The balancing act governments have to carry out between national security needs and caring for the welfare of the people is termed as a choice between spending on guns and butter. In Pakistan, the scales are weighted so heavily in favour of guns that our need for butter barely registers in the national debate. In this year’s budget, Rs545 billion were allocated for defence (and much more than that if military pension are counted), a number that dwarfs the amount spent on social services. Just a few days later, we got a demonstration of what this money is being spent on as Pakistan tested its fifth nuclear-capable missile in a month and a half. This latest test was of the Hatf-VII cruise missile, which can deliver a one-ton nuclear warhead and whose testing is being framed as a response to India’s launching of the Agni-V missile.
The problem for Pakistan is that India, which also allocates an inordinate amount of money to defence in its budget, can afford such shows of strength. We are going through an extraordinary economic crisis, one that should lead to some introspection and a temporary moratorium on the military showing off its shiny new toys. India is already well aware that we possess nearly 100 nuclear weapons which can penetrate deep into Indian territory, should we so desire. With this nuclear deterrent in place, we can afford to cut down our addiction to weaponry and spend more of our resources on trying to fix the power crisis and spend greater amounts on health and education.
It is also not immediately apparent why we need to test so many missiles at a time when relations with India are on the mend. Instead we should be taking advantage of a peace dividend and spending less money on military weapons. The military has become so used to its perks and privileges that it is unable to see that the government needs to prioritise the economic recovery right now. With nearly another trillion rupees going into debt servicing, the military needs to free some money up for our other, more pressing needs. Of course, the elected government, notwithstanding the reality of the power matrix in Pakistan, needs to be more assertive in allocating a bigger chunk to social development spending.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2012.