“At present the ISI does not have any political cell,” the secretary emphatically said, stunning all members on the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production.
Sensing the gravity of the matter, though surprised the senators did not put any question to the retired lieutenant-general. “It was quite a revelation and we thought to let it go. Who wants to mess with the establishment after all,” a committee member, desiring to stay anonymous, told this scribe. Moreover, the committee was informed that the US conducted drone strikes from Shamsi base when it was in its use, and added that these attacks were carried out with the government’s approval.
“The base was sub-leased to the US (by the UAE) on October 20, 2011 with the approval of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. On December 11 in the same year it was vacated by the US,” the secretary explained.
According to a Senate Secretariat statement, the committee chief, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, in Monday’s meeting underlined the need for “more transparency in the budget being spent on the country’s defence”.
According to him, this makes 2.3 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), while the country is ranked 33rd in the world with its higher defence expenditures.
“I think transparency in spendings can never be ensured without an effective system of checks and balances. A huge sector as defence requires parliamentary check for good governance. It is important to establish a mechanism for parliamentary oversight of the defence budget,” Mushahid Syed, a parliamentarian from the ruling coalition, said while interacting with the media. The committee, he said after the meeting, decided to revisit the defence paradigm and it would prepare a defence policy strategy document after having input from all the stakeholders. He also told the media that the defence budget would be discussed in the committee’s public and private hearings.
Mostly perceived as a ‘grey area’ in the Pakistani politics, the defence budget is usually not taken up for debates within the parliamentary circles, especially from the ruling plot, thus underlining the long-established notion that crossing the ‘redline’ may have certain ‘potential repercussions’.
However, appearing to have set aside all ‘risk factors’, committee chairman Mushahid Syed is adamant to take up the defence budget in the defence panel’s hearings.
The defence secretary meanwhile presented to the committee the details of the defence budget for the current fiscal year, and said that documents/details regarding the defencde spending would be furnished, if required.
He told the committee that the defence budget for the present financial year was Rs 545 billion — out of which, Rs 264 billion were allocated to the Army, Rs 114 billion to the Air Force, Rs 52 billion to the Navy and Rs 92 billion to the ISI, the joint staff headquarters, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and defence production. He said that regular audits were conducted in all defence-related institutions, including the ISI. The United States had paid Pakistan Rs 12 billion since the 9/11, Malik said while adding it had not made any payments to Pakistan for its use of Shamsi airbase.
He further said drone attacks were being carried out from the base with the government’s approval. The committee was also told that since the resumption of Nato supplies, the US had resumed military aid to Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the Senate committee would organise a policy seminar on November 5 on the theme of “Towards 2014-Chalenges of NATO Withdrawal.