Countless Indian citizens of all backgrounds seem to be feeling victorious when the Indian Army announced they had carried out ‘surgical strikes’ across the border. While this was most probably a one-time, limited affair which also has happened in the past, most Whatsapp forwards and Facebook posts in India were loaded with a disturbing encouragement of violence.

One of the subtlest effects of inheriting and living in a male-dominated scheme of things is the often subconscious acceptance of physical prowess and its exhibition as signs of “greatness” and victory.

It is painful to see that for many Indians it is only such violent acts that can establish India’s superiority over its neighbour. Similarly for many Pakistani citizens, their nation’s greatness rests in the perceived machismo of their country’s army and its ability to “teach Indians a lesson”. Many spend hours on social media championing violent militancy in Indian-administered Kashmir, but hardly bother themselves with the socio-economic and political abyss back home.

Peace-loving citizens from both countries are thus left womdering how they might drive home the point that violence and war will never lead either nation to greatness or progress? A recent health-related study in the Lancet might help. Its damning findings have the potential to make both nations realize their embarrassing internal realities.

Abysmal health performance

The research paper, titled Measuring the health-related Sustainable Development Goals in 188 countries, provides a baseline assessment of where countries stand with respect to important health-related indicators included in the UN-approved Sustainable Development Goals. These indicators include such significant measures as neonatal mortality, maternal mortality, HIV and TB incidence, road accident deaths, etc.

The research was conducted as part of the Global Burden of Disease study centered in the University of Washington, USA. A commendable aspect about this study is its extensive international collaboration that includes a substantial South Asian presence. The researchers created a composite figure (or a ‘summary measure’) called the ‘health-related SDG index’, which reflects the performance of each country across 33 different indicators all bundled into one number, and forms the basis of this paper.

So out of 188 countries, the top 30 best performing include Iceland at top spot followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan. Among the next 30 are South Korea and Argentina. We have Sri Lanka at 79 and China at 92. Then Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Myanmar at 135. Somewhere near the bottom we finally espy the two peevish nations we have been talking about – India at rank 143 and Pakistan at 149.

Losing to stunting, TB and pollution

Looking at the prevalence of stunting in children under five years of age, which is one of the biggest national shames of India, the data says that one-third of all our kids are stunted and thus undernourished. The figure is almost the same for Pakistan, and is zero percent for many of the best performing nations.

Tuberculosis, a deadly disease that has been successfully eliminated in many countries, still wreaks havoc in our two nations. Polluted air leads to almost 230 deaths per 100,000 persons each year in both India and Pakistan; while in Australia and New Zealand for example, death rate attributable to air pollution is around 9 per 100,000 persons.

When one looks at such data, one realizes how hollow the self-congratulatory attitudes of Indian and Pakistani citizens are. It is amazing to see how a politician or journalist abusing the “other” nation takes them to some fantastical (and fanatical) wonderland, making them forget all the extensive and embarrassing mess in their immediate vicinity.

Let alone war, even military aggression is not a viable option in South Asia, especially for India and Pakistan, which rank 130 and 147 in the Human Development Index respectively, If there has to be a war it must be to destroy, for example, the public health and medical problems that are killing our infants and our youth in the millions. Through the obsession with forever being militarily hostile, we have been wasting resources which could be utilized in better ways; we spend disproportionate millions on protecting our borders and peanuts on protecting the health of our children. One hopes the SDG index report makes us realize how much we have lost over the decades in this futile quest to get the better of each other militarily.

In the final tally of things, no military “victory” is going to be of solace to a woman, whether Indian or Pakistani, who loses her baby because her health centre neither had the facilities to resuscitate it, nor had transportation available to take it to a better facility. With neonatal mortality rates in India and Pakistan at 29 and 38 deaths per 1000 live births respectively, when nations like Canada and Australia have it below 3, there’s indeed a lot at stake for us.