Pakistan’s defence budget proposal for the year 2015-2016, was announced on 5th June, 2015, with the budget standing at PKR 781 billion, and the allocation for defence increased by 11.6 percent.
Unsurprisingly, in the typically cavalier fashion of its critics, this increase has come under harsh censure, with little or no understanding of the context of why it occurred, or cognizance of the challenges being faced by Pakistan.
A closer look at global and regional facts and figures, presents a picture better representative of reality. In contrast to its regional partners, Pakistan’s defence budget has actually decreased over time, particularly in comparison to its share in the total national budget. Our defence budget for the 2003-2004, stood at about 21 percent of the total budget, whereas in the latest budget, allocation for defence totals approximately 16.6 percent of the total, standing behind debt services and general public services.
Pakistan has been in the line of fire from various fronts, where in light of this, this increase is far from controversial. The myriad of internal and external security challenges also gravely constricts policy makers in devising viable and feasible strategies to tackle these issues effectively. In order to better understand the complexity and contextual requirements of the threats, and their compulsions on the defence budget, it is useful to highlight exactly what these challenges are. These can be on understood in terms of a three-tiered approach, i.e. international complexities, regional challenges and domestic threats.
Rapid geopolitical and geostrategic changes are dominating the international arena. The Middle East is trapped in conflict and strife, from the emergence of the Islamic State, to the unrest in Yemen. Additionally the reservations of the US vis-à-vis China, and the impending Iran nuclear deal, are all factors that directly impact the security as well as the socio-economic policies of Pakistan.
Regionally, the struggle in Afghanistan for stability is facing new challenges in the wake of the official conclusion of the US-NATO mission. Furthermore, the infiltration of the militants of ‘Islamic State’ in the neighbouring country has also raised concerns in Pakistan. Then the race for dominance in the Indian Ocean comes into play; it is being crowded with regional as well as extra-regional forces. China is also steadily making its presence felt as a great power, clashing with India’s aspirations to achieve major power status in the region. All these factors have culminated in the heightening threat perception in the region, thereby compelling countries to increase their military budgets. This year only, India’s military budget, after an increase of 11 percent stands at $40 billion, and China has increased its defence budget for 2015-16 by 10.1 percent.
Given the recent string of hawkish statements by high profile Indian officials, the rise in the Indian defense budget is particularly worrisome. The BJP government’s election manifesto elucidates a commitment to indigenize the development of defence technologies by encouraging domestic industry to have a larger share in design and production of military hardware, both for domestic use and exports.
According to reports, over the next decade India is expected to spend $100 billion on its defense upgrade program. Furthermore, in August 2014, the Modi government, working on the program of military modernization, increased the stakes that foreign defense contractors were allowed to hold in joint defense ventures from 26 percent to 49 percent. In light of the contentious history and strained relations between Pakistan and India, these actions add to the heightening regional threat perception and exert pressure on Pakistan’s defense compulsions.
At the domestic front, Pakistan has been and in fact still is faced with various monumental challenges. Militancy, extremism, and terrorism have wreaked havoc inside the country over the last decade.
Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have been the worst affected, where external involvement and precarious border conditions have further adversely affected the internal security situation of Pakistan. While, the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, has improved domestic conditions rapidly, significant challenges continue to threaten the peace and stability of Pakistan.
In short, the US drawdown and the new civilian government in Afghanistan, India’s hawkish posturing and unveiled attempts to sabotage Pakistan’s interests in the regionvia a policy of encirclement, all these challenges stand face first for Pakistan. Additionally, the ever-increasing demands of the Zarb-e-Azb campaign and the fight against extremism and counter-insurgency compel the country to increase its defence budget.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2014 the world’s military expenditure totalled $1.8 trillion dollars. Where the US military spending fell by 6.5 percent, the military expenditure in Asia rose by 5 percent, standing at a staggering total of $439 billion. These figures highlight the trend of power politics gaining momentum in the region and the pressure and compulsions they create for Pakistan’s defence spending.
The threats emanating from the eastern and western borders are real and in order to maintain the stability and security of the country, a robust defence budget is imperative. In the coming days, this expenditure is likely to focus on the modernization of equipment, capacity-building and increasing the strength of the armed forces. The continuous engagement of them in the war against terrorism also requires logistical support. Pakistan has always been reluctant to engage in any arms race, but strategic constraints such as those described in this article do not leave it with many alternatives.
The progress of any country is rooted in its economic prosperity, which cannot be attained without the basic precepts for stability – peace and security. There should be no doubt that Pakistan would go to any length to secure and maintain its national interests, and the role of its armed forces in guaranteeing this peace and security is paramount. Given the vast scope of this role, the new defence budget is more than justified, and the entire nation shall stand as one behind it and with our forces.
The writer is the President of Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) and Member Senate Standing Committees on Defence.
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