IMPACT OF CUT IN BUDGET BY PAKISTAN MILITARY
Military spending has always been an imperative expenditure for Pakistan because of the country's complex, ambiguous and volatile strategic environment. Security concerns in Pakistan increase exponentially when threats such as inter-state border issues, intra-state ethnic tension and radical militant groups (Example - Tehrik-i-Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammad) are considered. It has been established throughout Pakistan's history that the principle responsibility of every government is to develop its defence forces in order to ensure its national survival, sovereignty and enhance its national interest. The persistent question remains, how much (defence spending) is enough?
Hence, it was an unorthodox event when in an unprecedented move, the Pakistani military agreed to cut down its bulky budget for the next fiscal year (2019-2020) as a relief measure for its 'critical financial situation'. The voluntary step was taken within the ambit of the austerity drive launched by the government, owing to the nation's cash-crunch and economic tribulations. Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) - the media wing of the military made this move official via his tweet.
"Voluntary cut in defence budget for a year will not be at the cost of defence and security. We shall maintain effective response potential to all threats. Three services will manage impact of the cut through appropriate internal measures. It was important to participate in the development of tribal areas and Balochistan".
How much the budget would be trimmed is still under wraps. Prime Minister Imran Khan seemed supportive of the initiative. He said he was very appreciative of the Pakistan military's ‘unprecedented voluntary initiative of stringent cuts in their defence expenditure’, bearing in mind Pakistan's financial state of affairs. Khan said he was grateful that the move came ‘despite multiple security challenges’ they were keeping up with. Commenting on the incumbent military's decision, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the cut in the defence spending is ‘not a favour to the nation’, making it clear that the ‘no pay raise decision is also only for the officers and not for the soldiers’. Pakistan's Science and Technology Minister, Fawad Choudhary said that this was ‘not an easy step at all’. ‘Only a strong civilian-military coordination can rescue Pakistan from deep problem of Government and economy’, he added.
The move is indeed a drastic one. The previous government had hiked the military spending 20% to 1.1 billion, but the military overshot that figure amidst the burst-up tensions with their traditional arch-foe India. Reportedly, Pakistan in 2018 was the 20th biggest military spender in the world with an expenditure of USD 11.4 billion. The mentioned expenditure made up for 4% of Pakistan's GDP, supposedly the highest since 2004. The low GDP and a rather languish rate of development incurred huge losses and debts on Pakistan. Considering this, the budget cut on defence seems very plausible for a country which succumbed to the pressures of the IMF. The Pakistani Government had made it clear that cuts in the civilian and military budget would be an inexorable step, owing to its 6 billion dollar loan from IMF and its currency's constantly deteriorating value since 2017.
Developing countries tend to keep a lion's share of their budget for defence which is basically tantamount to empowering the Army at the cost of the country’s development and wellbeing. For Pakistan too, the price for defence is the compromise with education, infrastructure and health-care, and thus is considerably high. Trimming of the budget by military will consequently benefit the budget for development purpose. The excessive military spending undermined Pakistan's financial condition by contributing to wasteful imports of luxury cars or other luxury items for senior officers and corruption in arms procurement. A cut in the military budget might also open doors for FDI guaranteeing security to investment. This definitely means a lot for Pakistan, for we know for a fact its persistent state of deep crisis due to poor infrastructure in light of the withdrawal of the US aid.
One of the most crucial (and even welcoming) impact of this massive step would be a decrease in terror attacks and cross-border firing. This could considerably reduce the defence spending of its neighbour, India.
Pakistani Army has always been the real power behind the government, commanding companies, owning lands and proving to be a mammoth drain on the budget. Ever since the times of General Zia-Ul-Haq, Pakistan's Armed forces have seen a constant increase in their power and glory. Cuts in military budget seemed next to impossible for a country like Pakistan. This move definitely marks the threshold of a new era and hopefully a beginning of the end of an era of military dominance in Pakistan.