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In the macho military logic of Subcontinental hawks, any talk of even a freezing of defence budgets is treason. Our pampered generals know that their privileged lifestyles are threatened by peace. That is why, when reconstituted doves like Mahbub ul Haq go around calling for a reduction in the military budgets of India and Pakistan, the military and its lapdog media on both sides of the Sutlej dismiss them as Utopian peaceniks. But it is an indication of the overall cooling of Indo-Pakistan bilateral tensions that the media were unusually tolerant of Mr Haq during his latest development shuttle through SAARC capitals in May. Mr Haq was pushing the conclusions of his Human Development in South Asia 1997 report to the region´s leaders just ahead of the summit in Male. The timing couldn´t have been better to talk about the links between peace, development and democracy. The unusual spring thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations presented a narrow window of opportunity. But the present rapprochement is precariously dependent on the longevity of fragile coalitions and the tolerance threshold of itchy military brass.

The South Asian human development report shows clearly how military spending in every region of the world has gone down since 1985 – except in South Asia, where it has actually increased by 12 percent. And yet, as we are all aware, this is a region that can least afford to keep standing armies. The ratio of soldiers to doctors in South Asia is revealing: four soldiers for every doctor in India, nine for Pakistan and a shocking 35 soldiers per doctor in Nepal.

The report expounds on a new definition of security that does not confine it to military matters: "It is widely recognised that national security cannot be achieved in a situation where people starve but arms accumulate; where social expenditure falls while military expenditure rises." In short, the governments of India and Pakistan simply cannot afford to remain enemies any more. The slums are already encroaching into the outskirts of the cantonments.

With India and Pakistan, it is pretty clear what must be done: mutual confidence-building exercises to make the thaw last so that the war machine on both sides can be frozen at present levels which will free up a peace dividend worth 40 billion dollars. You don´t have to be a peacenik to realise that the only way to save a patient is to stop the haemorrhage first, that will buy time to cure the other ills.

But what of the small South Asian countries who keep large armies even though they have no discernible external enemy? The Human Development Report is silent on internal security, and its cause-effect links with development. Bhutan, which has evicted one-sixth of its population, may have admirable per capita parameters simply because existing resources are divided up among a much smaller population.

Military spending for "internal security" could be the subject for next year´s report by Mr Haq. Sri Lanka today spends close to a quarter of its annual budget in pursuing a military solution to a festering civil war that threatens to erase past achievements in basic health and education. Nepal keeps a bloated, outsized army that seems to be kept intact only because it is a national heritage.

Internal security and human development are intertwined in a vicious cycle. You don´t have to be a blood-thirsty military dictator lavishing large slices of the national budget to the men in green to be responsible for deprivation. Apathetic and unaccountable elected leaders incapable of understanding the long-term implication of their neglect, corruption and indifference can be even more lethal. As grievances pile up, oppressed people pushed to the brink resort to violence.

Of the 82 conflicts in the world in the past two decades, 79 were within nations and 90 percent of the casualties in them were civilians. Most of these conflicts were the result of falling incomes and lack of jobs. Many so-called "civil wars" are actually a direct result of wrong priorities in development. As Dr Haq told us in an interview: "These struggles are often dubbed ´ethnic conflicts´ or problems of ´internal security´ but that is a mistake. These are, in fact, breakdowns of human development, explosions of human despair, manifestation of frustrated human expectations. The solution is neither a big stick nor a firm hand but greater priority for human development."

The Human Development in South Asia report is a warning not just to the rulers of India and Pakistan to stop their mutual destruction, but also to smaller South Asian countries to start caring about their people.

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