Pakistan cannot afford fat army budgets The spokesman of the Pakistan Army, Maj Gen Athar Abbas, has provoked a debate about the size and significance of Pakistan's defence budget in the context of " national security". His statement makes several points that require serious comment. FIRST: He says, " The use of funds in civilian departments should be streamlined instead of criticising the defence budget". He's right, of course, about the accountability of the civilians and how they are wont to overspend, misspend and make mischief with public money. But that doesn't mean that civilians have no right to make critical comment on what the army does with the money it receives from the government. Armies all over the world are big spenders and some of the biggest commission and kickback scams in history are related to arms purchases. SECOND: He says, " The Army performs its duties as per government policyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the government determines the size of the Army". Formally, of course, he is right since the army is an organ of the state that is represented by a duly elected parliament and government. But in practice, as everyone knows, the Pakistan army ( including its affiliated intel agencies) remains a state above a state and takes its orders from its army chief and not the prime minister or president or parliament or cabinet of Pakistan. GHQ determines its own financial needs and insists that its definition of national security along with its political and financial imperatives must prevail. THIRD : He says, " The army has to prepare itself according to the defence capabilities of the enemy". True. But two questions arise: Who is the " enemy"? What is the difference between an arms race and minimal optimal defense? Presumably, the " enemy" is still India. But this doesn't wash any more. The PPP, PMLN, MQM, ANP, and even the JUI - in other words, all those who represent the people of Pakistan - don't think it serves any purpose to continue thinking of India as ' the enemy". Indeed, all of them think that an agenda of " peace and not war" with India should form the core of our foreign policy and disputes should be resolved by talks and compromise across a table rather than jihad or terrorism beyond borders. At the very least, there is a political consensus in the country now that the economic welfare of the people must not be sacrificed at the altar of military confrontation with India. FOURTH: He says, " No army in the world can disclose its development budget to the public". If this is correct, it is also correct that the development budgets of all armies in democratic countries are subject to detailed scrutiny and overview by select committees of parliament, sometimes in- camera. The problem in Pakistan is that GHQ is so contemptuous of elected representatives that it is loth to allow them to examine their accounts and debate their options even in- camera. FIFTH: He says," If civilian governments consider that they could diminish the perils to the country through negotiation with India, then reductions in the army could take place". However, the record shows that whenever any PM has tried to smoke the peace pipe with India, he/ she has been sacked by the army. This was PM Benazir Bhutto's fate when she tried to negotiate terms with India in 1989. In 1999 PM Nawaz Sharif's peace initiative with India was sabotaged by General Pervez Musharraf's misadventure in Kargil, then he was overthrown by a coup when he became wise to GHQ's machinations. SIXTH: He says," Several agencies from some enemy countries have been working to drive a wedge between the army and publicÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Anti- Pakistan elements are trying to establish that the army is a burden on national developmentÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ by criticising the armed forces budgets, these elements had become part of well- planned conspiracies against the army". No evidence is offered to prove this conspiracy because none exists. Recourse to such vilification campaigns against well meaning critics is old hat. Disagreement with GHQ should not provoke a backlash of anti- patriotism or witch- hunt. SEVENTH: He says," An analysis of the budget would reveal that the defence budget has decreased ratio- wise. At present, the ratio of defence budget is 14 per cent of the national budget". But this is a misleading figure. The national budget comprises bank borrowing, foreign loans and grants etc and is always in deficit. A more revealing figure is the percentage of national taxes that goes into defense expenditures. This year, the tax base is about Rs 1600 billion. Out of that the army will get nearly half. Of course, if the tax base could be doubled, the army's slice would diminish to 25%, which is manageable. But until that happens, the army cannot be exempted from some belt- tightening, regardless of the visible and invisible insurgencies it is fighting. EIGHTH: He says, " Pakistan is allocating only $ 4 billion for defence whereas India's defence budget is $ 36 billion. Before designing our preparedness we have to see how strong our enemy is and what is its capability." The first part of the statement is correct but the second doesn't logically follow from it. It is true that India's defense budget has increased by 40 per cent in the last two years, making India the biggest importer of arms in the world. But India's economy has been growing at about 6 per cent per annum over the last twenty years and its Tax: GDP ratio is about 18 per cent, enabling it to spend more on defense. In comparison, Pakistan's average growth rate has been about 3 per cent in the last twenty years and its Tax: GDP ratio is 9 per cent. By this yardstick, - GDP growth and Tax; GDP ratio - Pakistan's defence budget should be no more than $ 1 billion. The second part - about the " enemy's capability" - is even less defensible. If it is problematic to define India as " the enemy", it's even more problematic to try and match its military capability. That is a recipe for an unsustainable arms race that will cripple Pakistan in view of its political and economic dysfunctionality. The fate of the USSR was sealed by the arms race with the USA. We should not fall for the same trap with India.