First, the bad news. The Indian defence budget is set to hit a record high of $40bn. That compares with a basic and Pakistani military budget of roughly $7bn.
Moreover, a good chunk of the Indian military budget has been set aside for capital acquisitions, ostensibly to try and keep up with rapid Chinese military expansion – though the security establishment here believes many of the items on the Indian military wish list are there with an intention of increasing its war capabilities against Pakistan.
Now, to the somewhat better news. In percentage terms, the increase in the defence budget is lower than the current Indian fiscal year (April-March).
Military expenditure as a percentage of GDP is below two per cent and dropped further this year. And the latest budget suggests, according to Indian defence analysts, that the Narendra Modi-led government has decided to move more slowly than expected in meeting the demands of the Indian security establishment.
There are two aspects here that are particularly worth bearing in mind, one for Pakistan, the other for India.
For Pakistan, the thought of the Indian military pulling out of sight in conventional terms can be an uncomfortable – possibly, unacceptable – one. However, not everything the hawks here perceive is necessarily true.
Consider that while the Indian defence budget is set to cross $40bn, the Chinese defence budget is roughly four times larger.
India also has to compete for control in the Indian Ocean, a formidably expensive proposition.
Moreover, the Indian military’s modernisation project has come after years of under-investment – so the punch it can pack may not be as big as the $40bn figure suggests.
The Pakistani security establishment is right to closely track Indian defence spending because India remains, in terms of its military capabilities, the principal threat to Pakistan’s security. But a rational, logical perspective is really what is needed rather than the wild conjecturing in some hawkish quarters.
For India, there should be a realisation that goes beyond the plain numbers: the further away it pulls from Pakistan in the conventional field, the more it will create pressure on Pakistan to perhaps lower the nuclear threshold to stave off the threat of conflict.
Simply, much as some in India would like to separate the question of competing with China from the need to manage risk with Pakistan, the overall Indian military capability will send a message in both directions. Stability will only come from advancing dialogue with Pakistan.
Published in Dawn March 2nd , 2015