The UN Human Development Index (HDI) 2018 has described inequality as the defining challenge of the time. Indeed, it finds that this phenomenon decreases the global HDI by one-fifth. Yet it also inadvertently underscores how it becomes all too easy to overlook its impact when considering purely economic indicators. For if taken at face value, South Asia has enjoyed the fastest growth during the 1990-2017 period; put at 45.3 percent. Even while the region remains home to the widest gender gap; 16.3 percent.Yet of the nine South Asian nations, none features in the very high human development ranking. Though Iran flies the flag for the region when it comes to high human development; placed at 60 out of 189 nations. This, despite years of crippling international sanctions and intermittent efforts at global isolation. Sri Lanka is the only other South Asian country to appear in the high human development ranking; coming in at number 76. India (130), the world’s largest democracy, by contrast falls under medium human development. As for Pakistan (150), in regional terms it only manages outperform war-ravaged Afghanistan (168). In fact, a slide of only two more places would see the country drop into the low human development bracket. The report notes that ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya will naturally affect the global HDI; given severe risks to life expectancy and economic set-backs. Yet the problem with such findings is that there is no apportioning of blame. No notions of collective responsibility. And while this does not constitute part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s remit – it is perhaps time that it did. Though this will mean putting the UN system itself under the microscope; such as UNSC manoeuvrings in Libya and Afghanistan as well as failure to act against warmongering nations in Iraq. Not to mention the US over its use of controversial drone programmes that have largely failed to comply with international humanitarian law.As far as South Asia goes, Afghanistan and Pakistan have spent the last 17 years being thrust into the frontlines of the US-led GWOT. This has naturally impacted both nations’ human development indices. Pakistan (2010-2017) spent 3.5 percent of GDP on military expenditure. Of course, this was not just directed at containing the threat from across its western border but from its eastern side, too. India, for its part, spent 2.5 percent of GDP for the same period on military expenditure. Though Pakistan’s outspending on this front has made it home to the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile. Indeed, it is expected to become the fifth largest nuclear weapons power by 2025. All of which reinforces how inequality becomes a political choice; especially when it comes to opportunity cost in terms of distribution of wealth and access to vital resources. Interestingly, Afghanistan spent just 0.9 percent of its GDP on military expenditure. Again, this does not offer the full picture. Not when President Ghani went on record at the beginning of this year as saying that both the national army and the government itself would not last beyond six months in the absence of American military and financial assistance. The nations of South Asia have a duty of care to local citizenries. That much is understood. Thus it is in the collective interest to commit to resolving all outstanding border and territorial issues. After all, lack of conflict resolution is intrinsically linked to falling HDI. Even so, it is a matter of great concern that most of the region, including India, is outperformed by both Palestine (119) and Iraq (120). Be that as it may, the international community also has a duty to protect. Particularly when military and economic aggression by a few unleashes untold consequences elsewhere; often in those countries that can ill-afford bear the brunt.Towards this end, therefore, the UN should set up a compensation fund, to be paid into by those trigger-happy world powers that become all too queasy when the question of nation-building arises. And the UNDP is the right platform to make such recommendations. For it must keep up with an ever-changing global dynamic. And as things stand, in its current form, the HDI simply offers a convenient snapshot to underpin the false narrative that some nations are ready to embrace modernity and human progress while others are not. When nothing could be further from the truth. Published in Daily Times, September 19th 2018.