PKKH Exclusive | by Zain ul Abedin Qasmani
Sometimes we have to perceive things from an entirely contradictory point of view of the general opinion. Pakistan’s nuclear capacity is one of the highly debated issues in the world both inside and outside the country. A recent report from an American think tank about Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal has brought the issue further criticism and denunciation. According to the report, Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal with enough fissile material to increase its existing stash of 120 missiles to over 200 by the year 2020. Ironically, this report has come from a country that has an existing arsenal of over 8,000 warheads. But let us move on to the bigger picture and discuss the reasons, as to why the Pakistani military is relatively inclined towards improving its nuclear arsenal instead of giving the conventional argument.
Firstly, it is surprising to see that most of the Pakistanis themselves are against Pakistan’s growing nuclear stockpile. Rightly so, because there are certain aspects that need to be addressed before the military further expands its nuclear cache. Some of the key grievances of the common populace about the aforementioned issue are highlighted as follows:
- Excess military budget
- The threat of a nuclear war
- The danger of warheads falling into the hands of radical terrorist organizations
- Unneeded focus on improving military equipment instead of concentrating on socioeconomic and political ills in the country
One, the military budget, an issue which many fail to fathom in our society, is something that has to be understood by everyone. According to the budget report of 2014-15, defense budget is estimated to be around Rs 650-700 billion or $6.5 billion, which is 16.5% of the total budget of Rs 4302 billion. Let us evaluate the defense budget a little. The defense budget is further divided into 5 segments. 46% goes to the army, 20% to Pakistan Air-Force, 10% to Pakistan Navy and the other two divisions are made between pensions and administrative expenses. Many people believe that the retired army officers enjoy certain perks, such as huge pensions and chunks of land in the form of plots in lavish housing societies after their retirement. While it is true that a part of this expenditure comes from various budgetary allocations for departments which are specially made to fill deficits, but is it really as much as we think it is?
Pakistan has the world’s 6th largest military. More than 1.1 million personnel; both active and reserved, serve in the military right now, but how much does the military spend on each soldier? A rough estimate tells that Pakistan military spend a mere $10,000 on the salary, equipment and supplies of a soldier annually. Compared to that, the American military spends $400,000 and India spends more than $25,000. The reason why the expenditure per soldier is lesser than the other large military forces of the world is that a good amount of the defense budget is spent on maintaining and improving Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence which is supposedly a better option for Pakistan, instead of improving the conventional equipment. Why so?
Sadly, Pakistan’s military and economic policies are India-centric. We deem India as potentially the biggest threat, and rightly so, because we have been at horns locked with our eastern neighbor since the conception of both countries. Indian military is almost ten times bigger in both man and material compared to Pakistan. Pakistani military’s stubborn self-sustenance to counter the Indian military advancements on borders has made the Indians continue increasing their conventional strength at a rapid pace. The current Modi government wants to further upgrade their existing military equipment from the Soviet-era to the modern American and Israeli equipment. Entire $250 billion expenditure has been saved for military upgrades, ranging from basic artillery to acquiring drones and anti-tank missiles. Constant border skirmishes with India in the past month are an evidence of how the Indian military recently has adopted a rather offensive stance towards Pakistan. Pakistan obviously cannot fend off a military strength exponentially higher that its own, therefore, Pakistan resorted to increasing the nuclear deterrence.
Indians have tried to use their conventional strength to the fullest by employing certain ground offensive tactics like the infamous ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ which enables India to deploy a beastly ground offensive from five sectors across the working border. To counter that, Pakistan started working on a response and came up with another nuclear solution. It became the only fourth country after America, China and Russia to develop Strategic Ballistic Missiles. The Indian threat was once again pacified and military expenditure justified. However, then started the war on terror and its socioeconomic repercussions, of which almost everyone is aware of.
Two; the threat of a nuclear war which again, has been always there from the moment the country declared its nuclear capacity. Nuclear weapons are WMDs that have incredibly devastating results. Many countries pursue the idea of nuclear deterrence because it is supposedly the perfect defensive option more than an offensive one. Pakistan and India, being two nuclear armed neighbors have the constant threat of a nuclear war looming over their heads, because the leaders of both the countries are too stubborn to come to some sort of accord or consensus; primarily on the Kashmir and militancy issue. This instantly leads both the countries to come to blows, time and again. A nuclear war will leave incredible destruction but its aftermath in the form of a nuclear winter will have the region suffer for centuries. Such is the threat of this gambit but it has come as a constraint to Pakistan, thanks to its ever volatile neighbor.
Thirdly, the possibility of the warheads falling into the hands of militants is seen with apprehension by the world. It has been 17 years since Pakistan successfully test fired its first nuclear missile. The potential increment to its stockpile is an indication of how much Pakistan relies on its nuclear capacity. One cannot be certain as to how secure is Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry but the record shows that it has been secure so far, unless of course, someone exploits it for their own purpose.
Fourthly, the most important issue of all is that many of us criticize that there is an unneeded and unprecedented focus on improving military apparatus instead of a socioeconomic one. Well, I believe we are overseeing some things to be honest. Pakistan’s military budget is among the lowest in the region when compared to stronger militaries of China, India, and Turkey etc. Around four dozen countries spend more than 20% of their budget on military. Secondly, a huge part of the budget is allocated to federal and public sector development, most of which goes into deficit and waste due to corruption and mismanagement. The losses sustained by the country due to corruption amounts to more than Rs. 2000 billion (around $20 billion) in the past five years - a figure which is as high as the military budget of the past five years. It is not just the fact that the military development being a high priority is only questioned. The budget that gets wasted due to discrepancies and mismanagement is also being accounted for by the armed forces.
There is a constant hue and cry about public sector departments such as health, agriculture, education and infrastructure getting neglected by the supposedly high military budget. The reason however, is not military growth, but it is the poor administrative structure and policies by the leaders – both civilian and military. Oligarchic politics and self-centered governments are the main reason why growth in primary development sectors has been stagnant, not the nuclear arsenal, which was a result of sheer desperation, especially after the war of 1971. Imagine the fate of this country (particularly the post 9/11 scenario), if we did not have the means to defend ourselves. We would have followed the suit of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. It is because of our nuclear capacity that many a nation thinks twice before undermining our military strength. People often argue about Russia’s implosion but history is evident that Russia’s division was inevitable even if it had resorted to nuclear warfare. It was social crisis more than a military one.
Bottom-line is, our nuclear capacity is both a blessing and affliction, but it should not be criticized over issues as flimsy as the argument that it halts the prospects of development in other departments. It became the need of the hour due to the growing cross border threats. If we are falling behind in education, health and other areas of human development and nourishment, it is because of our flawed policies, not the assumed ‘military hegemony’. It pains me to see our youth becoming so anti-armed forces these days when it is the military that has defended us for so long, it is the soldiers that give their lives for us, it is the soldiers who come forth to help people when disasters strike and when highly financed organizations such the NDMA are lost in stupor. We must support our armed forces because with so much detestation and disappointments around, we don’t need another one- especially one that promotes the enemy’s policy of ‘distract, divide and defeat’.
However, there is one thing that I wish for the military to correct and it is that they do not need to get involved in certain civilian departments, particularly the bureaucracy, because that is an altogether different caucus and cadre than that of military. I rest my case.