WASHINGTON DC, October 18, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

The First Book based on Articles and Forum Discussions of South Asia Tribune has been published in Pakistan. It is a compilation of articles written for the SAT by Dr. Zafar Altaf, former Federal Secretary and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. It includes most of the Messages and Comments posted on these articles on SAT Forums. The Book will soon be available through the Internet Book outlets. It is already on sale in Pakistan.


A Technocrat Hawking the Military Agenda, to Keep His Lucrative Job

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa Agha

WASHINGTON, 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.

The Americans are already convinced of the advantages of having a general ruling Pakistan. Still, it pays to keep making the correct sales pitch.

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.

The 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.

Speaking 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.

Dr 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.)

Two 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.

Second, 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.

While 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 spending.

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.

Prioritization 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.

This 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.

The 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.

Under 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.

It 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.

It 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’ state.

While 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.

The 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 Friday Times

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