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Demilitarize or perish

Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan by Ahmad Faruqui

Reviewed by Chanakya Sen

Always trust an economist to prick balloons of national security floated by militarists. Economic consultant Ahmad Faruqui's commentary on demilitarizing Pakistan offers an alternative vision for priming human development, the road that rulers in Islamabad never took. Published when generals are yet again preferred instruments of Western intervention in Pakistan, this book warns of dire consequences if new paths are not hewn.

A Faustian bargain
Faruqui's central thesis is that most of Pakistan's socio-economic problems originate from the heavy emphasis on national defense and military spending. Pakistan's unconditional support for the US's "war against terrorism" after September 11, 2001 has augmented this lopsided stress. President General Pervez Musharraf has been handed "an enduring rationale for continuing as president under Kelsen's law of necessity that has served all prior military rulers". (p xix). He is less inclined to take any major initiatives to pursue peace with India. Military expenditure continues to absorb the lion's share of the government budget and no major overhaul of Pakistan's military organization is likely. The endemic problem of military dominance in Pakistan has been perpetuated with the mutual embrace of the West and Musharraf.

More harm than good has accrued when Musharraf short-sold Pakistan to the US. To prevent the "Islamic bomb" from falling into religious terrorist hands, the American 15th Marine Expeditionary unit is ready to "neutralize" Pakistan's weapons of mass destruction even at the cost of engaging Pakistani troops. The arrest of Pakistani nuclear scientists for passing know-how to al-Qaeda was done to please the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Changes in the Pakistan army high command and the Inter-Services Intelligence were carried out to curry favor with the Central Intelligence Agency. India has succeeded in throwing flashlights on terrorist training infrastructure in Pakistani Kashmir. The victory of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan is a major setback to Pakistan due to the former's closeness to Iran and India. Pakistan's economy is deteriorating, with sliding per capita incomes lower than 1%, and foreign economic assistance evaporating after the Taliban were dislodged from Afghanistan.

Musharraf's decision to ally with the US turns out to be a Faustian bargain, not a bright tactical move. It is similar to the 1999 Kargil war with India planned by Musharraf. Initially praised as "an act of military brilliance", Pakistan lost both the political and military battle for Kargil. It had to withdraw in humiliating circumstances since "the world chose to accept the Indian version of events". (p 16)

History of militarism
Pakistan's governance travails stem from dictators who are "specialists in violence rather than in economics". (p 19) Small cabals have acquired disproportionate organizational and collusive power under successive military regimes. The landed oligarchy, the bureaucracy and the jihadis are the main beneficiaries of Pakistan's "political economy of defense". (Ayesha Jalal) Their fortunes have been peaking through policies exacerbating inter-class and inter-regional inequalities.

General Ayub Khan nurtured a class of robber barons with gigantic concentration of wealth in a handful of families. West Pakistan's per capita income was 61% higher than the East's under Ayub. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a feudal lord himself, was unable to rise above his roots. He transferred resources from public enterprises to private individuals and income distribution worsened under his so-called socialist tenure. General Zia ul-Haq mass-appointed retired and serving army officers to top public sector positions and allowed one fifth of the US$3.2 billion American aid for Afghanistan to be pocketed by the military-civil service elites. Benazir Bhutto doled out franchises to thugs and convicted murderers and triggered a new arms race with India due to her respect for the Pakistani military's "autonomy". Nawaz Sharif, Zia's protege, misused public funds for favoritism and kickbacks and followed his mentor's promotion of orthodox militancy.

Musharraf's coup in 1999 occurred when "the army's corporate interests were threatened". (p 35) He has named manifold ex-generals as diplomats and many senior-serving officers to civilian duties for which they have no core competency. He has not touched the lucrative contracts and sinecures of the defense coteries and has failed to rein in religious militias waging jihad.

Misreading India
Pakistan's present and past national security strategies are premised on fear of being reabsorbed into India. The Pakistan army has convinced many citizens that India never reconciled itself to the partition of 1947. To counter this perceived Indian threat militarily, "no economic sacrifice is judged to be too much". (p 42) Pakistan's claim to Kashmir is the main legitimating potion of its ruling class and the hawks in its security establishment. This obsession has misbegotten four costly wars and countless acts of subversion that proved fruitless.

Pakistan's military planners have projected India as "a pushover adversary that is cowardly because the Hindu has no stomach for a fight". (p 44) They have raised very high expectations about the superiority of Pakistan's armed forces, illusions repeatedly shattered by defeats. In spite of enjoying tactical successes, Pakistan has consistently failed to achieve strategic objectives in wars with India. Often, Islamabad has "completely misunderstood Indian intentions and capabilities" and jumped the gun with hubris and folly. In 1971, General Niazi believed that India would merely conduct a minor incursion into East Pakistan (to become Bangladesh) to set up a puppet regime, though Indian responses to provocation have always been aggressive, like those of other states of similar power and size in the international system.

Failures in the higher direction of war have been matched by diplomatic fiascos and leadership blunders. Pakistan expects its foreign allies to bail it out of difficult situations against India, but these hopes have rarely materialized. In the Kargil war, China, the vaunted "perpetual ally", did not support Islamabad owing to fear of Islamic extremism. Counting on China as a counterweight to India is also chimerical because "the Indians have made it plain that they will not be routed a second time and intend to return any Chinese 'lesson' in kind". (p 90)

Nuclear fallacies
Pakistan's advocacy of nuclear deterrence is meaningless since it has not capped its program after developing a few atomic bombs. In the year following its nuclear tests of 1998, Pakistan had to increase defense spending by 10%, nullifying the publicized benefits of a "nuclear dividend". Nothing changed in the day-to-day life of common Pakistanis, even though nuclear scientists and generals commercialized weapons of mass destruction for personal gain. Cash-strapped Pakistan is incapable of matching the Indian increases in defense budgets, but the vanity of weaponizing "even if the people eat grass" (Z A Bhutto) has not receded.

Pakistan's nuclear program cost an estimated $10 billion up to 2001 and set back development indices by more than years. Post-nuclear US sanctions caused Pakistan's economy to suffer a gross domestic product fall of 2.9%. The exorbitant opportunity costs of Pakistan's nuclear white elephant have actually diminished the country's national security.

Retrenchment strategies
The solution to Pakistan's security deficit suggested by Faruqui is to balance its economic resources with strategic ambitions. What is needed is a "lean and mean military organization, without becoming a drain on the national treasury and undermining the non-military dimensions of security". (p 115) The comparative experience of Israel, which depends on reservists for defending territorial integrity, is a lesson. To defend Pakistan against external aggression, a force level of 300,000 troops is enough, ie half of the present strength. Demobilization can be carried out by offering golden handshakes and compensation packages for converting swords into ploughshares. Small force levels do not imply weak defense.

At present, Pakistan is incurring a price tag of $110 million a year for pumping the insurgency in Indian Kashmir and thereby earning the ire of the international community. Faruqui prescribes a more active "third party catalyst" role for the US to provide incentives for peace over Kashmir, though how a superpower interested in running off democratic India against China can be expected to be an honest broker over Kashmir is left for the reader's imagination. Faruqui's reading of post-Cold War realities and US-China equation are confusing.

Economic aid, debt write-offs and conversion to zero-interest loans are also recommended to encourage defense spending cuts in Pakistan and India. Faruqui makes assumptions that Indian security is purely Pakistan-centric by adducing two-country game theory models to prove that economic diplomacy works. Bilateralizing concentric multilateral threat perceptions is too simplistic.

Faruqui's proposals for reforming the Pakistani military are on firmer ground. To improve national security by lifting the people's confidence in the military, the latter should provide a transparent analysis of its fiscal expenditures. Pakistan's defense spending has been free from scrutiny or audit, thanks to the guiding philosophy of "defense for the sake of defense". Only two lines in the official budget (defense administration and defense services) represent the huge military expense bill, with no explanation of what these two items stand for. Pakistan should switch from exorbitant "offensive defense" to "defensive dominance" strategies that involve civilian participation. The military must formalize rigorous self-evaluation of combat effectiveness and be willing to accept failings.

Do or die
Pakistan's poor economic situation is linked intrinsically with faulty defense and foreign policies. Faruqui offers Pakistani leaders the example of Deng Xiaoping, who converted China's foreign policy of confrontation into one of economic cooperation. Pakistan's savings and investment ratios are among the lowest in the world, mainly due to defense spending and corruption, both severe drains. It spends 6% of its gross domestic product on defense, while health and education stagnate at 1% and 2%.

Faruqui argues for correct, accurate and realistic threat evaluations, not exaggerated and unrealistic ones. These would also bring home the futility of massive arms importing and free resources for public welfare. Military spending in Asia as a whole has declined from the end of the Cold War and helped power investment and per capita incomes in the long run. Disarmament is feasible and practical, as examples from both developing and developed countries reveal. For Pakistan, which is on the edge of the precipice, there is no choice but to pragmatically take a leaf from Deng's famous dictum that strength is primarily economic.

But for a disappointing reliance on International Monetary Fund and World Bank formulas for poverty alleviation, Faruqui's study is a fine blend of strategic revision and economic prognosis. The million-dollar question is whether Musharraf reads this honest reappraisal of what Pakistan requires to be really secure.

Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan. The Price of Strategic Myopia by Ahmad Faruqui. Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot. ISBN: 0-7546-1497-2. Price US$79.95,190 pages.

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Sep 4, 2004

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