India has beefed up security along its border with Pakistan amid reports that 400 terrorists are operating in the Kashmir Valley. Photo: Reuters

Safety and security measures are aimed at minimizing risks for people and assets we wish to protect. Quite often these words are used interchangeably but they are actually different, focusing on separate challenges. The main difference between safety and security is intent. To be more precise, safety threats are caused by accidents or natural mishaps, while security issues are caused by hostile agents with bad intentions.

Security challenges are the domain of defense forces reinforced by intelligence agencies, whereas safety issues are handled by civil defense organizations; for example,  the Pakistani National Disaster Management Authority is supported by fire safety and rescue bodies.  A proper understanding of safety and security issues, at the leadership level, ensures a peaceful existence for citizens and healthy economic growth.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Peshawar church and mosques bombings, and the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that killed 132 schoolchildren were all security-related events.

An example of a safety-related event is the Bhopal gas tragedy in India in 1984. Thirty tons of a poisonous gas leaked from a pesticide plant, exposing more than 600,000 peoples. Consequently, 15,000 people immediately died and 50,000 people later developed a chronic respiratory ailment. It was a safety issue despite the criminal negligence of managers and technicians.

Floods that devastate Pakistan every few years are considered a safety issue. However, flooding is also a security issue if it occurs because India has suddenly released a massive amount of water to wash away Pakistani villages and crops.

It is the responsibility of national governments to protect people from all dangers or threats irrespective of what causes them. The allocation of federal resources to combat safety and security threats should be determined by their severity and type. The ruling elite should accurately gauge the magnitude of potential threats and allocate resources accordingly.

Without security measures in place, we would not be able to live peaceful lives in this anarchic world. However, in South Asia, politicians are only concerned about security issues. It is probably because defense lobbies exaggerate security threats and manipulate the ruling elite. Hence, factors that seriously endanger human lives are not taken into account.  In Pakistan, 15,000 people die because of poor roads and transport conditions, and a million are killed by preventable diseases every year, but the government gives only lip service instead of proactively addressing safety concerns.

It is the responsibility of national governments to protect people from all dangers or threats irrespective of what causes them

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 50% of the world’s hungry live in India. About 35% of India’s population, 350 million people, are malnourished and do not know where their next meal is coming from. India also has the third-largest number of HIV-positive people in the world, according to UN estimates. Poverty statistics for India reveal that 50% of Indians have no proper shelter; 64.5 % have no access to decent toilets; 35% of households have no nearby water source; and 35% of villages have no secondary school. More than 40% of the villages that have no secondary school also have no connecting roads.

However, India has joined the United States and China as one of the world’s five biggest military spenders this year. India’s defense spending has risen by 5.5% to $63.9 billion in 2017, pushing Russia and the UK out of the top five biggest spenders. Will the massive defense budget increase solve the chronic poverty problem or just fuel a regional arms race?

The Indian media often exaggerates the number of tanks and aircraft China and Pakistan have, creating the impression that they pose a greater security threat than they do.

Over the years, the RSS-led BJP government has made the life of the middle class miserable. The high rate of inflation has caused so much anxiety that citizens who are unable to make ends meet are committing suicide. An unprecedented hike in the defense budget jeopardizes the welfare of a typical Indian by exacerbating their economic woes – the money could be spent more wisely.

It is unfortunate that South Asia, despite being blessed with vast resources, remains one of the world’s most deprived regions. South Asian leaders, even in the 21st century, are unduly alarmed by security issues while ignoring safety issues.

India boasts that it has a great democracy but blatantly ignores the needs of its citizens. Indian leadership is responsible for the arms race in the region that will ultimately bring misery to the masses of South Asia.

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Atta Rasool Malik

Atta Rasool Malik hails from semi-tribal areas of Pakistan. He holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from National Defence University in Islamabad. His interests include politics and security of South Asia, the Middle East and Islamic & Jewish theology.

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