During the budget debate in the National Assembly, the PML-N has come out in full force against military spending and the war on terror. “The chiefs of staff who travel in cars worth eight crore rupees each cannot fight,” said PML-N’s Khwaja Mohammad Asif. In an interview given to a private television channel, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said that if his party comes to power, they would bring the military budget to parliament. That, of course, remains to be seen because it is easier to make such claims while in opposition. For the past few years, the PML-N has taken a correct stand on civil-military relations. Whether this has to do with the PPP’s recent proximity to the PML-N’s original mentors or because PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s bitter experience with General Musharraf has made his party wary of the military cannot be ascertained but one thing is for sure: it is time for the civil-military imbalance to end in Pakistan.
Addressing a seminar titled ‘People’s tribunal on accountability of military’, President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jahangir welcomed the fact that “the taboo of demanding accountability of the military has been broken”. Ms Jahangir urged parliament to take the lead in bringing the military under civilian supervision in order to make Pakistan a welfare state. The PML-N and Ms Jahangir are not alone in voicing these demands. Even though the military is still considered a sacred cow, recent events have forced people to question if allocating billions of rupees to the military at the cost of development is worth it.
Military domination of national affairs started a few years after Pakistan came into being. Over the decades, the military has not just retained its monopoly of force but now has greater economic and financial clout as well. The sorry history of Pakistan shows how it all came about. It started from General Ayub Khan’s induction as Defence Minister in Muhammad Ali Bogra’s cabinet in 1954. A breach was created when the general was made his own boss! After General Ayub’s military coup in 1958, the civilian set-up was made subservient to the military in complete disregard of democratic norms.
Direct military coups apart, the security establishment calls the shots even when a civilian democratic government is in place. Between debt servicing and defence, the government is left with very little money for other sectors. It was recently reported that the armed forces’ one-day spending is equal to the education ministry’s yearly budget. We can clearly see the priorities of the ruling elite. Pakistan is now a national security state but that is not what the forefathers of this country imagined. What sort of a country are we leaving to our future generations where buying nukes is more important than educating children? Some people claim that the bloated military spending is justified because of the ongoing war on terror. Granted that the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) has not reimbursed Pakistan completely for its assistance in the war on terror because of either alleged padded figures or accusations of the funds being diverted elsewhere, but this does not mean that the entire defence budget is being spent on this war. A lot of money is spent on refurbishing or buying new arsenals for external defence. There is not much use in spending so lavishly on nukes and other defence equipment when the threat is internal rather than external.
Pakistan is going through one of its worst economic crises. It is important to prioritise our spending so that not a penny is wasted. The defence budget is the most opaque. It is important that even if for national security reasons the military might not want its budget discussed openly in parliament, a parliamentary body is created to oversee where the money is being spent. The PPP-led coalition government let the military off the hook despite its shortcomings — the Abbottabad incident and the attack on PNS Mehran being the most glaring intelligence failures in recent times. The government must now take stock of the situation and move incrementally towards making the military subservient to civilian supremacy, accountable, and its budget monitored by a select committee of parliament. – DailyTimes