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Fight Poverty Not War

By Staff

About 12 million South Asians would be killed and millions seriously injured if even a "limited" nuclear war broke out between India and Pakistan, warn many scientists. This statistic, however, does not take into account the suffering Pakistanis, Indians and others in the region will have to endure with the expected loss of homes, hospitals, water and energy supplies, or the cancers that could develop in future years.

Moreover, if bombs explode on the ground instead of in the air, the resulting radioactive dust could kill people across hundreds of square kilometers. Scientists say the radioactive cloud thrown up by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan could even reach the U.S.

The possibility of this horrific destruction has never been closer than today, as India and Pakistan step up threats of war and retaliation. Central to the dispute between India and Pakistan is Kashmir, a beautiful, mountainous region where the "world's most dangerous border", in the words of the CIA, is located, and over which Pakistan and India have fought three wars in the last 50 years.

Pakistan, India and China all control some part of Kashmir (link to Pakistan has been asking for a peaceful settlement to the Kashmir issue by allowing Kashmiris to determine their future. However, when Kashmiris stood up against Indian oppression in the late eighties, Pakistan's government and its people wholeheartedly supported them.

India is trying to take advantage of the current global "war on terror." It is working hard to crush the Kashmir issue for good by labeling anyone supporting Kashmiris as "terrorist". That of course, includes Pakistan, which Indian officials love to describe as the "epicenter of terrorism".

And amid this tangle of interests and propaganda lie the aspirations of the people of Kashmir themselves. They are the most important party in this dispute. They must have the right to decide whether to become independent or join Pakistan, a right they have been denied for over 50 years.

The solution to the crisis, which takes into account the needs of Kashmiris, is for the appointment of UN observers who, in Pakistani- and Indian-held Kashmir, will develop a timetable for a referendum on the issue.

The real war that Pakistan and India must fight is not one involving nuclear weapons, but one against poverty. According to the World Bank, 45 percent of the population of South Asia lives below the international poverty line of $1 a day, making up about 40 percent of the world's poor. Despite this and other shocking statistics that place Pakistan and India behind most of the world in human development, both countries have devoted staggering amounts to defend themselves against each other . According to Oxfam International, military spending in Pakistan is 25 per cent higher than the health and education budgets combined. While the entire education budget accounts for only 2.7 per cent of the GDP, the defense budget absorbs almost twice this amount. Twenty-five percent of government spending is on defense, while only four percent is allocated to primary education. Although Pakistan can claim that its $3.4 billion annual military budget is one-fourth of India's $13.54 billion defense spending, both countries need to save lives by redirecting their attention to human development instead of war.

All people of conscience have an interest in helping diffuse the dangerous tension between Pakistan and India, while seeking a resolution to the Kashmir issue. Pakistan says it will not start the war but will not hesitate in using nuclear arms to defend itself. No matter who uses the nuclear weapons first, the other country is bound to retaliate assuring mutual destruction.

Date/Time Last Modified: 6/18/2002 8:05:37 AM

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