Pakistan has matched India’s increase in defence spending, jacking up its defence budget by nearly 12 per cent for the next fiscal year amid renewed US pressure for a full-scale military operation in the North Waziristan tribal agency.
Defence allocation has been increased to Rs495.2 billion for 2011-12, compared to last year’s Rs444.2 billion. Interestingly, India had also raised its defence expenditure by 12 per cent in February this year, though the size of their budget is much bigger than Pakistan’s.
Citing resource constraints, the government, however, refused to accept the original request by the military establishment which had sought an 18 per cent increase, or Rs524 billion, for defence expenditure. According to the budget document, of the total Rs495.2 billion, Rs206.4 billion has been allocated for employee-related expenses, Rs128.2 billion for operating expenses and Rs117.5 billion has been set aside for physical assets.
The figures, however, do not include over Rs73 billion allocated for pensions of military personnel that would be paid from the civilian budget and a separate allocation for security-related expenses in a move, which critics say, seeks to conceal the actual defence budget.
Calls have been made for greater scrutiny of the defence spending since the May 2 Abbottabad episode that embarrassed the military establishment over their ignorance of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and the US operation.
The defence budget has never been debated in detail in parliament. “Parliament should critically review defence allocation in the budget,” said Bushra Gohar, lawmaker from the Awami Nation Party, a coalition partner in the government.
The main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has also questioned the increase in defence spending. “In the long run, it’s a recipe for disaster,” said PML-N’s Information Secretary Ahsan Iqbal. “Investing in education is the only way to ensure security,” he added.
However, military officials tried to play down the increase in defence expenditure, arguing that additional funds have been sought to meet expenses of troops’ deployments in restive areas, ration expenses and to offset the impact of the depreciation of rupee against dollar and double-digit inflation.
In his budget speech, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh briefly commented on the increase in defence spending, saying that the current security situation warranted the hike.
And it is not just the human cost. The battle against militancy has cost Pakistan $68 billion in the same period. Interestingly, while the US has just provided over $13 billion to Pakistan over the last 10 years, the losses in 2010-11 alone were recorded to be $17.9 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2011.
Correction: June 4
Due to a proofreading error, an earlier version of this report had stated the budget to be of 2010-2011. The budget is of 2011-2012.