As India persists in keeping its forces in a war like
posture on its western border, inducing a reciprocal response from Pakistan,
there is a clear and present danger of escalation. This was illustrated
by the incident on 23rd August 2002 when Indian troops supported by their
air force launched an unsuccessful attempt to intrude along the line of
control in the Gultari sector. The longer the military forces of the two
countries remain deployed in forward positions, the more frequent such
incidents are likely to be and therefore the greater the chances of igniting
a war. There is a dangerously misleading formulation amongst some strategic
thinkers in India that it can achieve its objectives of coercive diplomacy
through a limited conventional war with Pakistan. (limited either in space
but for an extended period or limited in time but over an extended space).
In any case it is this proposition that underlies sharply escalating Indian
military expenditures in recent years, to acquire hi-tech weapon systems
for its conventional armoury. In this article we will question the prevailing
logic of "national security", and then examine the economic
and human consequences of a brief but full scale conventional war between
India and Pakistan.
South Asia is the poorest and yet the most militarized
region in the world. The arms race between India and Pakistan (with these
two countries accounting for 93 percent of total military expenditure
in South Asia) is primarily responsible for this cruel irony. According
to Dr. Mahbub-ul-Haq's Report on Human Development in South Asia, India
ranked by the World Bank at 142 in terms of per capita income, ranks first
in the world in terms of arms imports. Pakistan is not far behind, being
ranked 119 in terms of per capita income, and tenth in the world in terms
of arms imports. What is even more significant is that while global military
spending declined by 37 percent during the period 1987-94, military spending
in South Asia increased by 12 percent.
These military expenditures whose scale is unprecedented
in the developing world, are being undertaken in the pursuit of "National
Security". In a situation where 53 percent of the children in South
Asia are malnourished and 36 percent of the population deprived of safe
drinking water, the logic of such large and growing military expenditures
needs to be questioned. The trade-offs between military expenditures and
the provision of basic services are worth considering. For example, a
modern submarine with associated support systems, costs US$ 300 million,
which would be enough to provide safe drinking water to 60 million people.
The issue that arises is whether national security can be sustainable
when achieved at such heavy cost to citizens' security?
Given the diplomatic capability of the international
community and the military capabilities of India and Pakistan respectively,
a conventional war if it comes, is not likely to last for much longer
than 20 days. Let us examine the economic cost of a war of this duration
between the two countries. According to one estimate, just the operational
cost of a 20 day war (i.e. the cost of fuel, ammunition, spare parts and
extra pay to soldiers) would be about Rs.100 billion for Pakistan (Rs.5
billion per day) and Rs. 160 billion for India (Rs.8 billion per day).
If we add to this the cost of mending the expected damage done to airfields,
bridges and railway lines alone, the cost increases to about Rs.200 billion
for Pakistan and about Rs.260 billion for India (assuming that the level
of damage to such infrastructure is the same on both sides). This estimate
does not include the cost of replacing weapons, building manufacturing
units and other assets destroyed during the war, nor does it take account
of the negative impact on investment and GDP growth resulting from budgetary
pressures and infrastructure bottlenecks in the immediate aftermath of
the war. Thus, just the running expenses of a 20 day war may be roughly
Rs.200 billion for Pakistan and Rs.260 billion for India. This constitutes
9% of central government revenue of India and about 46% of total revenue
receipts for Pakistan.
The macro economic consequences of such expenses would
include a squeeze on development expenditure in India for at least one
year after the war and for at least two years in the case of Pakistan.
At the same time in the period immediately following the war, restrictions
may have to be placed on imports including industrial raw materials and
crude oil, leading to declining investment , slower growth of GDP and
severe shortages of consumer goods combined with high inflation rates.
Moreover additional taxes would have to be placed on the public to finance
the sharply increased budget deficits.
It is clear that the economic consequences of a short
duration conventional war between India and Pakistan would lead to acute
financial pressures on both countries, deteriorated infrastructure, a
sharp slow down in investment and GDP growth, shortages of consumer goods,
inflation and unemployment. These economic consequences are likely to
have a relatively greater impact on the poorer social groups and the relatively
backward regions. The resultant intensified polarization in society and
politics are likely to accentuate pressures on state structures in both
Pakistan and India.
A deadly dimension has been added to the India Pakistan
military tensions, by the fact that both countries have nuclear weapons.
There are three features of the sub continental strategic environment
which imply a high probability of a conventional war escalating into a
nuclear war. Consequently nuclear deterrence is inherently unstable in
the India Pakistan context: (a) The flying time of nuclear missiles between
India and Pakistan is less than five minutes. This creates the danger
of nuclear missiles being unleashed in response to disinformation about
an enemy attack. (b) The absence of a second strike capability makes a
pre-emptive nuclear strike probable, during a period of high tension,
inspite of India's claims to a no-first use doctrine. (c) The unresolved
Kashmir dispute which fuels tensions between the two countries, and makes
them susceptible to disinformation about each other's intentions. The
presence of these factors makes the probability of a nuclear war higher
than in any other region on earth. To the extent that this is so, the
concepts of deterrence and national security through nuclear weapons in
South Asia become questionable.
Recent estimates suggest that even in a limited nuclear exchange between
India and Pakistan, with their existing nuclear capabilities, over 100
million people would die and many hundreds of millions more would subsequently
suffer from radiation related illnesses. Under these circumstances the
threat to citizens' security in South Asia as a result of pursuing the
arms race, has become incalculably greater than before. Moreover, given
the high rate of obsolescence of nuclear weapons, the resource cost of
a nuclear arms race will accelerate the diversion of resources from development
to weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, while it is certain that
poverty would be accentuated, and human security undermined, the achievement
of 'national security' in India and Pakistan through such means would
If poverty is to be overcome, and indeed, if life itself is to survive
in South Asia, then a new mindset in the conduct of governance may be
necessary. There is a need to get out of the strait jacket of notions
in which power is based on the capacity to kill, and insecurity is fuelled
by demonized perceptions of each other's identities. The new mindset of
governance would be drawn from the wellsprings of love, universal humanism,
and the desire for a creative interplay amongst culturally diverse people.
These wellsprings irrigate the respective civilizations in South Asia.
Only within this radically different psychic perspective of governance
would it be possible to resolve outstanding territorial disputes, achieve
nuclear disarmament and reap the peace dividend for the peoples of South