Imagine all the money we could save
Mehdi Hassan and Noor Jehan’s songs held the public in thrall during the war of 1965: Apni jaan nazar karoon; Aye watan kay sajilay jawanon; Meria dhol sipaiya. Now if only the dhol sipaiya would remember their raison d’etre, people would still be peshing their wafas to the army today and they’d be something more than just sajilay.
Many jawans lost their lives in Pakistan’s several wars and skirmishes against enemies within and without its borders. However the armed forces cannot claim to be alone in their losses here.
According to figures produced by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in 2003 140 civilians lost their lives in Pakistan, as did 24 members of the Security Forces and 25 terrorists. These numbers peaked in 2009 with 2,307 civilian, 1,011 Security Force and 8,267 terrorist deaths…a staggering 11,585 deaths that single year alone.
In 2010 the figures were down to 1,796 civilian, 469 SF, and 384 terrorist deaths, a total of 7,435 fatalities. Data collected up to February in 2011 indicated 226 civilian, 98 SF, and 384 terrorist deaths…in two months alone.
All in all, 9,620 civilians died in the space of seven years and two months in this country, while 3,443 SF personnel and 20,150 terrorists lost their lives, a staggering total of 33,213 lives all told.
Either the armed forces are no longer effective, or unable to be so.
Mind you, the performance elsewhere is as poor. Each successive civilian government has been more inept than the one before, so much so that our current president has been WikiLeaked as a ‘numbskull’ in a conversation between Sir Jock Stirrup and American diplomats, and as ‘highly corrupt’ to quote other senior British officials.
I found myself writing last week about whether democracy is all that it is cracked up to be. Can the same question be asked about the armed forces? Dare I ask if an army is really necessary in this country, at least in the shape, size and form it takes today?
Casting a slur (whether real or imagined), on two groups seems to cause the supporters of each to spit and foam incoherently at the mouth. So much so that writing about them has become for me an exercise in taking the Mickey out of both. Those two groups are the PTI and the army.
So let’s carry on with a few more facts.
According to an article by Kamran Yousaf in a daily newspaper, Pakistan’s defence budget for the year 2011-12 increased by almost 12 percent from the previous year, and now stands at over Rs 495 billion. This does not include a whopping Rs 73 billion set aside for military pensions which sum is to be taken from the civilian budget, in addition to other sums taken from the civilian budget. The column goes on to say that according to Bushra Gohar of the ANP, the defence budget of Pakistan has never been properly questioned in parliament.
Any organisation that finds itself running out of jobs has to create them. The huge American arms industry has been doing so for years by supporting and creating the need for weapons around the world. WikiLeaks have indicated that the Pakistani establishment too is implicated in supporting terrorism in the entire South Asian region…and beyond. It also points towards the corruption of the various components of the Pakistani government.
The ineptness/involvement of the Pakistan army in the Osama bin Laden case, their ineffectiveness in the Raymond Davis episode, American drone attacks and regional militant violence begs the question why such huge amounts of funds are being diverted from the crucial needs of a poverty stricken nation into military coffers.
To quote one single example, the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore needs more than two billion rupees in donations this year to help patients who are otherwise unable to pay for themselves.
And there are many, many other examples. Two years ago the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust which runs a free eye hospital in Lahore required Rs 423 million to be able to continue treating curable blindness in Pakistan. This year costs have risen as have their requirements.
Education needs money. Roads, power, industry…all beg for help, and we give money to a bunch of people who end up forming a state within a state and have become so much too big for their boots? Let me spell that out: what justification does such huge and ineffective military spending have when our people have no food and in many places no drinking water?
Given such conditions, we may all be better off overrun by foreign armies anyway.
What excuse do we have for pandering so to our army?