In June last year, Pakistan army announced that it would be voluntarily foregoing the routine annual increase in its defense budget. This unprecedented decision, followed by Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s humble submission that this was “not a favour to the nation as we are one, through thick and thin,” made him a hero overnight.
Perhaps that’s why there was no public outcry when just a few days later, in another unprecedented move, he was made a member of National Development Council (NDC), a newly created committee headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan for accelerating economic growth and improving coordination between the provinces and the federation.
Since the Pakistan army is already in complete control of the country’s security and foreign policy, by making the army chief a member of the high-powered NDC, Islamabad has formally handed over the country’s economy to Rawalpindi. But no one objected, presumably because the army was already calling the shots on economic issues from behind the scene.
While addressing a seminar at National Defense University Islamabad just a week after being appointed as member of NDS, Gen Bajwa summarised that “We’re going through a difficult economic situation due to fiscal mismanagement.” The army chief wasn’t talking economics-he was making it amply clear that Rawalpindi wasn’t happy with the way Islamabad was handling the country’s economy.
But Pakistan army’s ‘non-military’ service to the nation didn’t end with it forgoing the defence budget increment, or the army chief waxing eloquent on the reasons for the country’s financial woes. In yet another unprecedented move, Gen Bajwa held multiple meetings with top business leaders of the country and justified these by saying that “National security is intimately linked to economy while prosperity is function of balance in security needs and economic growth.” But many opine that the real aim of this exercise was just to make it clear that hereafter Rawalpindi would be having the last say on economic matters and this apprehension turned out to be correct.
According to a news report titled ‘Pakistan’s top business leaders meet Army Chief’ (Geo News, October 3, 2019) during the dinner reception at Army House, Rawalpindi, Gen Bajwa was apprised of two things. One, “The main concern for the businessmen was that the government does not go beyond verbal assurances and that its words do not match its actions,” and two, “The businessmen added that their recommendations were heard in a meeting with the Prime Minister earlier, however, no action had been taken on them as yet.” Since the media wasn’t present on this occasion, this information attributed to “sources” could only have come from some military personnel; and making it public that businessmen had complained to Gen Bajwa chief regarding the government and Prime Minister’s inaction is obviously meant to make it clear as to who’s in actual control in Pakistan.
The military in Pakistan has traditionally enjoyed carte blanche financial autonomy from legislative control. However, since the 18th amendment of Pakistan’s constitution gave greater autonomy to provinces for better allocation and management of financial resources, it also resulted in the arbitrary manner of defence spending coming under the scanner.
In an article titled “Pakistan military won’t take budget cuts easily, even for Covid. So this man has been hired,” (The Print, April 30, 2020) Noted Pakistani political scientist, political commentator and author Ayesha Siddiqa reveals how Gen Bajwa was annoyed with Ishaq Dar, Finance Minister in the Nawaz Sharif government when he couldn’t provide more funds to the army because they were with the provinces. She also mentions how Director General Inter Services Public Relations had even equated this amendment to “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s six points in the early 1970s.”
But with the army chief now being member of NDS and his namesake (former DG ISPR Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa) having been strategically placed as special assistant of Prime Minister’s media management team, Rawalpindi has ensured that the army’s financial demands remain immune to legislative scrutiny.
Yet, despite Gen Bajwa’s untiring effort to reboot Pakistan’s economy, things have gone from bad to worse. In its annual report, State Bank of Pakistan has noted that in fiscal year 2020, “Pakistan witnessed highest inflation not only in comparison with the developed economies but also with emerging economies.”
Its GDP growth, which was 5.5 % in 2018, is estimated to slide into the red (-1.5%) in the current fiscal year due to covid-19 pandemic and the country’s humungous external debt and fresh loans taken to keep the economy afloat are only adding to its burgeoning economic woes.
After outbreak of covid-19 pandemic, Khan has been pleading for loan waivers by saying that Pakistan is a “vulnerable” country. He has also declaring that “We do not have the money to spend on already overstretched health services, and secondly, to stop people from dying of hunger.” But, in what can be termed as ‘mother’ of all paradoxes, his government has just has announced a massive Rs 1.29 trillion defence allocation for the next fiscal year, which is a whopping 11.8% increase over last year’s grant.
Some may say that how Pakistan wishes to spend money is its own business and since it doesn’t concern me, so why should I be so perturbed. My answer to them is that they are both right and wrong. Right because I agree that I’m no one to question how funds are being utilised by Islamabad; wrong, because just in order to justify mammoth budgetary allocations for defence Rawalpindi has upped the ante through its offensive actions (both along the Line of Control [LoC] in the form of ceasefire violations and through its proxies in Kashmir through terrorist attacks), creating a warlike situation which is causing death and destruction both in our border areas and the hinterland.
Like every other Indian, this is a matter of concern to me because Rawalpindi has fabricated the ‘false flag operation’ hypothesis merely to justify its massive expenditure during covid-19 pandemic.
Resultantly, Rawalpindi’s duplicity on the issue of defence spending stands exposed in just one year. It also emerges that despite Pakistan army’s much hyped announced voluntary ‘freeze’ in its defence budget allocation last year, it quietly asked for 4.74 percent increase and then overshot this grant by as much as 6.33 percent.
If Gen Bajwa genuinely desires peace along the LoC and wishes that Pakistan’s wealth is better utilised for infrastructural development and bettering the lives of its people rather than on used for procurement of military hardware, then all he has to do is to rein-in his trigger-happy Generals and declare a ceasefire along LoC, just like former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf did in 2003.
If India doesn’t reciprocate this LoC ceasefire offer, then Pakistan’s claim that New Delhi doesn’t want peace is vindicated, and this in turn will add credibility to Khan’s unconvincing apprehensions regarding the high probability of ‘false flag operations’ by India.
Actually, this is a ‘win-win’ situation for Pakistan as irrespective of India’s response, not only will Pakistan emerge as a peace-loving nation, but both PM Khan and Gen Bajwa shall forever be remembered as the prophets of peace who put an end to senseless cycle of death and destruction along LoC.
But then, there’s a flip side too — if guns on the LoC fall silent and India ceases to be an ‘existential threat’, then Rawalpindi will certainly lose its relevance and won’t be able to claim a lion’s share of the national budget or wield wide ranging extra-constitutional authority as hitherto fore.
So, though we may evoke our common heritage, culture and customs in the hope that these will dispel animosity and allow Indians and Pakistanis to live in peace like good neighbours, but for Rawalpindi, peace with India means the inevitable downfall of its ’empire’ and as such, come what may, no Pakistan army chief of will ever allow the mending of its fence with India.
Though it may sound brusque, but unfortunately, this is the reality.