The latest news from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute is that “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms while South Korea is second and Pakistan and China are third in the list”. Worldwide arms sales have grown by 24 per cent in 2007-11 compared to 2002-06, and the major buyers were located in Asia. And Africa, where conflict is routine in many parts, is the lowest purchaser of weapons accounting for only nine per cent of the market; India alone buys 10 per cent of the arms produced around the world.
Most economists look at defence spending as a percentage of a country’s GDP — and if it is above three per cent it is not supposed to be good because it begins to bite into the welfare of the common man. Last time this was computed in Pakistan, defence spending stood at 3.7 per cent of the GDP, or nearly 20 per cent of the national budget. Is this figure acceptable to everyone? Some observers say that military spending on pensions, etc, has been pushed into the civilian budget, which means defence spending is actually much higher.
Asia is spending on arms in a big way. Several reasons could be advanced for this trend. Asia is exempt from the global economic crisis and the economies are growing at a nice clip. When the growth rate is high, states usually start spending more and defence is one sector which is found lagging because of the past focus on civilian economy. Also the fast growing economies of Asia may be diversifying into arms industry and the imports could be related to the requirements of the new sector. China is an example of this. It is now entering the market as a major supplier and also accounts for a large part of Pakistan’s purchases.
India’s economy is on a trajectory of growth and its military buying may raise alarm in Pakistan because Pakistan’s military is reactive to Indian activity in the sector. This would be wrong on many counts. First of all the Indian record buying is only 2.5 per cent of GDP meaning that it has little negative effect on the quality of life of Indians while Pakistan’s defence budget has. Secondly, the world views arms purchases in light of the political intent behind these purchases. India as a status quo power is interpreted as a ‘defensive’ buyer while Pakistan as a ‘revisionist’ buyer is seen as a reactive state nursing the intent of changing the status quo through aggression. India is not a revisionist state vis-à-vis China, although it could be. It chose not be the ‘challenging’ rival.
The world doesn’t see India the way we do. Interestingly, the world also doesn’t see China as America does. Pakistan sees India as a hostile state with intent to harm Pakistan with its hegemonic designs in the region. The world doesn’t agree with Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s alarmism about India is understood by the world as springing from its revisionist stance vis-à-vis India. Therefore, when India buys weapons it is all right; but when Pakistan buys arms it is viewed with suspicion. Pakistan’s civilian budget is seen as competing with military budget which stands at 20 per cent of the national budget, while India’s is not. Most aid-givers to Pakistan take care to target civilian projects and try their best to work through NGOs fearing that the government may secretly move the funds around to benefit the army. The Kargil war in 1999, by some estimates depleted the national budget by around two billion dollars.
Pakistan needs arms for defence. It needs arms and training to fight the terrorists although many think fighting them is not ‘our war’. But crippling expenditures can be avoided through a sane, flexible, non-honour-bound foreign policy. This would mean a policy that also realises the imperatives of socio-economic development, and by both sides, given the extreme poverty found in their respective populations. Furthermore, if a permanent peace is established, both countries could cut back on their exorbitant defence spending and use the resources freed up to fund social sector development. Pakistan needs to do that so that its economy can grow at a fast rate and military budgets are thereafter easy on the people of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.
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