By Hamid Pakteen
As millions line up in winding queues for wheat flour, pulses and medicines and Pakistan is teetering on the edge of multiple collapses, the Generals have usurped a major part of the budget for new weapons, increased pay and perks and to run their fat business empires.
In times of crisis, the so-called guardian of Pakistan, the army has refused to share close to $10 billion which its various enterprises generate every year. Such a largesse is spent as privileges and perks of military personnel, mostly to the Generals in the form of land, houses and other benefits. This huge sum remains out of the public domain.
The 2022–23 defense budget is estimated to be of PKR 1.53 trillion (USD 7.5 billion), a phenomenal 12% increase over the original military expenditure in 2021–22. This increase is extraordinary and criminal given the civilian government’s decision to impose heavy taxes–a whopping $170 billion–on already-burdened people to meet the IMF loan conditionalities. The only people who seem to benefit from the budget are the rich and influential, including the Generals.
There has been no letup in the defense budget as the country went down economically and otherwise. The increase this year was in sharp contrast to the cuts in spending on the development sector, health, education and housing. The army cornered $669 million in 2019 which shot up to $760 million in 2020 and $884 million 2021. These were the very years when the country suffered Covid epidemic and then cataclysmic floods. The worst has been the failure of Project Imran, the army’s long-conceived project to control the political future of the country through puppet regimes like that of Imran Khan. The latest data of the army’s procurements is confidential but a reliable estimate of the previous budgets as well as conservative estimates of combat requirements for the next five years would put the budgetary estimates to be higher than the present year.
For instance, the army in 2021 purchased armored vehicles worth $263 million compared to $92 million in 2020. These vehicles were part of Pakistan’s efforts to maintain and upgrade conventional warfare capabilities. Likewise, the navy bought ships and accessories worth $358 million in 2021 as compared to $145 million the previous year. Although the air force had not made any big-ticket purchases in the past few years, its budget for drones and sensors from China have increased. In 2021, it imported sensors worth $25 million, a sharp rise of $15 million from 2020.
The army has also increased its investments in boosting capabilities for cyber warfare capabilities. A new cyber-division headed by a Major General has been set up with the help of China. Pakistan has also released a National Cyber Security Policy in 2021 which indicates an increasing budgetary outlay for increasing its capability in cyber as well as artificial intelligence domain. The recent air force purchase of a Drone Jx gun from China indicates the new thrust. The gun is capable of disrupting signals between the ground station and the UAV. Pakistan has also set up a secret cyber army unit with the help of Turkey while China has helped set up Information Security Laboratory (ISL) under the National Electronics Complex of Pak (NECOP).
When there was a murmur of public dismay over the higher defense budgetary outlay last year, the army came out with a facetious justification of inflation and rupee depreciation. These two factors are common to all but have a severe impact on ordinary people of Pakistan, and not the rich and the uniformed. The army, responsible for much of what is horribly wrong in Pakistan, cannot deny that it has fattened up on what has been snatched from the people.
*The author chooses a pseudonym. Pakteen is a researcher based in Afghanistan.
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