Conflict, and selfish economic interests within
Successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir have been face to face with a severe social and economic decline here. In post-2002 Jammu and Kashmir, the State governments have remained very vocal about bringing peace through development and this line of action has been shared, endorsed and supported by the Union governments in New Delhi too. On the face of it, such assertions carry some weight, at least theoretically. But as happens in this part of the world, theory and practice remain grossly separated and segregated as is evidenced by the fact that whatever figures in political speeches is very rarely reflected through actual actions on the ground in Kashmir. Although in the kind of situation facing Jammu and Kashmir, the key objective of the governments should be to restore economic and social conditions as quickly as possible, but as of now the state is yet to see the kind of policy reforms that are needed to realize this objective.
Take for instance, the amounts spent to deal with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir militarily. Even as a whole lot of studies conducted into the economics of conflicts by experts under the aegis of influential institutions like the World Bank suggest that increased thrust on dealing with the conflicts militarily (as is reflected by increased spending on security), does not alter conflicts as much as political initiatives do, the huge security expenditures incurred by the state are indicative of the faulty policy in this regard. A study conducted by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler has found out that the effect of military spending is significantly different in post-conflict situations. As per the government’s claims, Kashmir is already in post-conflict stage. Collier and Hoeffler say “high level of military spending post-conflict significantly increases the risk of reversion to war”. Now taking this finding as a pointer, the increased military spending is not only not contributing to peace but is instead increasing and aggravating the further risk of war. Certainly then, one can and should question the logic and rationale of the policy adopted by New Delhi in Jammu and Kashmir vis-à-vis military or security spending.
As has been witnessed, thanks to their conflict ‘over Kashmir’, India and Pakistan have been, or at least trying to matching each-other on military spending. Although it means that both are losing precious resources which could suffice the basic needs of teeming millions living in abject poverty in the both countries, but given the deficit of trust that plagues their relationship, more the one country spends on military, more the other thinks it too has to invest to remain prepared for a possible showdown. Same argument may be extended to match the internal situation within Jammu and Kashmir, which translates into meaning that the more spending on security matters by the government induces the militants too to spend more to prepare for renewal of conflict. These fears have been expressed in a study “Aid, Policy and Growth in Post-Conflict Societies” published by the World Bank way back in the year 2003.
The study suggests a policy lesson for the governments – that they should be wary of the strong lobbying pressures for maintaining high military spending. There is certainly a vested interest of the huge military industrial complex, as well as the protagonists among the security establishment attached to the security-related expenditure which government needs to be careful about. In addition to the problems resulting from such spending, suggests the study, the government could forego the opportunity to realize a peace dividend from reduced spending. Couple of years back, India’s then Home Secretary did talk about this problem although not as explicitly. But he did mention about the vested interest within the security establishment as one of the prime reasons for continuation of hostilities. It is high time that both New Delhi as well as the State government takes some leaves out of the World Bank study and try and figure out the wrongs they are perpetuating either by default or at the behest of a powerful vested interest in its security and military-industrial establishment. Indeed it would also be worthwhile to look at the debate over the continuation or revocation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) under the larger paradigm of vested interests – within and without.