In an unprecedented move, the Pakistani Army has decided to voluntarily freeze its budget for the next fiscal year to help the government tackle a critical financial situation. It will not only provide fiscal space to the government and provide relief to people, but also proves the absolute commitment of the armed forces to the country and its people after making huge sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to announce the development and appreciate the military’s “unprecedented voluntary initiative of stringent cuts in their defence expenditures for the next financial year because of the country’s critical financial situation. This will allow money to be spent on the development of the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, still recovering from more than a decade-long insurgency, and Balochistan province.”
Commenting on the military’s decision to forgo the annual increase in the defence budget, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa said the voluntary cut in defence spending was not a favour to the nation. “Irrespective of the voluntary cut in the defence budget in the upcoming financial year, there shall be no impact on our response potential to all types of threat and the quality of life of the soldiers,” he was quoted as saying while speaking to troops after offering Eid prayers. The Army Chief said the best Eid for a soldier was to take pride in defending the motherland even on such festive days away from his family. “Remember, for us, the defenders of Pakistan, our first family is the Pakistani nation, then the ones back home,” he said while addressing the servicemen. Talking about the military’s decision to forgo a routine increase in the military budget, he said “the initiative is not a favour to the nation as we are one, through thick and thin.” He also elaborated that “the no pay raise decision is also only for the officers and not for the soldiers. We shall manage the shortfall during the fiscal year by tightening our belt in areas where it doesn’t affect.”
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Asif Ghafoor said the voluntary cut in the defence budget for a year would “not be at the expense of defence and security. We shall maintain effective response potential to all threats,” he added on Twitter.
Eminent analysts have welcomed the Pakistan Army’s decision of a voluntary reduction in the budget. Talking to the Voice of America, Lt-General (Retired) Talat Masood said that it was an appreciable move by the Pakistan Army to voluntary cut its budget. “Now, every department in Pakistan has to play its due role in helping the country come out of the financial crisis,” he observed. Talking to the BBC radio, analyst Maria Sultan said the decision was in accordance with the country’s requirements and showed that Pakistan did not want an arms race in the region.
Some analysts say though the budget figures will remain static, yet in reality it would mean lesser available money for the troops due to the devaluation of the rupee and inflation; and hence they describe it a cut in defence expenditure. Military sources say there will be no arms procurement during the next fiscal year, expenditure on rations/TA&DA will be cut, overheads would be rationalised and there wouldn’t be pay raise for officers due to the freeze.
Little details are officially available about the impact of the budget freeze that comes against the backdrop of the government’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $6b bailout package. The IMF, while announcing the staff-level agreement last month, had said the forthcoming budget would aim for a primary deficit of 0.6pc of GDP. The primary deficit is expected to be little over 2pc during the outgoing fiscal year ending on June 30. The IMF had said the reduction in the deficit would be achieved through taxation measures, including elimination of exemptions, curtailment of special treatments and improvement in the tax administration. It had, however, long been speculated by financial analysts that the government would be forced to cut all expenditures, including defence spending.
Earlier in February, the government had decided not to make any cuts in the country’s defence budget for the ongoing year. “The country’s defence budget is already low as compared to other states in the region, and therefore, it should be increased,” the then information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, had said. However, the government had announced last month that all civil and military institutions would contribute to the austerity-oriented federal budget for 2019-20. “There will be austerity in the coming budget. We will try to keep government expenditures to the minimum possible level,” Prime Minister’s Adviser on Finance and Economic Affairs Dr Hafeez Sheikh had said. “We will all stand together on it, whether it is civilian or army (institutions) or the private sector.”
Analysts say the decision by the armed forces is a major blow to critics and opposition parties, who blame the establishment for bringing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to power with an intention to increase its influence and budget. But contrary to it, the armed forces have decided to stand behind the government to help it tackle the economic crisis. The move by the armed forces will also alleviate the suffering of people of tribal areas and Balochistan.
By announcing a voluntary cut in its budget, the army has not only expressed solidarity with the government, but also raised hopes of the nation from the government to improve the economy. It is the responsibility of the government to reciprocate the move and cut its all unnecessary expenditure. An economic revival is vital for it, all institutions and the people of the country.