My choice today: Friday 20 June 2008

Senior leaders of PML-N anxious to regain their federal ministries – Ansar Abbasi

APDM, civil disobedience, Imran Khan and mental hospital – Abbas Athar

Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and the future of Pervez Musharraf – Nazir Naji

A meeting with Musharraf – Javed Chaudhary

Why is Musharraf so confident? Asadullah Ghalib

MQM – a different perspective – Hasan Nisar

Aitzaz, Munir seeking US help on judges issue

WASHINGTON: Efforts are underway to seek immediate appointments for two of the principal leaders of the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan and Munir Malik, with key congressmen and senators who preside over some major congressional committees. The flying visit to Washington, if it takes place, depending on the success of the effort now underway, a congressional source said, is intended to have Congress make the successful passage of Pakistan-related bills conditional on the reinstatement of the sacked judges. A Pakistani community leader, on learning of the planned visit, said it is ironic that those who have been accusing the government in office of “taking orders” from Washington, should themselves be seeking US intervention in what remains an essentially domestic Pakistani affair. khalid hasan (Daily Times)

Historic development

THE government deserves full credit for submitting to parliament for the first time in 40 years a more detailed expenditure proposal for the next fiscal year than the usual one-liner that went under the head of defence spending previously. And by agreeing to divulge the details willingly, the top leadership of the armed forces has recouped some of the national trust it had lost over the years for being unduly secretive about its annual budgets. No one is suggesting that putting all your defence cards face up on the table is in the national interest. But keeping from your parliament what is public knowledge the world over is neither a healthy democratic practice nor an economically prudent norm. Moreover, the practice raises suspicion about one’s intentions.

However, even the two-page submission for the next year gives only cursory information about what is to be spent on the tail. There is no information here about the teeth. And talking about the tail, who does not know that the pension part of the armed forces’ budget is being consistently passed off as civil expenditure since the mid-1980s? It is also a well-known fact that the one-liners never included foreign military aid, expenditure on missile programmes and procurements using foreign credit. Moreover, the income generated by the armed forces’ diverse business interests, which alone accounts for at least three per cent of GDP estimated by a rule of thumb and is almost equivalent to the entire annual budget for the tail in recent years, was never made part of the defence budget.

The secrecy that shrouded our ‘basement’ bomb was understandable and nobody had any idea about what we had (until we ourselves went public in May 1998) because it was entirely an indigenous effort. But then for conventional arms we are crucially dependent on foreign suppliers and foreign donors and the two are not obliged not to make public our purchases. Just the other day, the Defence and Security Organisation of the UK disclosed that over the last five years Pakistan had purchased arms worth $6bn. From US public announcements we have learnt much about the weapons, fighter aircraft and other defence equipment it has sold to Pakistan under the $1.5bn five-year military assistance programme concluded in 2003. It is these defence deals that need to be debated by parliament to see if what we are purchasing is what we really need and at the right prices. No matter who is paying for these deals at the moment, the final burden of these purchases would have to be borne by the nation and it has all the right to know the details before deals are done. (Dawn).

Is it transparent now?

By Ayesha Siddiqa

THE new government has made the defence budget relatively transparent. The new defence budget now discloses expenditure on personnel, operations and assets. It also contains service-wise breakup.

Although the disclosure is still not perfect and a lot of people expect more details, the availability of some information as compared to the one-line budget of the past is an essential first step.

It shows that the new military leadership had realised that it could not improve the organisation’s image without making some basic concessions including relative transparency of its spending.

How far the appetite for greater information will be satisfied will depend on this — and the successive — government’s ability to capitalise upon this opportunity to expand its power vis-à-vis the armed forces.

Broadly speaking, there are two patterns of transparency in military expenditure. The first relates to the Nato definition of defence spending which clearly specifies that it would include all activities, even those in the civilian sector and by para-military forces, which are designed to strengthen the military’s capability.

The Nato classification includes pension, defence industry, special projects and all other defence related spending.

The other pattern relates to the Indian definition of the defence budget that provides certain amount of details but does not meet the Nato definition. The Indian budget gives breakdowns for the three services and also figures of annual capital expenditure versus operations spending. Since there is no hard and fast rule about what each country will reveal, Pakistan seems to have followed the latter approach. This pattern represents the via media between civilian demand for greater information and

the military’s sensitivity for some amount of secrecy.

It could be argued that it is not impossible to follow the US and British pattern of disclosure of defence estimates, but given the colonial nature of the military institution, the figures which have been provided now are better than the complete opacity of the past.

This transparency is a historic milestone on, hopefully, what will turn out to be a road to greater transparency and better civilian control of the defence sector. Improved civilian authority over the armed forces is a corollary of greater transparency and vice versa.

A more confident civilian government means the one which makes the military and the country at large confident of its ability to deliver and govern the state. In Pakistan’s historical context, the military is a political force to reckon with and it would have to be convinced of the ability of the political dispensation to govern the country to cooperate more.

A glance at the recently released budgetary figure of Rs295.306bn shows that the armed forces are spending 34 per cent on personnel, 28 per cent on operations, 4.1 per cent on travel, 29.7 percent on physical assets (meaning weapons), 8.7 per cent on civil works and 23.9 per cent goes on general expenditure.

The service-wise breakdown is 43 per cent is the army’s share, 24 per cent is for the air force, and 9.8 per cent for the navy and 22.5 per cent goes to inter-services and defence production institutions. The teeth-to-tail ratio appears negative.

The defence budget does not include approximately Rs45bn in military pensions nor does it necessarily disclose off-budget financing. There are definitional issues as well such as where to classify retired military personnel that continue to work in civilian departments whose pay and personnel cost is not charged to the defence budget. Then there are other expenses incurred by the civilian local governments on behalf of military establishments or in cantonment areas which does not show up as part of military expenditure.

One could go on and on with details of where the lines between military and civilian spending are fuzzy. Tabulating all such figures we could reach a total of Rs350-360bn. This does not mention the spending on the nuclear programme, not all of which can be found in this more transparent defence budgetary figure.

But let’s not complain about the current level of transparency. The greater problem is with the other claim regarding the possible reduction of defence spending which cannot happen due to the following reasons. First, the current configuration of the military does not allow for a substantial reduction of the military’s long-term liabilities such as personnel cost. A noticeable reduction can happen in two situations: (a) a unilateral decision by Pakistan (within a regional arms control framework) to disarm and (b) change the structure of the military by making it less labour intensive and more capital intensive.

These are serious political decisions which cannot be taken until the government is stable and the Defence Cabinet Committee of the Parliament (DCC) is strong enough to make such decisions.

Second, currently the DCC depends upon the military for input. The 22 parliamentary committees, which were formed during the 1970s as a result of ‘higher defence re-organisation’ of the Bhutto days, do not have a system whereby independent opinion is sought to corroborate the information provided by the military intelligence services and the service headquarters.

For example, during the 1980s, the air and naval headquarters had played up external threat to force the government to allow the services to buy a certain category of French missiles. Since the government then did not have an alternative source of information, it gave in to the demands. The present parliament could either encourage a system of lobbying by various stakeholders as happens in the US or allow for the streamlining of the defence bureaucracy for better information.

This brings me to the third issue of the lack of capacity of the existing Ministry of Defence (MoD). Over the years, the MoD has become impotent due to its militarisation and lack of expertise. The MoD should be manned by experts who know management of defence. This means training of bureaucrats and bringing in outside experts. The Pakistani civilian bureaucrats, especially of the MoD, are no comparison to their more powerful counterparts in India.

The appointment of military officers in key positions in the ministry has completely weakened the ability of the civilian bureaucrats to deliver. An under-capacitated MoD bureaucracy cannot reduce the wastage in the defence budget which is estimated to be over 20 per cent. This means that we cannot have reduction in the short or medium terms.

Fourth, accountability is a crucial factor. There are structural flaws in the military’s accounting and auditing system which currently encourages wastage.

Finally, given the military’s existing plans to carry out military modernisation, it does not seem that immediate defence burden will reduce substantially in the short to medium term. Thus, a short-term suggestion one could offer the existing parliament is to hold a conference of experts on military expenditure and defence accountability in which international and national experts could apprise the government about how to go about its business of dealing with the defence burden. If the cat is to be belled, let it be done properly.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.