A journalistic endeavor by prominent writer Amitav Ghosh, Countdown is a work of relevance, particularly in the wake of the current developments in South Asian geopolitics. For one, it is an early sketch of the proportionality principle of warfare and the much-debated Pakistani defence budget that has made news of late.
The government t of Pakistan on Tuesday allocated a sum of Rs 6.1 crore to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a militant outfit in the state budget. The same group was provided remuneration of around Rs eight crores in 2009. This comes five days after the govt donated Rs 60 crores to its infamous external intelligence agency, ISI to carry out a ‘special assignment’.
The proportionality principle stands as a check to philosophies that advocate war, among them the ‘just war’ theory, a proposition that calls for the ‘ethical necessity of war’ which in turn has roots in Carl von Clausewitz’s notion of ‘absolute war’ - a fight to the finish. The highly controversial theory of ‘just war’ has a place of intellectual regard in the defence forces of the modern West and almost led to the outbreak of a nuclear conflict during the Cold war era, a period that saw use of costly espionage. It has, of late, been used in the flawed logic behind the wars in Iraq at the great financial losses for the NATO allies.
Amitav Ghosh has discussed warfare purely in its proportional value as deterrent citing the costs of basic equipment in inhospitable terrains like the Siachin, where it then cost (in 1998) about $ 60,000 per soldier. He also mentioned the costs of nuclear manufacturing in the US at approximately $3.5 trillion for 70,000 warheads.
His book thus demystifies the psychology of 21st century warfare beyond stockpiling and nuclear alarm, but also introduces the economic strains behind it. He uses the word ‘national prestige’ in the context of key players of the subcontinent — India and Pakistan — over their competition to keep with technological supremacy in a bid for regional hegemony.
The definition of strategy has changed from combat tactics to governmentpolicies and boardroom politicians have replaced generals on the battlefield. Ghosh astutely remarks how the amount to sustain the arms race can in turn provide livelihood to many.