Pakistan is getting a good deal, Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar will tell you. Instead of paying $80 million per piece for the American-built F-16s, the JF-17 Thunder fighter jets will cost us about a fourth of that, between $20 and $25 million per piece.
The deal is so good, the minister says, that we’ve ordered 50 of the JF-17s to be delivered in the next six months.
How much would that cost us? Between $1 and $1.25 billion. That doesn’t sound awfully expensive for national defence in itself but how else could we spend about $1.25 billion?
About seven million children in Pakistan are not enrolled in primary schools, according to Pakistan Education Task Force. With $1.25 billion, The Citizen’s Foundation, a private NGO that runs schools for underprivileged children, could educate 1.8 million of them for three years in over 7,000 schools built from scratch. Of course, if it was spent more wisely on already constructed schools, it could possibly resolve Pakistan’s education emergency.
The Saudi government built basic health units at a cost of Rs13 million each in quake-affected a reas. That means instead of 50 fighter jets, we could have 8,173 basic health units, or over 1,400 fully-equipped, 50-bed hospitals.
Lack of infrastructure – roads, airports, public transit systems – is a serious constraint on Pakistan’s development. Meanwhile, the floods destroyed the already-existing highway network in the country. For $1.25 billion, the National Highway Authority could build approximately 2,500 kilometres of brand new, four-lane highways or 1,250 kms of world-class, six-lane, access controlled motorways. That’s more than three times the length of the famed Islamabad-Lahore motorway.
Of course, it could alternatively be spent on the much-needed Gwadar airport, 13 times over!
And if I were to be selfish and think just about Karachi, it could pay for 80% of the Karachi Circular Railway’s cost, or give the city a modern bus rapid transit network, four times. That’s real splurging.
Each megawatt (MWe) of power produced by a thermal plant costs about $1 million in plant construction etc, on average. $1.25 billion would mean we add an additional 1,250 MWe of electricity to our starved network. Of course, there is no guarantee we’d be able to produce and then use it since lack of electricity is not due to lack of installed generation capacity. But if you’re jingoistic enough, one could also use the 50 fighter jets money for an additional nuclear reactor at Chashma that would produce 340 MWe of electricity.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2011.