decades of its inception. 

A string of border conflicts in south Asia has plagued the whole region and deprived it from its real potential of economic growth and prosperity of millions of people toiling for their survival. On the other hand, ASEAN’s countries have unlocked their economic potential through a remarkable regional cooperation model. 

South Asian countries ought to learn a lesson of fostering symbiotic relations from the south-east Asian countries. Regional peace is key to human development and prosperity.




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