THE establishment of the India Rapid Reaction Cell at the Pentagon should be cause for much disappointment among peace-minded people in both India and Pakistan.
The cell is designed to streamline the coordination required for India’s procurement of American arms; its creation shows the eagerness with which the US government wants to tap into India’s growing weapons procurement drive.
The idea for the cell, the only one of its kind, had its origins in President Obama’s visit to Delhi in January. The cell is set to ramp up its work in the months to come.
It is already working on the development of an aircraft carrier for India, and its work goes far beyond simply streamlining coordination for procurement, as it also facilitates the design of weapons systems and other measures to enhance technological collaboration.
Over the past few years, India has emerged as the world’s largest buyer of weapons systems as the arms build-up gathers momentum. Many of the weapons systems in which India is showing an interest make little sense for a country that faces no serious conventional threat from any of its neighbours.
This procurement is fuelling an inevitable arms build-up in Pakistan too, which is in the midst of a weapons acquisition drive of its own. When India demonstrated its keenness to buy the French Rafale fighter jet in early summer, for instance, Pakistan announced its interest in buying the SU 35 from Russia.
And more worryingly, as India ramps up its conventional capability, Pakistan increases its reliance on non-conventional capabilities as a cheaper alternative.
This arms build-up by the two countries is hardly necessary in a region that badly needs to sow the seeds of cooperation rather than increase rivalry.
And it is disappointing, as well as self-defeating for America that it should be facilitating the arms race for its own commercial purposes, especially since its foreign policy objectives in the region call for greater harmony and integration.
It would be naïve to underestimate the power of greed and ego that is fuelling this regrettable enterprise. Rationality will need to shout to be heard in the midst of this turbo-charged arms build-up that is escalating in both countries, but the voice of reason and peace has rarely been needed more.
Peace-minded constituencies on both sides need to similarly boost their efforts to be heard, and keep up the argument of regional cooperation and shared prosperity regardless of how difficult it might be to imagine these values in such times. South Asia has the benefit of being relatively removed from the growing conflicts to its east, and the rising tensions to its west.
It would be fit and proper to build our future away from the clamour of conflict and nationalistic bombast. That is the rare gift of geography to us. Let us not squander it.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2015