What’s behind Pakistan’s ‘voluntary’ military budget cut?
For the first time in its history, the Pakistan Army — which has governed the country for almost half the years since its independence — has voluntarily decided to cut its defence budget for the next fiscal, which begins on July 1 — as part of an austerity drive launched by Imran Khan-led government to find a solution to the nation’s economic woes.
So what does this surprising move say about Pakistan, its PM, its army and its economy where just 1% of the population files an income tax return and 76% of the government’s pension bill — $1.72 billion — is used for the pensions of its ex-servicemen?
Not really, since the IMF made its $6 billion loan conditional on Khan’s government cutting its budget deficit by $5 billion. Given that Islamabad has been toying around with several belt tightening measures which is expected to include an unofficial currency devaluation, the defence budget cut is expected to allow the government to spend on developing the tribal regions and Balochistan. Currently, over 50% of the government’s expenditure is used for meeting military and debt-servicing costs.
A real cut?
Pakistan’s military spending has been steadily rising over the years, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. In fact, compared to India, whose defence spending last year was 2.4% of its GDP, Pakistan’s was 4% — though in absolute terms, India’s defence budget is four times its neighbouring country’s defence budget. That raises the question of whether Pakistan’s military budget will remain the same or will it actually see a reduction in absolute terms — given that for the last two years, its defence spending has remained largely constant.
Pakistan, in fact, was the 20th largest spender on defence globally in 2018, with its military spending as a share of its GDP the highest in the last 15 years, according to SIPRI. Islamabad has also, in recent years, especially after Donald Trump became US President, seen military aid from its one-time strongest backer cut — last year, over $3 billion in military aid by US to Pakistan was cut for giving a safe haven to terrorists. Given how much its military assistance from the US has been cut, it remains to be seen how much of a voluntary cut will Pakistan’s defence forces be willing to make in their budget.