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Pakistan, India Defense Budgets - A Wild Goose Chase

29 June, 2006

By Yasar Khalid


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In April 2006, when India announced it was raising its defense budget by 7 percent to $20.1 billion, or less than 2.5 percent of its gross

domestic product, Pakistan said it would amount to starting an arms race in the south Asian region. Instead of staying away from the arms race, Pakistan increased its defense budget for financial year 2007 by 12 percent to $4.1 billion, or more than 3 percent of its gross domestic product.

So the arms race continues.

The region of sub-continent, including bigger countries such as Pakistan and India, account for more than one-fifth of the world's population and almost one-sixth of the world's poor. The two countries spend meager amounts, only a fraction of their GDPs, on education, health, clean drinking water and social amenities. More than 30 percent of Pakistan's 160 million population lives in poverty, while about 20 percent of India's 1 billion population live below the poverty line. In such a situation, the two countries spending exorbitant parts of their resources on purchasing defense equipments and maintaining large armies appears unintelligent. Yet, the democratic government in India and military government in Pakistan continue to follow the anti-people policies.

In the June 5 budget speech, Minister of State for Finance Omar Ayub Khan said Pakistan needs to be alive to defense needs and, hence, came the increase in defense budget announcement. The government cites tension with India and defense budget hike by its neighbor as the reason for maintaining a high defense expenditure. Pakistan's proposed defense budget for financial year 2006-07 accounts for about one fifth of the total budget and is 20 times more than what the country plans to spend on education and health.

``Looking at the past, this army doesn't deserve such a big budget,'' said Khawaja Asif, an opposition MNA in the budget debate in the National Assembly. ``Every mother in Pakistan should give birth to a General, if the country wants to end poverty,'' said another opposition MNA sarcastically.

In yet another and extremely gruesome incident emanating from poverty, a young bearded man in Lahore killed his three daughters while they were sleeping and volunteered arrest. according to television and newspaper reports, the killer had no crminal background nor he was known for any kind of violent behaviour. Yet, he had the courage to commit the crime, and it was no simple crime. The reports said the killer was mentally upset because of of his ill-health and could not feed his daughters. Poverty is such a menace that it can cause unthinkable things to happen. Not that this is a first incident in Pakistan in which a father or a mother in extreme poverty killed their own children. Such incidents have happened before, but it goes on to illustrate that how urgent there is a need to address the poverty issue and the rulers have to drastically cut unnecessary expenditures to spend on poverty reducing measures.

Pakistan's army was not used to such blatant criticism in past. The fact that the army is being directly criticized is for two reasons. Firstly, its involvement in politics and governance and, secondly, because the defense budget is not open to scrutiny and debate in the parliament or parliamentary committees.

The army's involvement in politics dates back to 1950s to General Ayub Khan, the country's first Martial law administrator, and to date marks that fact that more than half of Pakistan's 58 years as an independent country, it has been ruled by the army. Since the 1950s the army through its different wings, particularly the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has been directly or indirectly guiding the political administration. The rule of General Pervez Musharraf has been the most blatant example of army penetrating into key political and bureaucratic positions. The army's-guided 2002 general elections, the political maneuvering that followed to install a Musharraf-favorable set up in the parliament, led to larger discontent among masses and the opposition.

Whether Pakistan needs to maintain a high defense budget after becoming a nuclear weapon state in 1999 is debatable. But since the army maintains it has achieved a deterrence by possessing nuclear weapons, the larger defense budget doesn't hold good in view of high poverty rate in the country.

The very fact that army is involved in politics, encourages opposition and the masses to criticize the defense budget. For instance in the 1990s when the military wasn't directly governing the country directly, the criticism on defense budget was negligible.

Secondly, the opposition parliamentarians want to debate and scrutinize the defense budget in the parliament. If Pakistan has a democratically elected government, as claimed by General Musharraf, and it has civilian leadership, there should be no problem with debating the budget. Every government expenditure is open to scrutiny in a democratic government. After all it is tax payers money, the army is using and Pakistan's tax payers have the right to ask where the money is being spent. The Generals are getting salaries, perks and privileges and allotment of residential and commercial land, the construction of high profile GHQ from the tax payers money.

An open debate on the defense budget, if not completely end, will at least lower the level of criticism and if the army has no skeletons to hide, they should open their accounts to public scrutiny.

If compared, the governments in India decide on raising the defense budget according to needs. Since India has a long history of democracy and their Generals never getting involved in politics, they somehow get away with the defense budget. Secondly, the Indian defense budget is debated in the parliament and the parliamentary committees, giving no room for criticism. Yet, Indian defense budget is criticized because of high poverty rate in that country and international donors and foreign countries demand from Indian governments to cut defense expenses and spend more on public.

Both Pakistan and India appear to be directionless as far as the defense expenditures are concerned. There seems no end to it. People of the two countries continue to suffer because these two countries want more weapons. Unless sanity prevails, there appear no end to this arms race.

 

End.

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