Defence without money, a mere pipedream?

Published: April 17, 2010
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Farhan Bokhari is a defence analyst and writes for The Financial Times.

Farhan Bokhari is a defence analyst and writes for The Financial Times.

The Pakistan Army’s “Azm-i-nau” or “new resolve” war games that kicked off last week must be acknowledged as a vital measure, necessary to secure key interests versus a grim reminder of its dissociation from a rapidly faltering country.

The ongoing exercise the largest of its kind since the much publicised “zarb-i-momin” or “strike of the faithful” under the former army chief General Aslam Beg, seeks a renewed focus on defensive action in the Pakistani plains along the eastern Indian border.

Pakistan has fought 3 major wars with India here including the 1971 campaign to save the then West Pakistan province after the fall of the eastern wing. It is true that much water has passed under the bridge since the last all out Indo-Pak encounter of 1971. Besides, a combination of people-to-people contacts backed by greater popular awareness of each other has stepped in motion.

But Pakistan’s defence and security planners have good reason to remain on alert, given the large scale build up of Indian armed forces, now emerging as one of the world’s more expense driven outfits. The series of Indian incursions along the line of control in Kashmir right up to Siachen coupled with Pakistan’s reaction in the shape of the Kargil episode continue to point towards an underlying tendency for conflict.

There is little by way of a convincing response to a valid question such as: in the absence of a demonstrable capacity to react, does Pakistan revert to its nuclear option the next time a slice of its territory is run over by Indian forces?

While the threat is real, Pakistan’s ability for adequate preparation to deter the threat continues to be heavily undermined by its failure to secure key domestic components.

The successive government’s failure to revamp the state’s machinery has now overshadowed the military’s ability to keep up with securing Pakistan’s border. Pakistan’s historic democratic deficit also does not help. The military’s past interventions in civilian life continue to fuel periodic expectations from aspiring public leaders.

A country incapable of paying its bills in the face of a dilapidated tax collection system and surrounded by repeated failures to care for its citizens simply will not have the capacity to keep up with its defence related needs.

The matter of this yawning gap between needs and aspirations standing in sharp contrast to resources, is set to become all the more acute as India marches towards the global platform, backed by one of the world’s fastest growing economies and a domestic situation that attracts a growing number of investors.

For cash-strapped Pakistan, maintaining a modern conventional force and internal stability will remain a pipedream.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Apr 17, 2010 - 4:20AM

    Pakistans defence lies in its economic prosperity and the prosperity of its citizens. The military and its myth may be the arm that implements any defensive posture but without the wholehearted support of its citizenry, the defence of a country is impossible. By support I suggest moving beyond flag waving and India bashing but taking practical steps that enhance the nations long term security.

    The lack of education, innovation and research not only hinders our own growth but also hinders our ability to develop an indigenous defence program. While we keep on complaining that country X or Y isn’t selling us so and so arms. Given India’s growing economic stature, does anyone really believe that if hostilities between Pakistan and India broke out any global power is likely to enforce embargos or sanctions against the Indian military?

    We still have a shallow, narrow minded defensive posture which can easily be trampled! Our military men need to wake up to the reality that “civilians” have a major role to play in defending their country. Military exercises looks good for propaganda purposes, but little else. Recommend

  • Ammar
    Apr 17, 2010 - 12:59PM

    I endorse the views of Mr. Nadir. It is the civilian (Bloody Civilian in Pakistan) that has the major role to play in defending and prospering any country. We should take the example of Japan. They didn’t have their own army when they were becoming the economic power. They have beaten all the contemporary economies fair and square. may I ask the writer how much do we spend on our health and education? Why can this not be the subject to write? why???Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Apr 17, 2010 - 4:48PM

    First of all it is such a pleasure to see Farhan writing here. He is surely amongst the best journalists Pakistan has ever produced. He introduces himself modestly; he writes very lucidly on economics as well.

    Yes, of course we should write about what we spend on health and education or the social sector generally. It will be a low number. We need to establish social sector spending floors as a percent of GDP that rise over time to compensate for inflation. These floors should not be breached even in times of fiscal stringency. Across-the-board spending cuts do great damage because they are by-definition indiscriminate. If there must be cuts on the development side they should be selective and protect those sectors, including the social sector, which are vital for strengthening the economy’s long-term growth potential.

    Of course there is always the big-bad-wolf (the IMF) to blame for spending cut-backs. In all my years there, there has never been a country program that has come to the Executive Board for approval with the staff announcing gleefully that they have solved the fiscal problem by cutting spending on the social sector. Where you cut is the prerogative of the country authorities. That is for our decision-makers to decide, not the IMF or anyone else. Recommend

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