VIEW: Costs of violence —Jamil Nasir - Thursday, April 28, 2011

The costs of the violence and war against terror in Pakistan are horrendous. The economic costs are not merely the budget allocated for fighting terrorism and costs arising from the internal displacement of people. Has the cost of lasting effects on internally displaced children ever entered into our calculations?

The costs of violence for a country are catastrophically high. The World Development Report 2011, released a few days ago, warns in unambiguous terms that violence has severe negative consequences for development and economic growth. The report further says that it is difficult to quantify all the negative impacts of violence in monetary terms, implying that costs may be much higher than generally understood.

Further, violence has spillover effects for the neighbouring countries as well as the world at large. Thus violence and terrorism are shared challenges for global and regional peace and prosperity. The world community has an obligation to help the countries facing violence not merely out of generosity or any moral consideration. Rather the dictates of self-interest demand that the world community should actively assist the countries fighting to stamp out terror and violence from their societies.

Viewed in the context of the findings of the World Development Report, the economic toll of the war against terror in the case of Pakistan is much higher if we put a dollar value on the negative consequences of the war. The economic costs such as spending on security, etc, are merely the tip of the iceberg. Generally, the costs of violence and war remain underestimated due to two basic reasons: first, true estimation may invite a heightened level of criticism from the public and opinion makers, and second, some costs are hard to quantify with a price tag.

Taxpayers may ask governments to justify the huge spending in the wars. In the case of violence, people can question the very legitimacy of the government in power due to its failure to contain violence. It may lead to further weakening of the government and encourage terrorist elements in the country. Further, several species of costs do not enter into the calculations due to either difficulties in their estimation or lack of true appreciation of such costs.

The costs of the violence and war against terror in Pakistan are horrendous. The economic costs are not merely the budget allocated for fighting terrorism in the conflict-prone areas and costs arising from the internal displacement of people. Some of the pertinent questions in this regard are: has the cost of lasting effects on internally displaced children, especially the impairment of physical and cognitive functions, ever entered into our calculations? Have we ever estimated the cost of ignorance arising due to dislocation of families from war-torn areas and destruction of schools? Are we aware of the prevention costs, foregone investment and trade?

Have we ever put a dollar value on the costs of compromising human security and dignity in such areas? Have we ever imagined the cost of trauma the people of violence-stricken areas are subjected to? Can the costs of grief, pain and hopelessness of the family members whose near and dear ones have been consumed by violence be reflected on the balance sheet of the war against terror? And, above all, do we include the costs of deaths (no offence please, we can calculate the statistical value of life), mutilations and various diseases caused by the war against terror and violence in society?

The answer is perhaps in the negative. We are aware of the negative consequences of the violence and terrorism but have not calculated the price we are paying in a scientific and dispassionate manner. An objective and dispassionate study on the costs of terrorism is direly needed to arrive at the true costs of the war. We can do it by putting a price tag on each category of cost arising out of terrorism and violence in our country.

Terrorism has destroyed schools, displaced teachers, and interrupted schooling. Fear of violence has affected the social life of the people badly. It prevents people from going to social gatherings, cinemas, theatres, and even markets. Thus the impact of violence and terrorism on the lives and livelihoods of the people is very destructive.

The World Development Report also emphasises that the developmental impacts of violence are very deep and sharp. Violence-prone areas and countries are left far behind in their efforts for poverty reduction and are more likely to miss the millennium development goals (MDGs). Children are more likely to remain impoverished. They are twice as likely to remain undernourished and three times as likely not to be enrolled in school. If violence persists, the difference between violence-prone countries and other countries becomes stark with the passage of time.

Further, the costs of violence and terrorism are different according to the social and economic class we belong to. The vulnerable groups of society are the worst sufferers. The poor are generally tied to the area they live in. They do not have money and social contacts — tickets of mobility in a society. So in the areas prone to violence and terrorism, they suffer the most. Their only insurance is their extended family and death of the breadwinner in a family either due to a terrorist attack or bombing from a drone leaves the whole family at the mercy of nature. Thus, the ghost of violence and terrorism haunts them even after the very cause of conflict has ceased to exist.

The economic assistance we receive from the world is merely peanuts compared with the true cost of the war against terrorism, even if this assistance is worth tens of billions of dollars. We are paying for the war against terror and will pay in future as well. The World Development Report, in a sense, provides us an opportunity for introspection and reckoning.

The writer is a graduate from the Columbia University, USA, in Economic Policy Management and studied economic governance in the UK. He can be reached at

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