Contributors: Naseer Memon

May 12, 2014

An article by Naseer Memon published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Millions of the poor make South Asia a hotbed of perpetuating social and political unrest and turmoil. India, with an advantage of a stable democracy, fares slightly better on the human development index with ten rungs above Pakistan. However, the shining India looks darker at 136th if compared with the rest of the world. Pakistan gives a much pallor look at 146th.

Both India and Pakistan boast astronomical armies and arsenal to cow their neighbours and disgruntled compatriots. Pakistan shares acrimonious borders with Afghanistan and India and an ambivalent relationship with Iran at south-western border. Likewise India has troubled relations with China and Pakistan. China’s obsession with regional dominance in South China Sea makes it a friend to none. Whereas China puffs a sizeable amount on defense, its mammoth economy and a large productive population make it a fraction of its resources.

Pakistan and India have a total population of about 1.4 billion and both have above 20 per cent people who live below poverty line. India’s economic growth of over seven per cent has made an impressive dent in poverty and it has halved its poor population during the last ten years.

Pakistan’s official poverty estimates are derided by the situation on ground which lends credence to speculative figures of over 40 per cent. The issue has far deeper political repercussions because both the countries have a predominantly young population that aspires for a quality life and can’t imbibe hollow emotional chants. Pakistan’s median age is twenty-two years and India’s twenty-six years. A sizeable young population with acute discontentment can turn these countries into a powder keg.

A painful birth of two countries was followed by three full-fledged wars and unremitting skirmishes. Resultantly, a deep rooted animosity has made both the countries hostage to a defense-paranoia. The conflict ensued immediately after creation of the two countries. Pakistan was so much preoccupied with defense that the first budget allocated 85 per cent of central government’s revenue to defense. It continued to maul annual budgets.

Bhutto reversed the trend and the development expenditure increased by 21 per cent annually between 1972 and 1977. However, General Zia’s regime made the country a complete security state and the defense budget touched 9 per cent of GDP, dwarfing 6.7 per cent of development share during his waning years; 1987-88. Average growth of development budget was a mere 2.7 per cent during the Zia regime.

Although the breakout of Afghan war in 1979 veered Pakistan’s India-centric foreign policy focus to Western borders, yet both the countries never forgot their first love. India also had two wars with China, which further fuelled its militarisation frenzy.

Today, India and Pakistan boast 3rd and 8th largest armies in the world. India maintains a regular army of 1.32 million. Adding the reserve force and paramilitary, the number swells to 4.7 million. Pakistan has a regular army of 0.61 million. Reserve and paramilitary forces jack up the total to 1.4 million. Hence India and Pakistan have 3.9 and 8.2 soldiers per 1000 population which indicates a larger military-density in Pakistan.

According to the database of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India ranked 8th and Pakistan 25th on military spending among 152 countries of the world, in stark contrast with human development index where they rank 136th and 146th. India and Pakistan respectively spend 2.5 and 2.7 per cent of their GDP on defense appetite, which is a substantial amount that could have been diverted to starving social priorities. The despicable figures sufficiently explain the reason behind an ignoble state of social indicators in both the countries.

Compared to India and Pakistan, China is a different model which dexterously detaches economy from politics. In fact, China is a model to emulate on two accounts i.e. delinking political acrimony from economic ties and blending open market approach with strict regulation. China has taken stunning strides in economic gains that helped extricating over 400 million poor from abject poverty during last three decades.

Western economists and politicians cling to their skepticism and castigate China for its asphyxiating regulation and pumping of state subsidies which they consider an anathema to market principles and a recipe for an impending collapse of the model. Nevertheless, countries like Pakistan and India have a great deal to learn from Chinese model, particularly with reference to detaching political rivalry from economic cooperation while being overwhelmingly committed to both.

China’s trade relations with its arch enemies USA, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, India and Philippines were never affected by its security obstinacy. While despising and frequently trading barbs against them, China maintains a congenial trade relations with otherwise much loathed rivals.

The USA is China’s biggest trade partner accounting for 375 billion USD, which is a significant 10 per cent of China’s international trade. Similarly, its volume of trade with Japan is $256 billion and with South Koreas is $198 billion USD. China has a claim over Taiwan and, therefore, a deep animosity, however two-way trade between Taiwan and China amounted to $168.96 billion in 2012. Both countries in spite of a sore relationship signed a landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in 2010.

China and Vietnam are engaged in a dispute over Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. However, both have excelled in trade during recent years and China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner. Last year their two-way trade stood at $36 billion. China and Philippines also have bitter relations due to claim over few islands as part of power race in the South China Sea. Yet, China is third largest trade partner of embittered Philippines.

Likewise, China and India had major military conflicts in 1962 and 1967. However, since the late 1980s, both countries have revamped diplomatic and economic ties. In 2008, China emerged as India’s largest trading partner and the two countries have also attempted to extend their strategic and military relations. The bilateral trade between the two countries is now crossing over 72 billion USD and is expected to touch 100 billion USD by 2015.

China adopted this pragmatic approach in 1978 when the Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping decided to align foreign policy along the lines of economic interest. He illustrated his approach by his famous words “it does not matter if it is a black cat or white cat. As long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.” His mantra made wonders and within three decades, China took an astounding turnaround and its economy has grown over 9 per cent annually. A country that was manufacturing 200 air conditioners in 1978 was making 48 million units in 2005. Its single day export is now more than the whole year export of 1978.

On the other hand, Pakistan and India sitting over a humongous market of 20 per cent of the world population are unable to harvest potential gains and continue to reek with poverty and disharmony. A paraplegic bilateral trade between the two countries is just a tad.

In 2007-08, Pakistan accounted for only 1.2 per cent of India’s exports and 0.1 per cent of its imports. It has grown marginally in 2011 and total trade between the two countries reached at 2.6 billion USD, negligibly small against the actual potential.

While the whole world is moving towards economic cooperation, centrifugal forces in these countries hamstring mutually benefiting economic cooperation. Both the countries ought to learn from the Chinese model; exorcise visceral acrimonies and detach bullets from bread.


The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.

About the Author: Author is Chief Executive of Strengthening Participatory Organization-SPO;

The Article was published in The News, Political Economy section, 11th May 2014

Document ID :AHRC-ETC-011-2014
Countries : Pakistan
Date : 12-05-2014