Defence budget at lowest level

The impression of military spending being too high is wrong

Pakistan faces a serious threat from India. Since its inception, Pakistan has faced perpetual threats from the east. Kashmir has been the major cause of the dispute between the two neighbouring countries. There have been three major wars between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. India is also responsible for the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, and the creation of Bangladesh. The Kargil conflict in 1999 and the misadventure by India in February 2019, compel Pakistan to have a strong army to the deterrence of Indian threats.

Afghanistan has also been hosting and facilitating the terrorists in the past who have been using their land to carry on their activities against Pakistan. A strong military helps Pakistan to preserve its hard-earned independence and sovereignty. Without a strong military, Pakistan would have never been a free state. Moreover, Pakistan has been facing the threat of terrorism since the War on Terror was started by the USA in 2001. To deal with the menace of terrorism, the Pakistan Army had to launch large military operations in tribal areas and Swat. Despite meagre resources at its disposal, the Pakistan Army defeated terrorism. To cope with the threats of terrorism, Pakistan requires a strong army to ensure the safety of its citizens and sovereignty. The contemporary new wave of terrorism requires a strong army to deal with it with an iron hand.

Furthermore, the Pakistan Army has always been at the front in times of natural disasters. During the 2005 earthquake, major relief operations were conducted by the Pakistan Army. Likewise, the Pakistan Army played an important role in evacuating people during the 2010 and 2022 floods. There is no denying the fact that the army has played a major role in the time of national emergencies. Indeed, the Pakistan Army has always safeguarded the nation in times of both man-made and natural crises. These are just a few reasons among many others which show the need of having a well equipped and professional army for Pakistan.

It is said by our enemies that since the past years, Pakistan’s defence expenditure has always been on an increase and on the higher end. Then these elements say that even though Pakistan’s fragile economy has been unable to support it, the military spending in Pakistan has been at the cost of development expenditure. While, as mentioned above, for Pakistan the reasons behind having a reasonable defence spending are the security threat from India, risk factor from Afghanistan, coping with natural disasters and domestic factors such as societal violence, terrorism and sectarianism.

Anti-state elements say that in Pakistan the military enjoys immense control over the decision-making process in Pakistan and, thus, the defence budget has been prioritized over the social sector. According to these elements, this is evident in the form of the retarded growth of the social sector in Pakistan. They say that an increasing non-development budget has also entailed huge cuts in the development budget, and this has badly affected Pakistan’s economy. Initially, the declining development budget was financed through debt. Consequently, debt repayment and debt servicing increased the non-development budget. With the progression of time, borrowing financed the non-development budget also. Currently, Pakistan is in a position where new loans are being acquired to repay the old ones. These few elements claim that the defence expenditure has added to the miseries of Pakistan in a spiralling manner.

The propaganda machine of our enemies says that a heavy debt burden, rising inflation and a nation starving for development mark the economy of Pakistan, but it continues to focus on an ever-increasing defence expenditure. They say that Pakistan has always accorded priority to territorial security as compared to social and economic security, using the argument that it is military strength and stability that can ensure the overall security of the country.

This is baseless and false propaganda from the country’s enemies and anti-state elements. Now come to the real picture. The budget document showed that defence outlay for 2023-24 would be Rs 1,804 billion compared to the revised defence spending of Rs 1,591 billion earmarked for the outgoing fiscal year. Observers believe 15.7 percent increase is justified given a record inflation and devaluation of rupee against the dollar in the last year. According to the budget document 2023-24, out of Rs 1,804 billion, Rs 705 billion have been allocated for employee-related expenses, Rs 442 billion for operating expenses, Rs 461 billion for local purchases and import of arms and ammunition and Rs 195 billion for civil works. Interestingly, all three services—the army, navy and air force—were given an equal increase in the budget, although the Army takes the major share, given its size and the role.

The substantial reduction in Pakistan’s defence budget is alarming, but despite this, Pakistan’s armed forces are facing the biggest challenge, demonstrating their full potential with limited resources. All propaganda and speculations about a huge defence budget is baseless. The Pakistan Army is tackling all internal and external threats. Undoubtedly, our armed forces are providing the best and professional defence services to the country at nominal expenses.

Pakistan’s defence spending is now 1.7 percent of its GDP, showing a decline compared to last year. The defence spending in 2022-23 was around 2 percent of the country’s GDP, the size of which has grown due to the rebasing of the economy.

On an average Pakistan spends $13,400 per soldier, India $42,000, Saudi Arabia $371,000, Iran $23,000 while the USA allocates $392,000 per soldier annually. Pakistan spends less on defence in comparison to other regional states. The archrival of Pakistan, India, spent $72.6 billion on its defence. Likewise, Saudi Arabia spends $55 billion on its defence. China spends $293 billion and Iran $24 billion. In comparison to all these countries, Pakistan spends only $11 billion.

Pakistan’s defence budget as a percentage of GDP and total national budget has fallen to its lowest level in decades. The defence budget for 2023-2024 has come down to 1.7 percent of GDP from 6.5 percent in the 1970s. Pakistan’s defence expenditure is 22 percent less than the global average. India has allocated $72 billion annually for its defence, compared to this; Pakistan has allocated $6.3 billion dollars. If we look at the defence expenditure of the last six years, Pakistan’s defence budget has decreased from $10.2 billion to $6.3 billion in dollar terms, while India’s has increased by 35 percent in the same time.

These facts and figures demonstrate that Pakistan spends very less on its military.  The difference, however, between Pakistan and other countries is that the size of their economies is far bigger. Defence spending has always been the subject of discussions with some seeking greater transparency and open debate about the military’s budget. In recent years, the government provides more details about the defence budget. However, there has never been open debate within Parliament on the subject due to its sensitivity.

Observers believe that the increase in the defence budget is justified given the impending external and internal security challenges. Despite the US troops withdrawal from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan still deploys thousands of troops along the western border as well as in the erstwhile tribal areas to deal with the threat of terrorism. Similarly, the tensions between Pakistan and India still persist, although restoration of ceasefire has brought some respite.

The substantial reduction in Pakistan’s defence budget is alarming, but despite this, Pakistan’s armed forces are facing the biggest challenge, demonstrating their full potential with limited resources. All propaganda and speculations about a huge defence budget is baseless. The Pakistan Army is tackling all internal and external threats. Undoubtedly, our armed forces are providing the best and professional defence services to the country at nominal expenses.

Abdul Basit Alvi
Abdul Basit Alvi
The writer is a freelance columnist

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