Moving beyond the arms race
People need health and education more than armaments
The Kartarpur Corridor at the Indo-Pak border is not just a religious symbol, it is a hope of millions of people across the border who have been denied the opportunity to visit their nears and dears, to have a glimpse of the places they or their predecessors were born at, lived in, and spent their childhood and part of their youth. There has been the denial of a strong wish to meet their newly developed friends through modern technology – Facebook and WhatsApp, etc. With a similar background of cultural values, people of the two countries have always had a strong yearning to go to the places they have been only reading about. The Kartarpur Corridor would also be an opportunity to break myths being spread against each other. It is only when one visits Pakistan from India or vice versa that one realises how much is the love lost between the two people who, not too long ago in the history, lived together. The political reasons distanced them through lines but could not break the bonds of brotherhood/sisterhood. The success story of Sada-e-Sarhad bus service started in 1999 during the Vajpayee government is a glaring example. It is time and an opportunity that has come before us through Kartarpur Corridor which we should not lose.
The path, however, is not so simple or straightforward. Only a few days back while addressing an event to highlight the 100-day achievement of Punjab government, Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan said that "we will show the Modi government how to treat minorities. Even in India, people are saying that minorities are not being treated as equal citizens". This was an unnecessary statement. Everyone knows that the Indian Constitution gives equal rights to all its citizens belonging to any religion, ethnicity, caste, creed or gender. We do not need sermons from an outsider. Imran Khan's statement amounted to interference in India's internal affairs. This statement is also in total disregard to his previous utterances suggesting that the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. It is well on record that during the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor he had warned that a war between India and Pakistan would be catastrophic as both possess nuclear weapons. In this context, his statement of teaching India about minority rights is totally unacceptable.
On the similar lines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in an interview on January 1, 2019, said that 'Pakistan will not learn lesson from one war. They will take more time to mend the ways'. We have been hearing this rhetoric from both sides since long. This would lead us to nowhere. For any country to be able to wipe out the other from the globe is just an imagination. We need to think beyond such statements.
We are the nations where a vast majority of people live in abject poverty. India's hunger index is at 103 out of 118 countries and Pakistan's is 106. We are even below our other neighbours in South Asia. Our ranking in the Human Development Index is 130 while Pakistan is 150. This is at a time when India is said to be a fast-growing economy. But the arms race has put a stop to our inclusive development. People are devoid of basic needs like food, shelter, health, education. Our per capita public health spending is just 1,108 rupees.
India's defence expenditure is 1.62 per cent of its GDP, while its central health budget is 0.26 per cent of GDP, six times less than its arms budget. Pakistan's spending on arms is equivalent with a budgetary allocation of 8.9 billion USD. With Pakistan, worth 300 billion USD economy, its defence expenditure comes to 2.9 per cent of the GDP. Pakistan is out to purchase modern tanks, while India is spending a large amount on combat vehicles. This arms race is making the situation worse as it is taking resources away from social needs. The only way is to put an end to the rhetoric, have dialogue and leave a better future for our next generations.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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