weapons, less peace
South Asia will be insecure, unhappy
South Asia, home to the largest number of the
world's poor people, is poised to burn more and more money on
acquiring lethal weapons and building military forces. The region,
with a population of 1.3 billion, has some of the lowest social
and human development indicators in the world.
Barring Sri Lanka (much like India's Kerala), all South Asian
states fall within the bottom one-fourth of the Human Development
Index charts compiled by the United Nations Development Programme.
They perform even worse in respect of indices for literacy and
health for children. In the 2002 HDI, India ranks a shameful 124
(among 173 countries). Pakistan is even lower (138). Nepal ranks
142 and Bangladesh 145. Sri Lanka is at a more respectable 89.
Yet, South Asia is the second largest importer of weapons from the
global arms bazaar. It is expected to spend upwards of $130
billion over the next 15 years on buying armaments-a sum that is
about a third of India's entire annual gross domestic product
South Asia is getting rapidly militarised - thanks to internal
conflicts within its member-states' borders, external rivalries,
largely between states, and above all, because of its rulers'
preference for military solutions to social and political
problems. As the South Asian states look for security through
military means, their societies and peoples become more and more
insecure, in the real sense of the term, related to food security,
income security, security of employment, gender security and
Militarisation in South Asia has many aspects: sharply rising
military expenditures, the expanding role of the military and
military-related institutions in public life, and the
regimentation and militarisation of society and of daily life
itself. Here we look mainly at the first issue.
Militarisation is steadily growing in all respects in all South
Asian states. Not one of them can boast, like Costa Rica in Latin
America, or Austria in Europe, that they have reduced defence
spending, and cut or dismantled their armies, and yet gained in
India is South Asia's biggest spender, given its sheer size. It is
also the world's second biggest importer of arms, next only to
China. India's military expenditure this year is officially Rs.
76,600 crore. But if other hidden spending - such as subsidies to
defence production companies and classified imports - is added,
the military budget will probably go up to Rs. 85,000 crore.
Contrast this with the entire expenditure on primary education of
Rs. 35,000 crore, in the public, private, municipal and panchayat
sectors put together.
India's defence spending has doubled over the past five years -
the highest such increase in any five-year period since
Independence. This did not happen even after the China war. As
India builds its nuclear arsenal, the expenditure will skyrocket.
The Indian government spends roughly 3.5 percent of GDP on the
military, and yet another 0.5 or so on the Central paramilitary
forces. But in contrast to this total of four percent of GDP, its
expenditure on health is a mere 1.3 percent of GDP.
In many developed countries, public expenditure on health is 5 to
7 percent of GDP. And even in developing countries like Malaysia,
Mexico, Thailand, Egypt, Peru or Zimbabwe, the figure is double or
triple the Indian ratio. India's spending on education, which the
government promises to raise to 6 percent of GDP, has now fallen
to under 3 percent of GDP.
Military expenditure is certain to sharply exceed the budgeted
figure this year because of the unbudgeted mobilisation of 7 lakh
troops at the border for 10 long months. This is officially stated
to have cost Rs. 7,200 crore, but the real figure may be Rs.
10,000 crore or so (i.e., 13 percent higher than the budget). The
Rs. 10,000 crore is four times higher than the Central health
budget and exceeds the Centre's entire budget for education! Yet,
there has been no debate on whether such mobilisation should have
taken place following the December 2001 Parliament House attack,
what its objectives should have been, and how much should have
been spent on it.
India has just signed a huge $3 billion contract with Russia to
lease four Tu22 M3 long-range aircraft - capable of dropping
nuclear bombs on China - and two Akula class submarines which are
nuclear-propelled and can deliver nuclear warheads at long
distances. Nuclear submarines can hide underwater for months at a
time and can devastatingly deliver a surprise strike. The Russian
deal alone raises India's military expenditure by 25 percent. The
money will come out of social sector programmes.
Pakistan has always spent a larger proportion (5 or 6 percent) of
its GDP on the military than India. Although its population is
seven times smaller than India's, its armed forces are only about
one-half of India's size. Pakistan overtly crossed the nuclear
threshold, following India, in May 1998 - and immediately went
into financial insolvency. Besides an ambitious programme to
stockpile nuclear material for bombs, it has spent huge amounts on
ballistic missiles like the Hatf and Ghauri. This drove the
government deeper into the red, inviting the term "failing" or
"failed" state - until the September 11, 2020 attack brought the
US into the region, on to Pakistan's soil and revived the economy
of this "strategic partner" against "terrorism".
Defence spending, which had fallen for two years, has since been
raised. Pakistan is now charging the US $60 million a month for
the use of its bases. The state of public services in Pakistan is
even more appalling than in India. But that has not prevented the
government from committing more funds to the military. Pakistan's
sole nuclear adversary, India, is furiously assembling its nuclear
arsenal and readying it for deployment and use. This is drawing
Pakistan into a potentially runaway arms race with India.
Already, the 10-month-long border mobilisation has hurt Pakistan
economically. There is a strong likelihood that increased spending
on nuclear and missile programmes will soon raise Pakistan's
military budget upwards of 6 percent of GDP, which could prove
ruinous to the economy and to the people.
Besides the two major South Asian rivals, Bangladesh has also
witnessed a sharp rise in military spending, at an average annual
rate of 4 percent since the mid-1980s. The nuclear tests of 1998
by India and Pakistan generally strengthened the pressure for
greater military preparedness and spending in the neighbourhood.
Bangladesh bought eight MiG-29 fighters in 1999, whose need and
utility have been strongly questioned. The successor government
(led by Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party) now wants
to sell these off. The new government however has close ties both
with the military and Right-wing Islamists. In fact, it has
recently used the military largely for civilian purposes - e.g.
traffic management - and to harass its political opponents. This
has created huge strife in Bangladesh.
Nepal has now become a deeply crisis-ridden country, thanks to the
Maoist insurgency, the Royal family's assassination, and the
recent dismissal of an elected government by King Gyanendra. The
King has all but directly usurped power and substantially
undermined the gains of the democratisation process from 1990
onwards. Nepal is considered to be a "failing", if not a "failed"
state, even as the monarchy intrudes into political life and
arbitrarily doubles its allowances drawn from the state exchequer.
The Royal Nepal Army's budget has been doubled this year even as
its anti-insurgency activity has increased. But its writ does not
run in 45 to 50 out of Nepal's 75 districts. Twenty-two districts
have no communication with Kathmandu. India has pursued a confused
and inconsistent policy on Nepal. The King is inviting foreign
powers, especially the United States and Britain, to play a major
role in Nepal. There is extensive training by US troops of the
Nepali military. The US supports this role in the name of fighting
Sri Lanka has suffered the worst ravages of militarism in South
Asia through the "war" with the Tamil separatists since 1983. Once
the best model for human development in the entire Third World -
and the first country to have a universal social welfare and food
guarantee system - Sri Lanka has over the past two decades become
a highly militarised society, with bunkers and barbed-wire fences
dotting the entire country. Today, the welfare schemes for which
the country was rightly famous, stand dismantled.
In 1985, Sri Lanka's military spending was 2.6 percent of GDP. By
the mid-1990s, it doubled. It has since reached a horrifying 10
percent of GDP. The size of the armed forces has increased
six-fold over these years. Today, Sri Lanka has about 7 soldiers
per 1,000 population (India has 1.2 and Pakistan 4.6).
There is some good news however: the peace process being brokered
by Norway. There have been three rounds of talks between the
government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and some
progress towards demilitarisation in the North. But there are
misgivings on all sides. It is not clear if the LTTLE has fully
given up the separate state demand. It is trying to establish
despotic one-party rule in whichever area the army vacates. The
Muslim minority is not happy. And the government too is divided.
If the peace process is fully democratised, with assurances of
political pluralism, and if it wins consensual support, Sri Lanka
could get out of the mess. But that is not yet assured.
Bhutan, the tiny Buddhist kingdom, remains a totally authoritarian
monarchy, with little separation between the army, the police and
the civil authorities, all controlled by the Palace.
A significant aspect of militarisation in South Asia is the
growing role of militarist thinking, which promotes the use of
force to resolve disputes and differences. This trend has grown in
the whole region. The US' extremely negative example in declaring
an unending, prolonged, global "war" on terrorism after September
11, 2001, has had a disastrous impact on South Asia. It has
strengthened Right-wing militarist tendencies and rationalised
brutal force in the name of fighting anything that can be branded
Parallel to this, and supplementing it, is the advance of
ethnic-religious political movements and parties like the BJP-RSS
in India, the MMA in Pakistan, and the extreme Right Islamic
alliance with which the BNP shares power in Bangladesh's ruling
Ultimately, security has to do with justice, equality and freedom,
as well as people's empowerment. These are all under threat in
As economic growth falters, as income and regional disparities
sharply increase, and as human securitydecreases, South Asia's
elites rely more and more on force to regain "security". This is
happening increasingly at the level of daily life. As crime rises,
along with joblessness, displacement and destitution, the rich
build higher and higher walls around themselves, the police become
increasingly brutal, and the polity less and less accommodative
and consensual - and society more and more insecure.
The search for security through military means is
(The writer is a widely-read columnist and peace activist).
(For a democratic socialist Pakistan)
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