With an economy in an absolute mess, social cohesion in taters, and people dying as they rush for subsidised food grains, Pakistan has produced an unlikely defence budget. As per the budget documents presented to the National Assembly, Pakistan has allocated Pakistani Rs1.804 trillion for its defence services for the fiscal year 2023-24. According to the Pakistani Newspaper Dawn, the allocation is “an increase of 13 per cent over the revised allocation for the outgoing year (2022-23).”
Any nation’s defence budget is contingent on a host of factors, including the nation’s threat perception, the health of its economy, the availability of resources and the competing need to balance development and growth without neglecting national security. Pakistan is today in a highly tenuous situation on most of these counts. The nation’s security needs a more detailed analysis since the issue being analysed is the budget for the defence forces, the primary custodians of the country’s security.
Pakistan has a singular pre-eminent external threat perception – India. Even if the threat is considered fundamental for a moment, Pakistan has its deterrence capability to include the nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is also attempting a triad capability. Further, it is not bound by a ‘No First Use Policy’. In the conventional arena, Pakistani armed forces will undoubtedly find an unequal match in the Indian military; however, with the Indian forces having to face a threat from the North also, the difference in strength between the two may not be overwhelming.
Pakistan’s greater threat is insurgent groups operating from bases within Pakistan and across the Durand Line. The ISI nurtured a large number of these groups over the past decades and are today poised to foment chaos; their reach has already extended to the Rawalpindi Corps Commander’s residence. Whether it was an orchestrated exercise by the establishment to run down Imran’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or not is debatable.
The other threat that has manifested itself is in the domestic political arena, driving the country into a state of disequilibrium. Should elections be held, and Imran Khan be allowed to participate and possibly emerge as the winner, as it seems likely today, Pakistan is in for a massive confrontation between the civil and military establishments.
Keeping its existential threats in view, the last order of priorities is an external threat. Suppose the country is going to build its future by massive allocation of funds to the armed forces that are actually meant to dwell primarily on the external threat. In that case, the current leadership and the military that calls the shots at Rawalpindi are being deliberately shortsighted.
The allocation of such a large percentage of the budget can only aggravate the situation in the streets, with the Army being rather unpopular on Pakistani streets.
The logic being quoted for the jump in the budget hinges on factors like inflation and the depreciated value of the rupee at the root of such an increase. However, these factors are common across all sectors. Only compensating the defence sector could be a lopsided approach to resolving the larger issues.
Pakistan Army will be the biggest recipient with PKR 824.6 billion. The Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Navy have been allocated PKR365.7 billion and PKR188.3 billion, respectively.”
With Pakistan considering India as its primary threat, it would be in order to draw a comparison between the military expenditures of both countries. India is in the fourth position as far as defence spending is concerned. India’s allocation for defence in 2023 was US$ 54.2 bn, according to GlobalFirePower.com.
The Pakistani budget parallelly is reflected as $ 7.5 billion. Pakistan is the 29th largest defence spender. The comparative defence expenditure of the two countries in GDP terms is difficult to ascertain, with the figures varying from source to source.
However, a World Bank report provides the GDP value for both countries. According to the report, India spent 2.7 per cent of its GDP on defence in 2021, while Pakistan spent 3.8 per cent. Since the overall economy is a driving enabler for defence expenditure by any country, it would be fair to compare the two countries. According to WorldData.info, India was the fifth largest economy, with a GDP of $ 3,176.3 billion. Pakistan ranks 43rd, with a GDP of $ 348.3 billion. Since then, India has been snipping at the heels of Germany, currently 4th in the rankings, while Pakistan may have slipped a bit downhill.
To all appearances, the gap in conventional military strength between the two countries has gone much beyond Pakistan’s reach. An attempt at trying to bridge the gap is well-nigh impossible. Should such an occasion arise, Pakistan would do better to focus on its domestic issues, rattle its nukes, and perforce call-in allies to defend itself. However, even its allies may not want to get into such a messy knot, that too, without the assurance of reasonable returns.
Excessive defence allocations witnessed in the budget are only some of Pakistan’s expenditures on its forces. In addition, it will be spending on the maintenance and security of its nuclear arsenal. In 2021 Pakistan spent $1.2 billion on its nuclear weapons. India, incidentally, spent $2.3 billion. Other areas also receive covert funding and are not disclosed in the defence budget. Finally, the armed forces might overspend as they have done in the previous year. At the end of the last financial year, the armed forces had overspent Rs110 billion — an increase of 8 per cent from the initial allocation.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd), Editor, BharatShakti.in