Talking peace, readying for war

Rubina Saigol May 18, 2010

Recently, Pakistan test-fired two ballistic missiles, Shaheen-1 with a range of 650 kilometres, and Ghaznavi that can hit targets at a distance of 290 kilometres. Both missiles can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads. The prime minister witnessed the launch and asked the world to recognise Pakistan as a legitimate nuclear power. This display of nuclear prowess comes soon after the meeting of the Indian and Pakistani heads of government in Bhutan where the two sides talked about ‘normalising’ relations. After the collapse of dialogue following the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, Pakistan repeatedly pressed India for composite dialogue, while India remained adamant that Pakistan must first end cross-border terrorism. There was a small and cautious thaw in icy relations following pressure by other powers. The two sides agreed, in principle, to talk peace.

Pakistan is not at war with any country. It is at war only with itself — with its own terrorists who are killing its own citizens on a regular basis. Why then, does it need a deadly arsenal of advanced techno-killers that it cannot possibly use in its civil war? Similarly, why does India need to test fire its vast array of missiles from time to time when it is only at war with Maoists on its own territory? The spectacular display of Shaheen or Ghaznavi on the one side and Agni and Akash on the other has more to do with a kind of morbid nationalism on both sides of the border.

This virulently militarist nationalism assures citizens that while they may not have food, electricity, education or health they are absolutely secure because the nation has produced effective long-distance killers against an imagined enemy in an equally imaginary war. Simultaneously, such displays send a message to the ‘enemy’ that we are a potent and virile nation. While the justification for such weaponry of mass destruction is self-defence and deterrence, in reality the missiles are symbols of aggression.

In 2009, India’s defence spending rose by almost 50 per cent to a colossal $32.7 billion, which is about 2.7 per cent of its GDP. Around one-third Indians live below the poverty line of $2 per day. Pakistan spends between $4 and $7 billion on defence, while unofficial figures place its poverty levels at over 40 per cent. Pakistan’s external debt stands at over $50 billion and the country is currently under another IMF Stabilisation Programme which promises to enhance poverty through the lifting of subsidies and increasing the price of utilities. But the race for weapons is on.

The US is the biggest supplier of conventional arms to conflict areas across the world and will sell to all sides of the conflict. In our death lies their salvation and in our mutual destruction their fabulous riches. The defence expenditures of rich states, as well as those locked in a debilitating arms race with a rival state, have become astronomical. After the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan global military spending surged by 45 per cent to an all-time high of $1.45 trillion in 2008, of which the US accounts for 41.5 per cent, whilst having close to 70 per cent control of the global market for arms exports. The most rapid area of growth on defence spending is represented by the fast-growing economies of the developing world.

American aid to countries across the world is tied to the purchase of arms. The US has agreed to provide Israel aid to the tune of $2.77 billion in 2010 and $30 billion over the next ten years. Israel is bound by an agreement to use 75 per cent of this aid to buy US military hardware. Egypt receives $1.7 billion from the US, also tied to military purchases. Of the total amount of $5.1 billion given as military aid by the US to various governments, $4.7 billion was in the form of grants to enable them to buy US equipment. Global armament companies like military-industrial giants JavelinCorp, United Crucifix, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop rake in huge profits as the ruling elites of poor countries starve their populations and deprive them of health and education, to create a sense of false security.

It is time for people’s human security to replace the outmoded notion of national security.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.