For almost two decades now we have witnessed growing attacks and criticism regarding Pakistan’s defense budget and spending. Myths have been created that Pakistan Armed Forces eat up about 70 to 80 percent of our total budgetary allocations. Similarly, assertions have been made that the defense budget of Pakistan has been rising exponentially over the last two decades and Pakistan spends more money on defense than any other country in the region. A segment of mainstream media and social media is rife with assertions that the cumulative effect of defense spending is the major cause of national poverty and lack of development in Pakistan. Since Pakistan is going to announce its next federal budget for year 2021-22 in June 2021, it is pertinent that we evaluate all the proclamations mentioned above, find the truth and highlight the actual motives that why these perceptions have been created.
Comparative Defense Budgets – An Overview
In order to establish facts, an independent research regarding Pakistan’s defense budget was conducted. The defense budget of Pakistan was also compared with its arch-rival India. The major findings of the research are shared in the succeeding paragraphs.
The perception that 70 to 80% of budget goes to the Armed Forces of Pakistan is absolutely untrue. In 2020-21 Federal Budget, Defense Affairs and Services were allocated Rs. 1,289 billion out of total budgetary expenses of Rs. 7,295 billion. This meant that defence comprised of 17.669 percent of the total expenses and 82.330 percent of all government expenses were non-defence related.1
India’s military expenses have risen significantly over the past few decades. Spanning three decades between 1990 and 2020, its spending grew by 259 percent. At present, India has the third largest military spending in the world. In 2020, India spent some USD 71.1 billion on defense amid the COVID-19 crisis. In the same year, India’s poverty showed the highest growth rate in its history. The United Nations estimated the number of the certified poor in the country to be 364 million in 2019, or 28 percent of the total population, highest in the world.2 Pakistan ranks 24th in military spending globally. During the corresponding period (that is between 1990 to 2020) Pakistan’s defense budget only increased by 70 percent in 30 years. Given the annual inflation of 3 percent, the overall defense budget of Pakistan has shrunk. At present, Pakistan trails far behind India in defense resources; its financial provision is almost 7 times less than that of India’s defense spending.
Similarly, Pakistan does not rank amongst the top 15 countries with the highest GDP percentage spent on defense. Pakistan spent less than 4% of its GDP on defence in 2020. Though Pakistan’s military expenditure as a share of GDP has fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to decrease through the 1987-2020 period, as it was 6.9% in 1987 and is at 4% in 2020,3 therefore, Pakistan’s defense spending as percentage of GDP is also on the decline. Majority of the countries in the region which have a much lower existential threat are spending much higher amounts of GDP percentage on defense as compared to Pakistan. The same is tabulated below. It may be noted that Israel, another ideological state, is spending 5.2 percent of its GDP on defense.
As far as per solider expenditure is concerned, the top five per capita spending per solider are carried out by Israel (USD 2,400), United States (USD 2,220), Singapore (USD 1,930), Kuwait (USD 1,830) and Saudi Arabia (USD 1,805), Pakistan surprisingly only spends USD 47 per solider.4
Genesis of India-Pakistan Conflict and the Need for Strong Defence Forces
Muslims ruled the sub-continent for centuries only to be dislodged from power by the British colonial rule at the start of 19th century. Pakistan was created on the basis of the Two Nations Theory, an ideology that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, with their own customs, religion, and traditions, therefore, from a social and moral standing, Muslims were to have their own separate homeland outside of the Hindu-majority India. The Hindu leadership of Indian Congress and United Kingdom agreed to the terms of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 on the basis of religion. The modern Islamic Republic of Pakistan emerged on 14th of August 1947 (27th of Ramdan, 1366 Hijri of the Islamic calendar) based on an ideology. Pakistan, at the time of independence, comprised of two wings, namely West Pakistan and East Pakistan; with provinces of Balochistan, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), West Punjab, Sindh and East Bengal respectively.
At the time of partition, Kashmir was a princely state, and its Muslim-majority population was ruled by a Hindu Maharajah named Hari Singh. As per the agreed principle of partition, all the contiguous Muslim majority areas, including Jammu and Kashmir should have been merged into Pakistan, however, Hari Singh delayed the announcement of accession of Kashmir to Pakistan, resultantly, his Muslim subjects rebelled against him. In Jammu, Kashmiri Muslims were killed by Sikhs and Hindus in areas where they were in majority. The editor of The Statesman, Ian Stephens stated that 500,000 Muslims, “the entire Muslim element of the population”, was eliminated and 200,000 “just disappeared”. It means that at least 200,000 were killed and the rest fled to West Pakistan.5 In these circumstances, Pathan tribesmen from erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan waged Jihad to save their Muslim brethren and entered the state on October 22, 1947. Seeing the freedom fighters, Hari Singh panicked and requested India for help. Indian Prime Minister Nehru sent in 100,000 troops to crush what he claimed was an invasion of Indian territory. The Indian troops, which were airlifted in the early hours of October 27 secured Srinagar airport. The result of this invasion was that subsequently Pakistan and India went to war. A UN commission called for the withdrawal of both countries’ troops in August 1948. The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1949, and a five-member commission made up of Argentina, Belgium, Columbia, Czechoslovakia and the United States drew up a resolution declaring Jammu and Kashmir a disputed territory, calling for a referendum to decide Kashmir’s future through plebiscite.6 The United Nations also determined the ceasefire line between the opposing forces.
Though the Indian leadership on the face of it, in 1947, accepted the division of the subcontinent on religious grounds. However, right from the onset, they followed the ideology of Akhand Bharat. The ideology of Akhand Bharat is based on the concept of Hindutva. The basic principles of Hindutva are to establish the hegemony of the Hindu civilization as the only way of life and Hinduism as the only religion in the subcontinent. To achieve these goals, undoing the division of Indian subcontinent and making it one entity has been the primary policy objective of Indian policymakers since 1947.
Knowing the Hindu-Indian’s mentality well, Quaid-i-Azam emphasized the importance of having strong Armed Forces for Pakistan which could deter any Indian aggression in the future. In the succeeding years, owing to its meagre resources, Pakistan forged an alliance with the U.S. to check the spread of communism in the region. This paved the way for building strong Armed Forces by Pakistan. Despite being the frontline state against the spread of communism in the region, Pakistan was betrayed by the U.S. and British leadership in 1962. President Kennedy and then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan specifically asked Pakistan not to undertake any military action against Indian-held Kashmir during the Sino-India war of October 1962. Both the leaders made Islamabad believe that they would use their clout to resolve the issue once the Sino-Indian conflict was over.7 Despite Pakistan’s compliance, not only was the Kashmir issue put on the back burner once the crisis was over, but India started to receive more importance and all types of aid from the West. In November 1964, Articles 356 and 357 of the Indian Constitution were extended to the occupied state of Kashmir by virtue of which the Central Government can assume the government of the state and exercise its legislative powers.8 This meant somewhat dilution of Article 370 of the Indian constitution which guaranteed complete constitutional autonomy to the Indian-held Jammu & Kashmir. In these circumstances Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar in 1965 in Kashmir to liberate Kashmir. India attacked Pakistan across the international border (thus a conflict along ceasefire was escalated to a full-fledged war by India) to relieve pressure from its forces in Kashmir. Pakistan Armed Forces rose to the occasion and defeated the colossal Indian war machine by inflicting heavy damage and capturing a large chunk of the Indian territory.
To avenge the defeat of 1965, India, by exploiting ethnic fault lines between East and West Pakistan, started training the Mukti Bahini’s terrorists in East Pakistan. The Pakistani nation's abiding antagonism towards India arose further after the traumatic loss of East Pakistan, today's Bangladesh, after the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Hence, when India tested a nuclear weapon in 1974, Pakistan felt compelled to develop a nuclear weapon of its own and successfully tested its first atomic bomb in 1998. In 2019, India revoked Article 370 of its constitution and absorbed the disputed region of Indian Occupied Kashmir into the Indian union. This brought both the nuclear capable states at the brink of war again. It is firmly believed that the timing of revocation of Article 370 by India, at a time when Afghanistan is stabilizing, was another attempt to embroil Pakistan in one more protracted conflict. New Delhi believed that by doing so it could squeeze Islamabad politically, diplomatically, economically and militarily. Indian brinkmanship received a major jolt when Pakistan Air Force (PAF) during broad daylight conducted bombing operations close to India’s military installations in IIOJ&K and also shot down two Indian intercepting jets.
Such is the precarious backdrop of one of the longest running international rivalries in modern history.
India’s Dubious Role Post-9/11
Following 9/11, the USA invaded Afghanistan with the stated aim of dismantling the Al-Qaeda network. This provided a golden opportunity to India to entrench itself in Afghanistan. It is no secret that India, while sitting in Afghanistan (in concert with hostile intelligence agencies) since 2001 has launched a proxy war against Pakistan. It is no coincidence that Pakistan is in the eye of storm since then. Attack on the Indian Parliament, giving flip to insurgencies in Balochistan/FATA, creation of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al Qaeda al Hind (AQAH) and Islamic State terrorist outfits, attacks on Samjautha Express, GHQ Rawalpindi and PNS Mehran Karachi, false flag operations of Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, Pulwama; all had almost identical strategic aims of discrediting and defaming the Armed Forces of Pakistan, create two-front dilemmas for Pakistan and degrade/demoralize military forces to an extent that there is complete paralysis and chaos in Pakistan. While Pakistan was busy fighting the menace of terrorism, India established fake media houses across the globe, especially, in the U.S. and EU countries. Having identified Armed Forces of Pakistan as its center of gravity, and to erode this pivot, Indian media houses indulged in smear negative propaganda campaigns against Pakistan and its prime institutions. The main themes of this propaganda were: Pakistan is the epicenter of global terrorism, Pakistan was supporting Afghan Taliban networks, Pakistan’s nuclear arms could fall into the hands of fundamentalists, and, Armed Forces of Pakistan are a rogue entity which should be brought under check. In this hostile environment, where Allied Forces failed miserably, Pakistan Armed Forces were able to defeat terrorism decisively on its soil. Against all odds, Pakistan also emerged as a more resilient country by sacrificing almost 100,000 persons and at a loss of USD 150 billion over the years.
Though the war against terrorism was won, the precarious security situation in Pakistan gave rise to economic meltdown. This led to higher inflation and a reduction in per capita income. This economic crunch along with the COVID-19 crisis has badly affected the working class in Pakistan.
Indian Motives for Malicious Propaganda Against the Armed Forces of Pakistan
From the above facts it is evident that it is India which, despite rampant poverty, is spending a huge amount of money on defense. It is an established fact that all great powers seek their own sphere of influence. Historically, it has been difficult for an aspiring state to become a true great power with an unfriendly or hostile backyard. If India wants to become a global, as well as a regional dominant power, it has to ensure a ring of security around the country. That essentially means to have a sphere of influence encompassing the subcontinent and the region around the Indian Ocean. India, due to its large economy, political clout and above all huge Armed Forces has made concerted efforts to bring the smaller states of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Seychelles under its sphere of influence. India, through overt and covert means, is now also ensuring that pro-Indian governments remain at the helm of affairs in these countries. Pakistan is the only country which challenges the Indian hegemony in the subcontinent and raises a voice to protect the rights of minorities in India and Muslims in particular in IIOJ&K. In these circumstances, India is always aiming at fragmentation and denuclearization of Pakistan so as to be the sole superpower of the region. However, till the time the valiant and professional Armed Forces of Pakistan are present, which have written a new history by defeating terrorism with their sweat and blood, India cannot achieve its nefarious designs. In these conditions, New Delhi is trying to create a wedge between the people of Pakistan and its Armed Forces by propagating that all economic ills of the country are attributable to its huge defense budget and spending.
Military Threat to Pakistan
The Indian Army with 1,445,000 active personnel, is the second largest standing ground force in the world. In 2020, the Indian Army continued to transition into a modern, mobile, and lethal ground force by fielding upgraded combat systems and communications equipment and enhancing its ability to conduct and manage complex combined-arms and joint operations. The Indian Navy is the 6th largest navy in the world. With 285 multi-dimensional platforms, including aircraft carriers, it is an increasingly modern and flexible force. It has now focused on replacing old generations of platforms with limited capabilities in favor of larger, modern multi-role combatants. As of 2020, the Indian Navy is largely composed of modern multi-role platforms featuring advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. The Indian Air Force constitutes the largest aviation force in the region after China and is the fifth largest in the world, with over 2,000 total aircraft, out of which 645 are combat aircraft. The IAF is rapidly catching up to Western air forces across a broad range of capabilities and competencies. The Indian Strategic Forces have developed and fielded a wide variety of conventional as well as nuclear land, air and sea based ballistic and cruise missiles. Similarly, India has an assured second-strike capability in the shape of ICBM capable submarine.
In this state of affairs, the conventional military imbalance between India and Pakistan has increased steadily over the last three decades, and the capability gap that favors India will probably widen further over the coming years. Despite the economic downturn and severe COVID-19 pandemic, India is in no mood to reduce the resources allocated towards the modernization and expansion of its conventional and nuclear military capabilities. In this situation, Pakistan will have no choice but to maintain a minimum level of military spending required to maintain a credible conventional and nuclear deterrent posture against India. It may be recalled that the Indian political and military leadership have openly threatened to invade Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan on numerous occasions. It is firmly believed that till the time India abandons the ideologies of Akhand Bharat and its unrealistic strategic goals of undoing Pakistan, South Asia will continue to remain under the clouds of wars and conflicts.
India enjoys a qualitative and quantitative edge over Pakistan in the conventional military balance, however, Pakistan Armed Forces, with the full support of the nation are capable of blunting any Indian misadventure. However, till the time India reduces its defense budget, abandons its unrealistic strategic goals and finds amicable solution to the Kashmir issue, Pakistan unilaterally cannot reduce its defense spending. It is firmly believed that the military instability inherent in the conventional imbalance is a recipe for escalation from limited to major conventional war and ultimately to nuclear exchange. Kashmir is a core dispute and can escalate the conflict between India and Pakistan. Any further deterioration of the human rights situation in IIOJ&K could act as a catalyst for conventional and unconventional crises. This explosive situation requires intervention from the United Nations, the global community, as well as bilateral efforts to find an amicable solution to the issue of Kashmir. Similarly, confidence building measures between the nuclear armed neighbors need to be initiated to reduce the risk of war, and promote durable peace in the region.
The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of Pakistan Navy and was the Ambassador of Pakistan to Maldives.
Email: [email protected]
1. Federal Budget 2020-21, Budget in Brief, Government of Pakistan Finance Division, Islamabad. http://www.finance.gov.pk/budget/Budget_in_Brief_2020_21_English.pdf
2. Mass poverty is back in India, Richard Mahapatra, DowntoEarth, 07 April 2021. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/governance/mass-poverty-is-back-in-india-76348#:~:text=Contrast%20this%20with%20the%20situation,per%20cent%20of%20the%20population.
3. Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2020, Diego Lopes Da Silva, Nan Tian and Alexandra Marksteiner, SIPRI Fact Sheet, April 2021. https://sipri.org/sites/default/files/2021-04/fs_2104_milex_0.pdf
5. Altering Demographics of Indian-Held Kashmir, Fahad Nabeel, Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research, January 17, 2017. https://cscr.pk/explore/themes/politics-governance/altering-demographics-indian-held-kashmir/
6. Text of 1949 UN Resolution Calling for Referendum on Kashmir, Pierre Tristam, January 19, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/un-resolution-referendum-on-kashmir-2353455
7. Nehru sought U.S. help during 1962 Indo-China war: book, The Hindu, October 14, 2015. https://www.thehindu.com/news/nehru-sought-us-help-during-1962-indochina-war-book/article7761071.ece
8. Accession of Jammu & Kashmir and Constitutional Provisions: A Historical Recount, Major General Ajay Kumar, Published in September 2019 by Vivekananda International Foundation 3, San Martin Marg, Chanakyapuri New Delhi – 110021, P-16.
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