Published in Daily Times on July 13 2014
Operation Zarb-e-Azb has cost Pakistan at least two billion dollars thus far. This, according to one of Pakistan’s most astute military commentators who is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army, Samson Simon Sharaf. The operation’s effectiveness is now being doubted by military strategists because terrorists seem to have found sanctuary in neighbouring Afghanistan well before the war in North Waziristan started. They say Pakistan is now getting a taste of its own medicine given that it allowed terrorist havens to fester in North Waziristan and Balochistan while Afghanistan struggled with its terrorism problem. The rationale for this double game from Pakistan is one that I have heard all my life: strategic death — sorry — strategic depth. And so, while we have our entire national security focus on the Indian enemy, let us examine what it has cost us.
Approximately seven to eight million children are out of school in Pakistan. This means that one out of every 10 out-of-school child in the world is from Pakistan. According to the Pew survey on Muslim attitudes towards extremism, an astounding 15 million people in Pakistan support terrorism. Juxtaposed together, it is apparent that these out-of-school children will keep adding to the numbers who support extremists. We need not be social scientists to understand the correlations well. Despite this understanding, we choose to neglect our posterity even when sending a child to school costs between two to 20 dollars a month. This means that this war alone could send a billion children to school for a month. In an educational experiment in Africa, it was mandatory to send children to school for a month. After the programme was discontinued, parents still chose to pay out of their own pockets to continue their children’s education.
It has probably taken you a minute to read this far. This is the time it takes for a child in Pakistan to have died from preventable diseases — from expanded programmes on immunisation diseases (EPI), diarrhea and acute respiratory infection (ARI). Every minute that passes, a child has died here. According to the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), more than 400,000 infants die in the first year of their life alone. More than half of Pakistan’s children between 12 to 23 months have not received recommended vaccines. Both the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) and the journal of the Pakistan Medical Association in their reports quote that it takes between $ 15 to 24 to fully immunise a child. This means that this war alone could immunise 83 million children.
Our nation is like that pre-pubescent child with a mind that cannot grasp the concept of differed gratification, analysis or mature decision-making. It is only though a systematic investment in education and health that nations can progress and become self-sustaining. The number of people this war claims to protect from terrorism is minuscule against the inevitable forces of nature that will create death, disease and extremism in no particular order, if we continue to adhere to this uncivilised doctrine.
This war was necessary but let this be the last. Let us be preventive in our approach towards war as we ought to be towards disease. Let us, at the very least, not inject in our already emaciated arm the lethal dose of religious extremism. This drug has been used time and time again by our strategists to manipulate the double games of war we play with our neighbours and allies. They cite that weary term called ‘national interest’, under the garb of which many tragedies take place. Like any drug, it lights up our experiences and then sends us to the depths of despair.
There are models for us to follow around the world — Turkey, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, all who may have had their fair share of developing world challenges but who have all focused on the two central human development indicators to jolt them out of dependency. They have connected to the world though trade and ingenuity and are walking rather than crawling — this means millions have their bread and butter. And, in the end, is this not what the ultimate objective of the sword is?