If Pakistan is in an economic mess, the main reason is its military, which controls the politicians, judiciary and administration. It seems to run the country and execute the country’s foreign and defense policies, but the blame for the policy failures is reserved for politicians.
But this did not affect Imran Khan as the cricketer-turned-politician catapulted into the premiership sans political experience, replacing Nawaz Sharif, who was hedging for political freedom and veering for action against Pakistan-based perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
The Panama Papers were allegedly an excuse to oust Sharif, whereas India, even today, remains inactive about the citizens mentioned in the Panama leaks.
According to Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to US, Pakistani generals want to restore their golden era; and that is why former prime minister Pervez Musharraf’s team is back in Khan’s cabinet. Musharraf’s team was understood to be “competent” as it secured Western assistance, pledging to fight terrorists, while allegedly covertly assisting them at the same time.
But if the army’s meddling did not allow previous International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs to pave the way for sustainable economic growth in the past, it is unlikely that their latest efforts will result in anything better for the country. Ijaz Shah, who allegedly aided Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, is now the minister of parliamentary affairs.
With an economic crisis looming over Pakistan, which is seeking its 22nd IMF bailout, the country’s generals are wallowing in millions. The biggest business conglomerate in Pakistan is that of its military, which from a worth of US$20 billion in 2007, as scripted by Ayesha Siddiqa in her book Military Inc, is estimated to have grown to around $100 billion today.
In contrast with the Pakistan army growing stronger, the Indian armed forces are being sidelined. India’s present dispensation has placed the police forces above the military.
Meanwhile in India, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised pension schemes for shopkeepers and traders, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) is fighting in court for a pension scheme for disabled soldiers and military widows. It has employed a battery of lawyers using defense funds and has still not won a single case. A Right to Information query in 2017 revealed that the government had spent 480 million rupees (nearly $6.9 million) on this.
The Modi government has delivered five successive defense budgets that were “negative” in actual terms, and the manifesto of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the ongoing elections indicates no intent to increase it.
India is the fastest-growing and sixth-largest economy, yet its defense budget is only 1.44% of gross domestic product. Media reports suggesting that Pakistan has barely enough ammunition for three to four days of war do not mention that India’s state is no better. A 2018 Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report flagged that the Indian Army was facing a critical shortage of ammunition that could last just 10 days of war. It stated that the army faced a shortfall of 40%, that is, 61 out of 152 types of ammunition available were sufficient for less than 10 days of fighting a war. The army is supposed to hold stocks of ammunition for 40 days of an intense war.
The government on one hand states that the purchase of ammunition has been decentralized to the armed forces, but on the other, shortage of funds poses a major concern.
The prime minister and defense minister have said that the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme has been fully sanctioned, but their failure to declassify reports of the government-appointed one-man commission on OROP for the past two years belies such claims. The OROP implies that uniform pensions be paid to armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service. This should be done irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension should be automatically passed on to past pensioners. Similarly, the Non Functional Upgradation (NFU) has been given to all including police forces except the military, as the MoD opposed the move.
Moreover, the media were virtually discouraged from reporting on hundreds of veterans who had protested for OROP in New Delhi last year. The government even used the police to baton-charge a peaceful protest by military veterans.
Yet the prime minister publicly seeks votes for martyrs, including the 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel killed in the Pulwama attack on February 14, which was an intelligence failure on the part of the authorities.
The 56 officials in the Prime Minister’s Office are bureaucrats, diplomats or former police service personnel; not one is from defense services. The MoD is manned exclusively by generalist bureaucrats, and despite five years of majority rule, the Modi government has not reorganized the ministry or appointed a chief of defense staff (CDS).
It seems Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is more interested in empowering the “Defense Estates,” earlier termed the most corrupt segment of MoD by the CAG. Her inaction against those responsible for photocopying top-secret documents related to the controversial Rafale deal also raises concerns.
India has an absurd system of manning international borders, defying the “One Border, One Force” rule. China’s border with Myanmar in the west to Afghanistan in the east is under its Western Theater Command with all Border Guard Divisions under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In contrast, India has a variety of central armed police forces manning international borders, but not placed under the army even in sensitive areas that have witnessed periodic Chinese intrusions.
The Indian Coast Guard functioning under MoD is being placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Efforts are also on to take away the 46-battalion-strong Assam Rifles from operational control of the army and place it under MHA.
Many rights guaranteed to citizens and to government employees in the Indian constitution are denied to defense personnel. Their right to cast a vote is an exception. In the last 72 years no more than 20% of serving defense personnel have been able to cast their vote – and even fewer were counted.
Going by indications, the BJP may return to power for lack of viable alternative but with a lower majority than in 2014. This despite spending millions on advertisement and electioneering. But it remains to be seen if Modi’s stance on treating the army changes or if the “police-ization” of India will continue.