A recent study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) indicates that “India was the biggest arms importer in the period 2007-11, accounting for 10 percent in the weapons volume.” China, which was the world’s top arms importer in 2006 and 2007, has now dropped to fourth place. Globally, the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons was 24 percent higher during 2007-11 as compared to the 2002-06. Over the past five years, Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 percent of conventional arms imports. It appears a tall figure when compared with 19 percent for Europe, 11 percent for North and South America, and 9 percent for Africa.
Yet once again, India has announced a 17 percent raise in its defence expenditure over the previous year. Reportedly, “the hike comes a year after India had increased its budget expenses by 11 percent. A cumulative outlook over the past two years shows that India has increased its military spending by a third” that is, indeed, a substantial raise. India’s defence outlay for 2012-13 is $42 billion. On the contrary, Pakistan’s defence budget is less than $6 billion.
Further, according to reports, “The capital expenditure of the Indian armed forces that goes towards the purchase of equipment was set at around $17.5 billion - a 15.7 percent hike from last year’s capital allocation; 70 percent of this amount will go towards servicing contracts already signed. The rest will be reserved for the procurement of new equipment, including procuring new aircraft from French company Rafale.”
The revenue component of the defence budget amounts to $21.67 billion. This part of the budget goes towards paying salaries. Commenting on the ballooning revenue aspect of the defence budget, Dr Laxman Behera of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses said: “Pay and allowances are obligatory in nature and the government has little control over their growth, given the mandatory increase in annual pay and dearness allowances. Moreover, most of today’s pay and allowances constitute tomorrow’s defence pensions, over which also the government has little control. The uncontrollable growths in these two components have great implication on other aspects of the defence budget.” However, India like many other countries does not pay its pension out of defence estimates.
The raison d’être of geostrategic compulsions that the Indian government often refers to while increasing its military expenditure is not logical at all! For instance, Pakistan does not present a military threat to India. Also, the budget of other smaller countries neighbouring India is comparatively meagre. Most of them do not have the requisite military prowess to pose any meaningful threat to a country that boasts to be a mini-superpower. Certainly, India is justifying its military build-up in the Chinese context. However, Beijing has consistently followed a policy of reconciliation and is focused on the economic well being of its people. Though China is a global power with attendant roles and responsibilities, even then it jacked up its defence budget for the new year only by 11 percent, to $106.41 billion.
India is one of the biggest importers of military hardware in the world. It is a country where more than 440 million people live in poverty that exceeds half of the world’s poor. These military expenditure hikes will only accentuate their miserable conditions. Additionally, it would put a strain on the national budgets of adjoining states. The CPI(M) leader, Sitaram Yechury, has rightly pointed out that the budget would increase financial burden on the common man.
The defence projects worth $17.5 billion include 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), 145 Ultra-Light Howitzers (ULH), 197 Light Utility Helicopters, 75 Pilatus PC-7 basic trainer for its air force, and other weapons and systems for the three services. The international consultancy firm, KPMG, estimates that New Delhi will hand out military contracts worth $112 billion by 2016. This would certainly fuel an arms race in Asia.
The question, however, is: What do the Indians actually have in mind? It is obvious that besides China’s containment, the huge military preparations are meant to intimidate Pakistan and extend India’s sphere of influence to the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond. Thus, Pakistan has its legitimate concerns on this arms purchase spree. India has fought both China and Pakistan; it has fought three wars with Pakistan and only one with China. Hence, an increase in defence spending by India, on the pretext of Chinese threat, cannot be ignored by Pakistan. The hike in India’s military budget, thus, gives the wrong message to its neighbours and it would contribute towards perpetuating tensions in South Asia and beyond. Its neighbours’ concerns are not baseless, because India is not on the best of terms with them and it has a history of military conflicts with Pakistan and China.
India tries to justify its defence spending on the plea that its major threat is China. However, this is not true because most of its weapons, especially huge armour inventory, are Pakistan-specific. Most of its combat aircraft and ballistic missiles have a short range and, hence, are better suited for usage against Pakistan. India is also developing its Ballistic Missile Defence system focused on a missile threat from Pakistan. Likewise, its military structures field dispositions and command organisations are poised for employment against Pakistan.
The hike in India’s defence budget is certainly food for thought for our analysts, who eagerly engage themselves in a propaganda campaign against Pakistan’s defence budget. Pakistan does not want to indulge in an arms race, but India’s military preparations cannot be ignored, especially when it is busy stirring trouble wherever it can, particularly in Balochistan, to which it was given access by the USA through Afghanistan. Thus, if Pakistan was to increase its defence expenditure this year, it would be by compulsion and not by choice.
n The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.