Arms Race Leaves Medicine Behind


By Paul Watson

Los Angeles Times
November 12, 2003

India and Pakistan spend billions on weapons while aid groups struggle for funds to fight polio and tuberculosis.

When India signed a contract to buy a $1-billion military radar system last month, foreign aid agencies were still searching for $50 million in donations to defeat the country's polio scourge. Across the border, Pakistan's armed forces were updating their multibillion-dollar shopping list, including a request for U.S.-made F-16 jets, while aid groups fighting a tuberculosis epidemic struggled against a lethal funding gap.

India and Pakistan, locked in an escalating arms race, were the world's second- and third-biggest weapons importers last year. Only China spent more on the international weapons market, according to the 2003 yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a leading monitor of the global arms trade.

Arms control advocates argue that foreign development aid for health, education and other projects allows India and Pakistan to divert huge portions of their budgets to a military buildup that could trigger the fourth major war between the two nuclear-armed countries since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. "All external assistance frees resources for arms spending," Husain Haqqani, a leading Pakistani journalist and visiting scholar at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a phone interview.

"So basically, the international development community has to put its foot down and say: 'This is what we think has to be your optimum national security spending figure, and if you exceed that, no money from us for schools. You can build them with the money you're spending on arms.' "

As a group, aid workers are among the loudest opponents of arms sales because many of them see firsthand the human costs of war. But aid agencies are reluctant to deny support for the poor in order to punish the politicians. "It's better to work with governments, and prod them in the right direction, on issues such as the fight against polio that affect the whole world," said Maria Calivis, UNICEF representative in India. "I also know that when that is done, you can galvanize a lot of support rather than taking the risk of postponing the resolution of such issues."

Polio Outbreak

The human cost of the Indian government's priorities is painfully evident in a polio epidemic that struck the country's north last year. The disease severely disables or kills its victims, many of whom are children infected by dirty water. Polio was close to joining smallpox in being eradicated until it struck back with a vengeance in two of India's poorest states. They accounted for 71% of the world's 1,920 confirmed polio cases in 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The World Health Organization blamed the Indian epidemic on a drop in the number of vaccinations. An intensified polio eradication program in India will cost more than $94 million next year, and campaign organizers are still looking for foreign donors to pledge more than half that amount, Calivis said. India has reported only 160 polio cases so far this year, and the target date for preventing the transmission of polio anywhere on Earth is the end of next year, Calivis added.

Tuberculosis kills more than 50,000 Pakistanis a year and infects 250,000. The infectious lung disease is easily prevented with vaccination, or treated with relatively cheap drugs. More than a third of India and Pakistan's people live in desperate poverty. Their governments' dismal records on public health, education and aiding the poor have kept them in the bottom third of nations on the United Nations' human development index. India ranks 127th, while Pakistan is 144th on the U.N.'s ranking of 175 countries, which looks at child mortality, literacy and other factors. Norway is first on the list and the U.S. seventh.

The arms race between India and Pakistan has intensified since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. While Russia remains India's biggest arms supplier, and China is Pakistan's, the U.S. is aggressively pursuing stronger defense ties on the subcontinent. Eleven days after the Sept. 11 strikes, President Bush lifted a ban on weapons sales to India and Pakistan that had been imposed mainly as punishment for their nuclear arms programs and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's 1999 coup.

Last month, the Pentagon agreed to refurbish Pakistan's 40 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and to allow North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Belgium to sell more F-16s to the country, Defense Secretary Hamid Nawaz Khan told reporters in Islamabad, the capital. He said Pentagon officials had assured him that Congress would approve the sales, which would be made under a $3-billion aid package Bush pledged after a June meeting with Musharraf at Camp David. Half of the grant was allocated for military aid.

Last year, the U.S. publication Defense News reported that India planned to spend $95 billion on arms and equipment over 15 years, with almost a third of it going to the air force to buy combat aircraft, missiles and radar systems. India increased its defense spending by at least 14% this year to more than $13 billion, according to the federal budget, which some experts say does not disclose the full cost of defense. By the official figures, the military consumed about 15% of Indian government money. India's budget totaled $91.2 billion this year, and 7% of it went to social services such as schools and health care programs.

Pakistan's much smaller and weaker economy is more vulnerable to the costs of an arms race. Its budget figures show that Musharraf, who is still commanding general of the armed forces, hasn't been able to keep up with the Indian military's spending increases. But defense is still claiming a huge portion of government money. Pakistan says it spent more than $2.5 billion on defense this year, which is roughly the same as last year's amount, according to the government. Roughly 14% of what the Pakistani government spends this year will go to the military.

Economic Drain

Measured as a percentage of the economy, defense spending is a much bigger drain on Pakistan than India. New Delhi spends about 2.5% of its gross domestic product on the military, while Pakistan's military costs amount to 4.5% of GDP, the Stockholm institute says. U.S. defense spending, which soared in reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks, is expected to exceed 4% of GDP next year.

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave more than $70 million in development assistance to India last year for projects such as child disease prevention, environmental protection and support for women and girls. The agency's development assistance budget for Pakistan last year was $50 million. It funded projects such as primary education and literacy programs, basic health services and support for democracy. The figures don't include hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government loans and other nonmilitary support to India and Pakistan, or money sent by private donors such as church groups.

India and Pakistan almost went to war last year over India's claims that Pakistan was launching cross-border terrorist attacks, but intense U.S. and European pressure helped avert a conflict. Although both countries insist they want peace, they have made only limited steps toward direct negotiations, and India says it continues to suffer attacks by militants it says are supported by Pakistan. Islamabad recently accused India of training militants in Afghanistan to launch attacks in Pakistan.

Last month's deal between India and Israel for the Phalcon airborne early-warning radar system has put pressure on Musharraf to go shopping for something similar. Because Pakistan's conventional military is much weaker than India's, it relies more heavily on nuclear weapons as a deterrent. An angry Musharraf vowed to take steps to neutralize any Indian advantage. "We will maintain that no-win situation, come what may," Musharraf said. "This the world should know and India should know. They have reached an agreement and we will counter it. That has to be very clear."

It was only the latest in a long line of accusations, threats and counter-threats between India and Pakistan. The sparring reached an ominous new level in January when Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes warned Pakistan that it would be obliterated in a nuclear war. "We have been saying all through that the person who heads Pakistan today, who is also the whole and sole in charge of that country, has been talking about using dangerous weapons, including the nukes," Fernandes told a radio call-in show. "Well, I would reply by saying that if Pakistan has decided that it wants to get itself destroyed and erased from the world map, then it may take this step of madness, but if it wants to survive, then it would not do so."

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