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Security threat and its costs

June 08, 2011

AFTER the death of Osama bin Laden, Pakistan has been shamed internationally and has come under heightened threat domestically.

The vicious cycles of suicide bombings and drone attacks continue. Meanwhile, Pakistan's allies have been giving the country a strict talking to.

Pakistan counters by pointing out that as a country, it has paid a high price for this war. Not only have lives been lost but a financial toll has been extracted as well. There have been over 30,000 terror-related casualties between 2003 and 2010, and the war costs approximately three times more than the bilateral assistance the country receives. In 2009-10, the government spent close to $10bn on direct and indirect costs of the war, while it received $3.6bn in aid.

Rational discourse between Pakistan and its allies on the actual situation of this war is lacking, and amongst this political turmoil the Pakistani people seem to have been forgotten. Pakistan is wedged between two conflicting narratives and the country has been unable to provide a clear position on its actions internally or to its allies.

A survey conducted last year by the Social Policy Development Centre (SPDC), Karachi, to evaluate the impact of conflict on households in four Fata contiguous districts (FCDs) and Swat revealed that community leaders commonly believed that the 'war on terror' is an international conspiracy. This, in essence, represents the opinion of people that live in some of the worst conflict-affected areas. This view has been voiced again after Bin Laden's assassination and the attack on the PNS Mehran base.

All the while, Pakistan's allies have been insinuating that the country is supporting the very enemies it has promised to defeat. The people of Pakistan are confused and angry, and the government and the establishment have not yet been able to provide the nation with the answers it deserves. Domestically, there is talk of holding leaders accountable, but the chances of this happening appear slim considering Pakistan's track record.

A shift in priorities towards the needs of the people is of utmost importance. The survey revealed community leaders' main concern regarding the current conflict is the economy and economic survival. This should come as no surprise considering poverty in the FCDs and Swat. As calculated by the SPDC, it is close to 54 per cent and 61 per cent respectively. The survey showed that 67 per cent of household heads displayed signs of psychological distress, a disconcerting dimension of the impact of the war that has largely been ignored in public discourse.

As the intensity of the 'war on terror' has increased, the economic situation has worsened. According to SPDC estimates, in 2004-05 the incidence of poverty was 30 per cent and in 2007-08 it increased to 38 per cent; this means that more than 15 million people fell below the poverty line in this three-year period.

An analysis based on SPDC estimates and government budget documents shows government spending on security in 2010-11 reached Rs800bn, 4.7 per cent of the country's GDP. This is a cumulative growth rate of 17 per cent per annum over the last decade.

Within security spending, there has been a four-and-a-half-fold increase in defence affairs and services from Rs10bn to Rs50bn and a five-fold increase in public order and safety (police) from 2000-01 to 2010-11 (at current prices). Increased security expenditure has unquestionably reduced public spending on social services and resulted in the slowdown of social development. Consequently, Pakistan will most likely not meet most of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Furthermore, development expenditure seems to be unaligned with need. In the health sector, spending over the last decade has accounted for less than 1 per cent of the GDP. Within the health budget, mother and child healthcare generally receives less than 1 per cent of the total health spending. These figures are shocking considering Pakistan's high infant and maternal mortality rates. Spending on education as a percentage of GDP increased from 1.3 per cent in 2000-01 to 1.9 per cent in 2008-09, and then declined to 1.5 per cent of the GDP in 2009-10. Annual Review 2009-10

One may argue that these are necessary sacrifices that the government has had to make in the name of national security. However, when it is widely accepted that “militancy, extremism, violence and intolerance have their roots embedded in the systemic failure of both institutions and social development policies initiated by respective governments” (SPDC's ), there seems little room for this argument.

In fact, according to the World Bank, Pakistan's governance situation has deteriorated rapidly over the past decade. In 2009, Pakistan ranked below the regional average for the World Bank's governance indicators. Further, Pakistan's rating for most governance indicators such as control of corruption, the rule of law, government effectiveness and political stability fell during the period between 2000 and 2009. Annual Review 2009-10

Canvassing a range of members from civil society, SPDC found that civil society was of the view that “feudalism, poverty, a shortage of investment in human development and lack of attention to civil facilities for the poor and less privileged are the main factors for widespread despair and dissatisfaction in the country” (SPDC's ).

However, civil society's voice has failed to reverberate with society at large or to influence those in power. In fact, successive governments have shown they have no appetite to take on these issues. Poor and without recourse, the people of Pakistan are left to fend for themselves. The souring of bilateral relationships and the imminent exit of Pakistan's allies is sure to leave the country in a precarious, albeit familiar, situation. n

Instead of hunting out old best friends and focusing on 'strategic depth', perhaps Pakistan should use this period to look inwards. Self-reflection might lead to the realisation that the key to the country's sustainability lies in the very people it has chosen to ignore.

The writer is a research assistant at the Social Policy Development Centre, Karachi.