Pakistan has reportedly yet to officially approach the IMF for a bailout. This is perhaps understandable given the country’s busy schedule. After all, it has just signed eight Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with “iron brother” China. These are worth $100 million in total and cover mutual investment in seafood, agriculture and pharmaceuticals. Yet by far the most lucrative of all was a straight-out deal. One that involves the purchasing of some 48 drones from Beijing. Indeed, both sides are playing coy when it comes to disclosing the actual price-tag. All that the Chinese are willing to say is that it is the country’s largest arms contract of its kind. Naturally, this comes hot on the heels of India splashing the cash on the Russian S-400 missile defence system for a cool $5 billion. To be clear, this signals a ratcheting up of the South Asian arms race. Thereby underscoring how crossing the nuclear Rubicon is seemingly not enough. This is an alarming development all round. For the normalising of Indo-Pak ties is in the region’s interests. Not least because this would allow a redirecting of funds towards investing in local populations across the great divide. And allies of both nations should play a constructive role on this front. Rather than unwittingly feeding into shared paranoia. It had been hoped that the new political set-up here in Islamabad would do its best to rest the bilateral relationship with New Delhi. Yet it fell at the first hurdle. The sign of a seasoned statesman is not to trade personal barbs with the other side. But to retain a detached pragmatism. And it certainly should not result in throwing in the towel until one side goes to the polls. The global arms trade is the most unethical of all profit-making businesses. At a time when the entire world should be moving towards gradual but systematic disarmament it continues to travel in the opposite direction. All the while preaching peace. But, as everyone knows, this can never be achieved by the barrel of anyone’s gun. It is therefore up to the nations of the so-called First World to lead by example. After all, these are countries that have long secured their borders and are no longer at war with themselves; the odd trade war notwithstanding. This is to say nothing of how the colonial powers continue to plunder the wealth of the Global South by starting conflicts in this part of the world; thereby perpetuating the need for yet more weapons of mass destruction. Given that the major powers have no interest is disarmament, (nuclear-armed) countries like Pakistan and India should take the lead quietly from behind-the-scenes to at least agree on a cap. This will be biggest contribution to South Asian peace in the short- to medium-term. And it will not cost a thing. Except for strong and committed leadership from both sides. * Published in Daily Times, October 10th 2018.