In the context of Pakistan’s India-centric defence strategy, comparison with the corresponding Indian ratios of defence is a common refrain. All ratios are generally higher for Pakistan. India, along with China, Brazil and South Africa, falls in the group of countries with the fastest growth of defence spending. Unlike Pakistan, however, these are also the fastest growing economies of the world. In the wake of daredevil attacks in Rawalpindi and Karachi, and the May 2 incident, public demands have been made to link allocations with performance.
Expenditure on defence is not charged without voting. This privilege is available only to the president, debt servicing, the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, the Wafaqi Mohtasib and the Federal Tax Ombudsman. There is no legal bar on debating the defence budget and presenting cut motions. Lack of debate in the past seems more a matter of convention, if not fear of the unknown. At any rate, an informed debate would require data, which in this case is shrouded in secrecy. Since 2008-09, one sees the defence budget broken down in employees-related expenses, operating expenses of the armed forces, building of physical assets and civil works. The respective sums indicated against these heads for a total defence budget of Rs495 billion for 2011-12 were: Rs206.5 billion, Rs128.3 billion, Rs117.6 billion and Rs42.7 billion. The largest share of 41.7 per cent went to salaries and benefits. Employees-related expenses are projected to rise from Rs158 billion in 2009-10 to Rs256 billion by 2013-14.
The Senate, which can debate but not change the defence budget, has, in the past, seen senators Raza Rabbani, Ishaq Dar, Anwar Baig and some others call for freezing the defence budget 2006-07. In the National Assembly, MNA Fauzia Wahab was the lone voice: “We can’t tell how much of the military budget is for essential items and what part is dedicated to perks and privileges”. This year, the main opposition party declared its intention to debate the defence budget in the National Assembly. National Assembly rules allow cut motions to express dissatisfaction with the performance of a particular ministry. Several of these were moved by the PML-N, but without seriously mobilising its legislators to look for an opportunity to outvote the sleeping or casual participants of the ruling coalition. Speeches, less fiery than those made outside the house, were made. The members did call for a new security policy for the country in consultation with parliament, but seemed unaware of the newly introduced ‘green book’ in their budget time readings. This supplements the ‘pink book’ of demands by providing a statement of the services which are to be delivered by using funds appropriated by parliament and the results that are to be achieved. The document is claimed to be an important step to make the budget more transparent. It says a lot about the Defence Division’s demands related to education, survey maps and maritime policing, but nothing about demand No. 23 related to defence services. Only the outcome of the appropriation for this demand could tell us the extent to which the goal — “To defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan and to protect its national interest and assets through military means” — has been achieved.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2011.
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