National and International Issues

Why and How is Our Defence Budget Targeted

The gun versus butter debate is a legitimate part of macroeconomic discourse. For a country like Pakistan with considerable incidence of poverty, illiteracy and debt burden this debate acquires even greater significance. It is natural then for the economic experts to explore every dimension of the defence spending in the country. But one thing that highlights bad intent in the discussion is almost obsessive fixation with the defence budget while totally overlooking various wasteful expenditures within the civilian domain and an absolute disregard for the security and historical context. The armed forces of the country have often been asked to perform services beyond the call of their duty. For instance, the fight against terrorism, particularly operations in troubled areas including Swat, erstwhile FATA, Balochistan and other parts of the country, as per the textbook, should have been carried out by the civilian instruments of law enforcement. However, since the police force and civilian LEAs were marred by serious capacity issues, this responsibility was shouldered by the armed forces of the country and a heartrending tale of supreme sacrifices for the motherland ensued. But that is not all.


While this should mean that the country’s defence budget ought to be increasing dramatically, it is not. It is fashionable to pretend in the intellectual circles these days that the highest share of the annual budget goes to the defence sector, nothing could be farther from the truth. Pakistan spends highest amount of funds to service its foreign debts. The second-highest share goes to maintaining the loss-making public sector enterprises and the third in the shape of the Public Sector Development Program (PDSP). The cumulative expenditure on defence comes at fourth.


The overall security and regional context is not hidden from anyone. This year in February, Indian Air Force jets tried to infiltrate Pakistan’s airspace and offloaded their payload when accosted, on far-fetched and flimsy grounds. This move was globally interpreted as a part of Mr. Modi’s re-election campaign. While India is the only country with which Pakistan had to fight wars, and which is also largely responsible for the country’s loss of its Eastern Wing, Mr. Modi’s government has single-handedly confirmed every doubt in Pakistani minds about India’s intentions. BJP government’s half-baked and disastrous policies in the Indian Occupied Kashmir, its covert support of terrorist activities as proven by Indian spy in Pakistan’s custody Kulbhushan Jadhav’s presence and constant rhetoric on geographic revisionism proves that Pakistan has to keep its guard up. In the face of such an existential threat, it becomes imperative for the country to maintain a modern fighting capability that deters enemy’s misadventures. An enemy that spends six times more than what you spend, whose defence budget continues to grow by leaps and bounds every single year and which procures the most advanced equipment from all over the world. In our admirable haste to curtail or criticize our own defence budget the pundits at home often overlook how weakening of the country’s defences may render it prone to Indian misadventures. In a Hindutva dominated India, even such ‘peaceniks’ are greeted with disdain bordering on contempt and as Pakistan’s stooges.
Then there is Afghanistan on our Western border which has been a simmering cauldron of unrest and home to countless destabilizing ideologies. While Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency NDS works closely with Indian RAW to hatch conspiracies against Pakistan, the terrorists attacking Pakistan and its citizens find welcome refuge on Afghan soil. These terrorists then use the Afghan soil as the staging ground for further attacks on Pakistan. In view of these attacks Pakistan Army has embarked on the ambitious project of fencing the border. This and other activities meant to stabilize the adjoining erstwhile FATA have cost lives and a fortune and continue to do so.


Interestingly, an impression is spread that somehow there is lack of transparency in the defence spending. This too could not be farther from the truth. The defence budget is neither a secret nor exempt from audit. There is an inbuilt system of audit where every penny spent is accounted for. Compare this to the money in the civilian domain which is often diverted by the corrupt. Owing to the lack of fiscal discipline on the civilian side, the economy keeps bleeding dry. However, the focus is shifted repeatedly to the defence side to distract attention from the real wasteful expenditures.


Then the growing hostility between the U.S. and Iran also reveals the true range of destabilizing challenges faced by the country on the external front. In the case of a conflict between the two, Pakistan will have to aggressively protect its territory from any spillover effect. And as if even that was enough, the armed forces are also deputed to protect the ongoing work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. In view of open Indian hostility towards the project which uses its local proxies to foment unrest and impede its steady progress, Pakistan Armed Forces have to dedicate considerable chunk of manpower and resources to safeguard these projects. And that is apart from the services required by the country in aid of civil power ranging from flood relief to occasional reform of subpar sectors and institutions like WAPDA.
While this should mean that the country’s defence budget ought to be increasing dramatically, it is not. It is fashionable to pretend in the intellectual circles these days that the highest share of the annual budget goes to the defence sector, nothing could be farther from the truth. Pakistan spends highest amount of funds to service its foreign debts. The second-highest share goes to maintaining the loss-making public sector enterprises and the third in the shape of the Public Sector Development Program (PDSP). The cumulative expenditure on defence comes at fourth.
To point out how misguided the debate about Pakistan’s defence expenditure is, just take two instances. While it has been highlighted above how important the need to maintain a credible defensive capability is, it is also true that if Pakistan is to maintain its financial credibility and has to remain solvent there is no escape from debt repayment. However, the public sector enterprises like Pakistan Steel Mills which incur huge losses to the national exchequer every year are avoidable expenses which can easily be remedied by offloading such assets.
Another remarkable wasteful example is the non-developmental expenditure hidden within the developmental program. During the budget speech a lion’s share is announced in lieu of the developmental budget. By mid year a significant part is reduced owing to other commitments of the government. And yet surprisingly enough by the end of the fiscal year the situation is such that a considerable sum still lapses. Lack of homework and capacity means that in the final months of a fiscal year the staff of every project is in a hurry to utilize the funds, a big chunk of which goes to procuring vehicles, unnecessary office buildings and additional staff. Let it sink in. Despite all that funds lapse. A lethal mix of wrong priorities, lack of preparedness, capacity and imagination, and bureaucratic red tape ensures that the money is not put where the mouth is. And this is merely about the lofty sounding developmental budget. Consider the significant amount that goes into keeping the outdated government machinery working.


In this age of hybrid warfare, the enemy with its officially acknowledged defensive offence strategy looks for every possible faultline in the society and where it finds none, it manufactures them by creating deceitful binaries. The purpose is of course to sow the seeds of discord. But this entire debate comes down to one fact. If the country did not maintain the existing defence capability, its citizenry would face a fate far worse than the Indian minorities. Because, make no mistake, the enemy has never given up its nefarious design or its territorial ambition. It is the country’s armed forces that stand between independence and total subjugation.


Interestingly, an impression is spread that somehow there is lack of transparency in the defence spending. This too could not be farther from the truth. The defence budget is neither a secret nor exempt from audit. There is an inbuilt system of audit where every penny spent is accounted for. Compare this to the money in the civilian domain which is often diverted by the corrupt. Owing to the lack of fiscal discipline on the civilian side, the economy keeps bleeding dry. However, the focus is shifted repeatedly to the defence side to distract attention from the real wasteful expenditures.
Astoundingly enough, a lot of ill-informed talk goes on about the quantum of defence expenditure. The general impression is that army gets seventy percent of country’s budget. As of financial year 2018-19, the total defence budget stood at 18 percent of which the army’s budget was only 7 percent. The total defence budget was 3.2 percent of the country’s GDP.
Something needs to be said about the state of our existing military hardware and vehicles. In this day and age when technology constantly redefines the contours of defence industry, Pakistan’s military equipment and hardware is badly in need of an upgrade. Vehicles especially fall into disrepair. And this is the kind of expenditure which is not even discussed in public sphere. Transporting troops during deployments and official movement may often become a challenge. That is how things have been for past many many years.
Of course, despite the need for these upgrades the money needed is not requested in view of the ongoing economic constraints of the nation. But that does not mean the need is not there. On one side a hostile and ambitious foreign power continues to throw money at every security challenge and on the other your defence expenditure remains within conservative range. And yet there is no let up in the undue skepticism and criticism.
This is where even legitimate debates become a tool for enemy’s exploitation. In this age of hybrid warfare, the enemy with its officially acknowledged defensive offence strategy looks for every possible faultline in the society and where it finds none, it manufactures them by creating deceitful binaries. The purpose is of course to sow the seeds of discord. But this entire debate comes down to one fact. If the country did not maintain the existing defence capability, its citizenry would face a fate far worse than the Indian minorities. Because, make no mistake, the enemy has never given up its nefarious design or its territorial ambition. It is the country’s armed forces that stand between independence and total subjugation. It is important to not let go of this capability and enhance it in whatever moderate manner we can, even if the country achieves total peace with its neighbors. It is a rough neighborhood, brimming with ambition and lowering one’s guard is akin to inviting devastating trouble.


The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist.
Twitter: @FarrukhKPitafi
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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