Pakistan invests in nuclear weapons instead of its citizens

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is the fastest-growing in the world, but 47% of the country's childern do not go to school. [DFID/Flickr]

The EU should use its diplomatic strength to encourage Pakistan to halt its nuclear build-up, for the good of its own citizens and the peace and stability of the region, writes Barbara Matera.

Barbara Matera is an Italian MEP (Forza Italia, EPP group) and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

The recent news that Pakistan has requested the purchase of eight nuclear-capable F-16 aircrafts, radar and electronic warfare equipment in a deal worth nearly $700 million from the US serves as a worrying reminder peace and stability in the region are on a knife-edge, while the reality of people’s lives on the ground seems to be largely ignored.

During a joint US–Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry requested Pakistan to reduce its nuclear arsenal, which is believed to be the fastest-growing stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Furthermore, Kerry noted that terrorist organisations are a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty, which specialists fear could result in nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of jihadists.

With as many as 120 warheads, Pakistan could in a decade become the world’s third biggest nuclear power, behind the United States and Russia and ahead of China, France and Britain. Its arsenal is growing faster than any other country’s, and it has become even more lethal in recent years with the addition of small tactical nuclear weapons. A recent Washington Post report said that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear capabilities by up to 20 nuclear warheads each year and has been accused of selling its nuclear technology to countries such as Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Persuading Pakistan to rein in its nuclear weapons programme should be an international priority, considering the country’s tense relations with India, the legacy of seven wars between the two countries since 1947 and the Pakistani military establishment’s alleged backing of radical jihadist organisations. The Pakistani prime minister’s advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has admitted that Islamabad has considerable influence over the Taliban.

The EU and the international community need to convince Pakistan to stop pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, which are more likely to be used in a conflict with India and could more easily fall into the hands of terrorists, and at the same time to halt the development of long-range missiles. Pakistan should also sign the treaty banning nuclear weapons tests.

Such moves would undoubtedly be in Pakistan’s long-term interest. Spending about 25% of its budget on defence, Pakistan is unable to provide adequate services to its citizens. Performance in education, health care and social inclusion lags behind the targets set by the government of Pakistan and international donors, including the EU.

Of the 50.8 million children aged five to 16 in the country, 47% do not receive any education, according to the annual Pakistan Education Statistics report for 2014-2015. This means that a staggering 24 million Pakistani children are out of school. Of these 24 million, more than half are girls: 12.8 million compared to 11.2 million boys. The report also revealed that 69% of children enrolled at primary school level drop out by the fifth year, and highlighted the lack of resources for education in Pakistan: around 29% of government primary schools operate with just a single teacher, 18% have only one classroom, and 9% do not even have a building.

Human Rights Watch has reported numerous violations of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, including, among others, attacks on schools, the use of children as suicide bombers, discrimination against children from ethnic minorities, child marriages and sexual abuse of children, judicial execution and mistreatment of child offenders, child labour and extrajudicial killings.

Pakistan should not be allowed to evade its obligations towards its own people as well as the international community, to the development of a strong civil society that respects democratic values for all and promotes inclusion rather than the hatred of minorities. We need to see a Pakistani government that enforces the empowerment of women in society and brings female entrepreneurship and protections of workers’ rights and safety to the forefront of its agenda.

Rather than shifting its focus to military spending and a nuclear build-up that could endanger the lives of its own citizens and billions of other people in South Asia, the Pakistani government needs to abide by its commitments that will see its people prosper in a democratic society. With its long history of bringing parties to the diplomatic table, including the recent success of the Iran nuclear deal, the EU must be more forthcoming in its guidance for Pakistan. Progressive policies should place particular emphasis on trade, investment, entrepreneurship and respect for human rights, and the full implementation of all the international conventions that Pakistan has signed and which will bring a real improvement in the lives of women, children and minorities in the country.

The EU has the tools to bring Pakistan to the negotiation table, and EU leaders should not hesitate to use such political mechanisms in promoting the core values embedded within the foundations of the European Union. It is through this dynamic diplomacy that we will be able to bring real development, peace and stability to South Asia.

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