A case of skewed priorities

The federal government’s decision to raise the defence budget by 31 percent for the fiscal year 2010-11 comes as no surprise given the current circumstances. Pakistan is in a state of war. The terrorist networks are gaining strength with every passing moment, thus it is imperative that the defence mechanism be made stronger to counter terrorist threats. But the point worth pondering is, should the defence expenditure be increased at the cost of the social sector? Budget-making is indeed a difficult task, more so in a country like Pakistan with so many pressing priorities competing for scarce resources. Most of the national budget goes to defence and debt, and only a meagre allocation is made for the social sector.

For the most part of our history, we have followed an India-centric defence policy. Since India and Pakistan came into being, their relations have been marred by a hostile stance over a number of issues, Kashmir being the core issue. That left them with little choice but to divert a big chunk of their resources to the defence budget, resulting in an increase in poverty. One of the main reasons for the rise in poverty in Pakistan is because of economic deprivation and our misplaced priorities. We already spend a large chunk of the national budget on the armed forces. Increasing the defence budget from Rs 343 billion to Rs 448 billion would mean cutting down in other areas, especially the social sector. There is no doubt that a country must maintain sufficient deterrence to ensure its sovereignty and the integrity of its frontiers but the real thrust in our economic doctrine must be geared towards the economic uplift of the common people. A country beset with astronomical financial problems like Pakistan can ill afford to indulge in a senseless arms race. Besides, nations with stockpiles of weapons are known to have crumbled under the weight of an ungainly economic paradigm. Apparently the Defence Ministry had requested an increase of Rs 110 billion in the defence budget for 2010-11; however, the federal government has approved an increase of Rs 105 billion. We should be thankful for small mercies. On a serious note, Pakistan should ask the Americans for more military aid instead of putting a dent in our national budget for defence expenditure. The war on terror is a joint fight against terrorism. By spending more on defence, we would be spending less on the energy sector, education sector, healthcare programmes, building infrastructure and development projects.

The PPP government had promised that the new budget would be ‘pro-poor’ but this seems highly unlikely. We have to understand that one reason why the terrorists are able to trap young men is through making lucrative monetary offers. By neglecting the social sector, the government is not doing the country any favour. If the government provides ample economic opportunities to its populace, this trend can be changed. Investing in education would open the minds of the general public and make them less likely to fall prey to the extremists. The international community must come to our help at this crucial juncture. A nation with a democratic system of governance, a thriving economy, an independent judiciary and a free media is the key to countering extremism and winning this war against the terrorists.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

Comments

sanjeet138 said…
well said!
Ammar said…
The 30 percent increase in the defense budget may seem very high but we need to consider the fact that we are entangled in war which is although being assisted by the allies but it needs our recourses too. While the social sector is being compromised the foreign aid can help in reducing the deficit if utilized properly

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