June 4, 2008

Whither defence details?

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 2:37 pm
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JUNE 04, 2008



IT really doesn’t say much for the democratic credentials of the current government when its defence minister indicates that military spending would not be a subject of parliamentary debate in the current budget session. In economic terms at least, this means that the military retains its status as a sacrosanct institution that is above accountability when it comes to explaining defence costs. Few question the billion-rupee figure in annual budgets that is supposed to cover undisclosed overheads. With no one to demand an explanation for such secrecy, it is no wonder that military finances are not without severe irregularities as occasionally comes to light.

Such a situation makes it even more incumbent on legislators to carefully scrutinise the defence outlay — for much of the money that goes to finance the military and its questionable ambitions could easily have been spent on the people’s welfare. With the combined per capita spending ($23) on education and health considerably less than the per capita spending ($34) on defence, it is clear where our priorities lie. At a time of double-digit inflation that is causing millions to fall deeper into the poverty trap, to make defence a major concern (as the steady rise in annual budgetary allocations shows) is criminal. True, although the India threat has abated, the Taliban and Baloch insurgents are proving more than a handful for the military which, like the common man, also has to contend with pressures such as rising oil prices. But this can hardly be a justification for greater military spending — unless the defence establishment shows the need for a certain amount of funds by giving a comprehensive list of its requirements and detailing what it has spent previous resources on. That is a fair demand, especially when the vast external military aid is factored in.

Unfortunately, so entrenched is the notion of impregnable defence (despite having nuclear weapons) that the welfare of the people has ceased to matter. What use is it to protect the people from ‘external enemies’ but allow hunger and disease to wipe them out? There is no government reflection on how limiting military expenditure could reduce the budget deficit, or allow more funds to be released into the socio-economic sector, making the pinch of projected subsidy removal more bearable. And little thought is given to serious, long-term political solutions to external threats which would automatically reduce the role of the military and hence the high cost of maintaining it. Sadly, in a situation where a military institution like the army is a business empire unto itself, it is unlikely that curtailment on spending would be countenanced by the men in uniform. This makes it all the more necessary for our legislators to raise a strong and unified voice for civilian supremacy over all institutions, especially the military.


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