OPINION: Pakistani army cuts farcical

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - Pakistan’s government has no power over its armed forces.

The army determines its own financial needs and the government complies. It has no option. This is one country where the education budget is Rs 111.23 billion and the military budget is Rs 1.26 trillion. Such skewed budget priorities which impinge development and education for the power of the military can only happen in Pakistan.

The unilateral announcement on reducing the defence share of the national budget for this financial year, appearing to indicate that the Pakistan army was doing the nation a great favour, was made by the military spokesperson, General Asif Ghafoor, and not by either their defence or finance minister. By welcoming this announcement, Prime Minister Imran Khan underscored his impotence.

He stated, “I appreciate Pakistan military’s unprecedented voluntary initiative of stringent cuts in their defence expenditure for next financial year because of our critical financial situation, despite multiple security challenges.” Clearly, the Pakistan PM was thanking their army chief, rather than demanding the cut for national good.

His mention of multiple threats is also a joke. The threat from India is only because of Pak- sponsored terrorists and Army firing to support their infiltration. This can be easily comprehended by the fact that unless Pakistan violates the ceasefire, India does not act. Reducing tensions is in Pakistan’s hands, as the US announced over the weekend. The day Pakistan changes this policy Indian threats would reduce, leading to a permanent reduction of defence budgets on both sides, enabling focus on development.

This may happen in India, but it is unlikely that the Pakistan army would ever adopt a path to peace as it could reduce its power and authority over the country. The current poor financial situation is not the fault of previous governments alone but caused by the high demands of the Pakistan army on the national kitty, ignoring other spheres of development.

Pakistan has been spending 4 per cent of its GDP on defence, while India’s current defence budget is 1.44 per cent of its GDP. Indian armed forces though always demanding 3 per cent would be more than happy with 2 per cent of the GDP. This despite India facing far more threats and challenges than Pakistan. The other threats which Pakistan faces are its own creations. In its western provinces, its threats are internal due to its own policies of treating non-Punjabis and border residents as second-class citizens.

Its support to the Taliban has ensured that low-level tensions would remain from the weakly equipped Afghan army. On no other border does Pakistan require employment of air power and artillery, other than India. Use of such power on their own people in Baluchistan, K-P and Wazirabad is an indicator of a flawed strategy. It is evident that this forced budget cut is neither voluntary nor genuine.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) maintains a sharp eye on the utilisation of loans it provides. Despite a staff level agreement reached between Pakistan and the IMF, the loan is some distance away. The IMF would closely monitor this budget and unless there are visible financial cuts, the loan may end up as a bad dream.

Monitoring by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) continues to determine whether Pakistan should remain on the Grey List or be Blacklisted. Thus, the Pakistan government is forced to act. The army seeking to gain national sympathy and playing into the demands of the IMF has announced a voluntary cut. Their final announcement on the cut mentioned no change from the previous year.

Surprisingly, in a nation where the average annual income is meagre and the population just manages to survive, the army obtains a 16-20 per cent raise every year. The spokesperson stated that the voluntary cut implied officers would not get their yearly raise, while all others would. A clear example of inflated salaries is that children of Pakistani army officers study abroad, which is way beyond the financial capability of most Pakistanis.

While judges and politicians are charged for illegal properties and unaccounted wealth stashed abroad, there is no power in Pakistan to check its senior army officers. On the contrary, they are allocated land either free or on token payment in prominent localities. In fact, since the Pakistan Fauji Foundation, run by the army, controls almost 25-30 per cent of the Pakistan economy, it should have volunteered to surrender its profits for the year to the government, rather than distribute it amongst the top brass.

This itself would have been a financial boon to a beleaguered nation, but which government can bell the cat. Most of Pakistan’s dubious activities are funded by the ISI. Its funds would never flow from its defence budget, but from clandestine funding from the national budget under multiple heads. There would be no let up on this account and hence, support to terrorist activities, whether against India, Iran or Afghanistan would continue unhindered. Most procurements for the Pakistan army come from China either free or on reduced costs.

For China, the Indo-Pak rivalry is a benefit as it divides Indian attention and forces it to develop capabilities on both fronts. It has been behind all Pakistani capabilities, including its nuclear weapons and missiles. This is unlikely to stop, especially as tensions rise in Baluchistan, where the CPEC continues to be under threat. In summary, the announcement by the Pakistan army on reducing its defence budget is nothing more than a publicity gimmick.

Officially, there would only be an inflationary cut, or the IMF loan would remain a pipedream. The threats because of which it claims its high budget are its own doing. Enmity with India gives the Pakistan army its power, which it is unlikely to relinquish.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)

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