Posts Tagged ‘Voter’

Who Wants Peace in the Subcontinent?

September 30, 2008

It is often asserted that the majority of people in India and Pakistan desire peace. Do you believe that?

Even if they don’t, some suggest that if only people knew how much it is costing to keep up the state of conflict they would become advocates for peace. Well, here is the information as calculated in 2004 by the Strategic Foresight Group, Mumbai, in their report Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan.

The summary of the report claims that “the Siachen conflict alone will cost India Rs 7,200 crores and Pakistan Rs 1,800 crores in the next five years;” that “India and Pakistan have the potential to enjoy a trade of about $1 billion if the hostile environment continues and $13.25 billion if peace prevails on a cumulative basis for the next five years (2004-08) resulting in an opportunity loss of $12 billion;” and that “Kashmir lost 27 million tourists from 1989-02 leading to a tourism revenue loss of Rs 16,500 crores.”

Whether the numbers are fully accurate or not, it is safe to say that they are likely to be very large. This kind of sustained conflict cannot be conducted on the cheap. The magnitude of the costs should not be a surprise.

What is a surprise is the fact that such a report has not made more waves. It has not woken up people and made them angry at so much money being diverted from development that would otherwise benefit ordinary people. It has not made them demand peace from their political representatives. On the contrary, the report has faded from memory like most of the news items in newspapers. Why?

Could it be that the oft-asserted existence of a very large number of people desiring peace is a myth? Had that been the case surely there would have been a “Peace” party that would have rallied support using the report as damning evidence of the cost of conflict.  Would it not have made political use of it to canvass support, to campaign on the platform of peace and development, and contested elections on that agenda?

But the fact is that there is no party of peace in either India or Pakistan, not even one that comes close to such a position. In fact, almost every party in opposition in either country accuses the ruling party of having sold out on Kashmir. Does that not suggest that the political parties consider the voters to be hawkish on conflict?

This raises some disturbing thoughts and challenges our complacent presumptions about what people want and how they behave. Is there a paradox and, if so, how can we explain it? I read a very perceptive essay on the 2004 US elections by a young Pakistani-American high school student. Comparing the strategies of the Right and Left he quoted William Reich’s explanation of how the fascists took power in Germany. Reich wrote, “While we presented the masses with superb historical analyses and economic treatises on the contradictions of imperialism, Hitler stirred the deepest roots of their emotional being.” Do voters vote their emotions rather than their pocketbooks? If so, what lies at the deepest roots of the emotional being of the Indian and Pakistani voter?

Of course, there is more than one explanation for every observation – therein lies the fascination of the social sciences. It would be useful if readers can help identify the flaws in the logic of the argument presented in this post.

Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan, 2004.

Telling the Truth About the Election by Asad Haider, 2004.

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