The nuclear aspect of Pakistan’s defence spending needs to be watched
Pakistan unveiled the largest hike in its defence budget in more than a decade last week, with the outlay for fiscal 2018-19 crossing the Pakistani Rs 1 trillion-mark for the first time. The allocation for the military was pegged at Rs 1.1 trillion (about $9.6 billion), an increase of almost 18 % over the outlay for the previous fiscal. The allocation is 3.2 % of Pakistan’s GDP, and far higher than the increases of about 10 to 11 % witnessed over the past decade or so. Reports have suggested that the increase could be linked to the steep cuts in US military aid for Pakistan since the Trump administration decided to get tough on Islamabad for failing to do enough to crack down on terror groups and their sources of financing. There have also been suggestions that the PML-N government, boxed in by the powerful military on a range of issues, quietly gave in to the demand for more funds from the armed forces. Very little has emerged so far on the allocations for Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programmes, figures for which are kept closely guarded.
A country’s defence spending is invariably linked to its economic strength and well-being, and Pakistan’s civilian governments had not made any huge increases in funding for the military for almost a decade as funds were used for developmental programmes. However, with the drying up of military hardware supplies and even reimbursements for expenses on the war on terror from the US, Pakistan’s military probably felt the need for a greater allocation for modernisation. Pakistan has struggled to ink any big ticket arms deals in recent years and instead, it has turned to expanding its nuclear arsenal to try and overcome India’s conventional military superiority. Reliable estimates from leading think tanks suggest Pakistan has one of the fastest growing nuclear arsenals and may be adding up to 20 atomic warheads every year. The country has also focused on developing tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons, primarily for use in potential hostilities with India.
One significant aspect of Pakistan’s defence budget is that the navy, and not the army, has been allocated the lion’s share of the increase, with a hike of 21.4 % over the previous outlay. There are suggestions that this could be linked to the navy’s key role in Pakistan’s efforts to create a second strike capability. After a test in March of the nuclear-capable submarine-launched Babur cruise missile, the Pakistani military claimed it had attained second strike capability. India’s outlay for defence, at about $63 billion for the current fiscal, is far higher but it is the nuclear aspect of Pakistan’s defence spending that bears watching.