Guns Vs Butter

Let’s get the numbers right, first

With the budget, of course comes the debate in its wake. And within that debate, of course, is the one on the quantum of financial resources allocated for defence. In this context, both sides of the divide in the public sphere are resorting to some misleading talking points.

Consider, for instance, a graphic uploaded online by a TV channel associated with one of Pakistan’s most respected papers of record. Rs 1.84 trillion for defence, it read, and a paltry Rs 82 billion of education. An appalling imbalance, obviously, given how the latter is a thousandth of the former. However, the comparison itself is completely unfounded. After the 18th amendment to the constitution, education, much like a lot of subjects, are purely provincial concerns. The aforementioned Rs 84 billion are being spent on federal regulatory bodies, federal directorate of education and the smattering of remaining FG colleges. That’s it. If one were to add up the provincial education budgets, they do make up a number quite comparable to the defence budget.

Does that mean that all apprehensions about our defence budget being unsustainably large are unfounded? Not at all. It is unsustainably large and something has to be done about it.

As per the World Bank’s figures for 2021, India, which splurges more on defence than it should, spends around 2.7% of its GDP on defence. Pakistan spends around 3.8%. We’re worse off if one were to compare the figures as a proportion of the federal budget.

What makes matters even worse is that the Rs 1.84 trillion isn’t our total military budget. There are other heads, buried away in pockets within columns in the finance bill that, in all honesty, should have been a part of the military budget. Most famously, the military pensions, but also the running costs of certain civil armed militias that are officered by the Pakistan army. These paramilitary organisations are essentially the military. The combined strength of the four Frontier Corps alone is almost equivalent to a corps-and-a-half of the army proper.

The biggest issue, of course, remains that of scrutiny. The relative opacity of how the military budget is spent is counterproductive to our nation’s defence. If the nation’s public works engineers have to submit themselves to questions by our elected representatives, so should all organisations. Only then can we figure out how to plug leaks while still maintaining a cohesive national defence.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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