Hawking the Military Agenda, to Keep His Lucrative Job
Ayesha Siddiqa Agha
October 18: Islamabad is working hard these days to maintain the
positive perception in Washington about the efficacy of a military-led
government in Pakistan. Not that it needs to do much on that front.
Americans are already convinced of the advantages of having a
general ruling Pakistan. Still, it pays to keep making the correct
The barrage of ‘good’
news from Pakistan, ranging from improvement of economy and gradual
elimination of militants to cleaning up the army of religious
extremists, makes many a heart in Washington flutter with joy.
At this point, there aren’t many takers for the argument
that any democratic set-up could deliver as effectively on issues
vital to US interests. The situation for democracy in terms of
any US support is therefore dismal.
What is worse, however, is that the
Pakistani establishment is now working towards convincing the
US that democracy in Pakistan is bad per se. And the irony is
that it is the political turncoats that are pleading the military’s
case harder than the military itself could have done.
governor of the State Bank of Pakistan is one of the leading figures
known for making such a case. In a series of public meetings recently
held in Washington to sell the current ‘idea of Pakistan’
to the US, Dr Ishrat Hussain made the argument that Pakistan’s
economy tended to do better under authoritarian military regimes.
at Johns Hopkins University, Dr Hussain said the country’s
current account deficit was always lower under military governments.
His particular reference was to the Ziaul Haq and Musharraf regimes.
Further, he argued that spending on defence did not crowd out
development spending and that there was no threat from the expansion
of military’s interests in the form of the military-industrial
complex. In fact, he presented data in his paper to convince the
audience of his hypothesis.
Hussain seems to know how to make the financial aid donors dance
to his tune. The basic message to his audience was that 9/11 was
crucial but not central to the change that one sees in Pakistan’s
economy today. Clearly, he was trying to project the current military-led
establishment as highly responsible and with the right sense of
how to put the economy back on track. This is not the first time
that technocrats have hawked the agenda of the authoritarian governments.
The elitist state of Pakistan Dr
Hussain used to talk about, until he joined hands with the existing
ruling clique, has always depended upon technocrats for socio-economic
face lifting and also to convince the outside world that the cosmetic
changes are indeed a strategic rethink. And none but someone who
knows Washington can do this.
It is difficult at this stage to
change perceptions but important, nonetheless, to present a few
facts on the relationship between defence and development. (Of
course, this is just a fraction of the overall picture.)
crucial elements cannot be ignored in this discussion. First,
the dire need for transparency of military expenditure The figures
presented by Dr Hussain remain, at best, controversial. He not
only denied that there was off-budget financing and military expenditure
figures are hidden under other budgetary heads, he also stated
incorrectly that the spending on defence as a percentage of GDP
calculation included military pensions.
He completely denied knowledge of the various grants that, if
included, would bloat the annual defence budgetary figure to around
Rs 300 billion. The only way to determine the exact situation
is to make military expenditure transparent. This is essential
to improving governance in the country.
I completely disagree with Dr Hussain’s contention that
it is debt servicing rather than the defence budget that crowds
out development spending. Doubtless, debt servicing has been a
major additional burden that even surpasses defence spending.
This is owed to inappropriate and unwise policies of various political
and military governments.
the ball of foreign lending was set rolling by Zia-ul Haq, the
succeeding political governments added to the malaise and cannot
be forgiven for their contribution to the debt crisis. While one
cannot deny that debt servicing has been a major burden, it is
equally unwise to downplay the negative impact of high defence
A four percent-plus of GDP spent
on national security is a high figure and its implications become
more obvious when it is evaluated in a historical context. Pakistan
has spent huge amounts on military security right from the beginning,
a situation that does not bode well for development. So, it makes
greater sense to take a longer view of it rather than a snapshot,
regime-based one. In any case, both military as well as political
regimes have tended to invest in defence.
Then there is the broader politics
of resource allocation. It does not make sense for Dr Hussain
to negate the fact that Pakistan has traditionally given priority
to military security. Moreover, the military’s urge to seek
dominance at home has also played a key role in setting priorities
for the state.
is not just about numbers but the peculiar concentration of policymakers.
Hence, it is not just that large sums were spent on defence, but
the growth and development of major institutions suffered due
to a narrow definition of and an even narrower focus on national
security and strengthening the military establishment.
also means that a military interested in ruling might not necessarily
deprive other sectors of resources, but its continuation in power
would tend to result, nonetheless, in a skewed political culture
and environment. Such a culture erodes all institutional filters
that would check gross financial and other mismanagement.
political leadership is often chided for not delivering. The fact
is that lopsided civil-military relations have also contributed
towards throwing up such an irresponsible political leadership.
The political scene would certainly have been different if politics
was not about power struggle among the various elites, including
the military, and policies were receptive to the basic needs of
the common man.
the circumstances, it does not matter if the numbers for defence
are lower than debt servicing. The real issue is that socio-economic
development has gained little attention in Pakistan.
is also not prudent for anyone to argue that military’s
business interests have not been harmful for development in the
corporate sector by just focusing on numbers. The fact that a
segment of the state chooses to manage or manipulate resources
on its own is a flagrant disregard of the rules of governance.
also shows the weakness and inability of the state to provide
resources or control its various entities. It is just such things
that have earned Pakistan the sobriquet of an ‘almost failed’
it is essential for the military leadership to develop sensitivity
to political nuances of economic decisions, one hopes that technocrats
learn not to mislead those at top.
writer is a well known writer and analyst on defence affairs and
is currently a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
for Scholars, Washington DC. This article was published in The