Our defence budget is poised to remain fixed from last year at Rs1.1 trillion. Owing to economic downturns this year, the military expenditure will have to make do without the annual increase, although only 3.2% of our GDP comprised this allocation. This is both honourable and risky – the latter, though, is of higher concern considering the security situation facing our country that has intensified in recent times, after a lull. For a developing country, the military’s acceptance of this budget stipulation spells honour. For Pakistan specifically, however, given its constant strife with India and unsecure borders on the other side as well with militancy easily able to creep in, this may not appear be a reasonable decision.
The one aspect that provides some relief is Prime Minister Imran Khan’s words that the excess money will be sourced towards tribal area development – a high priority aim of which should be security considering the often gray areas that tribal mindsets sought to rest in. It may also be acknowledged that our defence budget has generally increased over the last several years but by no means does this seek to allude to the notion that we support high defence budgets; to be a peace-loving nation, arms deals and other military expenses should be cut with resources allocated to areas of development. This is of course a frequent criticism of developed countries. However, the timing to pull resources away for under-developed Pakistan is off with talks of the deadly Islamic State joining the long list of extremist forces on home soil.
Announcing a hold on the defence budget to be the same as last year also gives our enemies fodder to talk down our military’s self-esteem and morale, even though Chief of Army Staff Major General Qamar Bajwa issued a strong statement on maintaining strong response capabilities should any violations be made. Pacifying the IMF over our recent bailout package was also necessary though and this is just one step towards controlling GDP deficit. One hopes for a stability in the upcoming year as we are officially strapped for financial resources.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2019.