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Dividends of peace

March 07, 2014

THE problem is not new: instead of working to lift the region’s 1.6 billion people out of poverty, South Asias governments are more focused on external security. This is especially true of the India-Pakistan relationship. Having mutual hostility in common, both establishments’ priorities seem skewed and are not at all people-centric. In the words of Crises, Vulnerability and Poverty in South Asia, a report released in Karachi on Wednesday, militarisation in some South Asian states has come at the cost of the health and education sectors. The report has been compiled by the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, a transnational collective of regional NGOs, and contains input from all eight South Asian nations. It is a sad reality that while the region’s countries spend billions of dollars on arms and ammunition, 40pc of the world’s poor are said to live in South Asia. What is more, poverty in India is said to be at 29.8pc, while Pakistan does not fare much better at 22.3pc. The report notes that while there is growth, it is mostly exclusionary. For instance, growth of the Indian economy has come at the cost of the “marginalisation of a vast section of society”, while “bad governance attacks the roots of democracy” in Pakistan. Overcoming these challenges is no easy task, yet the priorities of South Asia’s leaders seem to be on other matters.

In such unstable times, security is no doubt essential, especially for stability. However, in Pakistan’s case internal security has become a much bigger problem than any external threat. In fact, if the internal situation were stable, it would automatically encourage growth and development. In South Asia, it is very much possible to reduce spending on external security and use these resources for improving the lot of the people. For this a shift in thinking is needed at the top, specifically amongst the respective establishments of Pakistan and India. Reducing bilateral tensions and normalising the relationship can free up resources that can then be spent on the welfare of the people. Peace between South Asia’s two major players is bound to bring dividends to the people of the region so that states can then work together to fight poverty, illiteracy, disease and hunger.