ISLAMABAD: Weeks, after the IMF gave an in principle approval to Pakistan’s request for a $6 billion bailout package, its all-powerful military on Wednesday, announced ‘voluntary’ cuts in its defence budget from the present four per cent of GDP for the next fiscal year.
In India, the news evoked mixed reactions. Experts cautioned against a slowdown in Indian defence procurements, pointing out that a broke Pakistan was coerced by lenders to take the haircut. The threat of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force that has put Pakistan on the greylist as also the stringent IMF conditionalities had forced the country’s hand, they said.
In 2018, Pakistan was the 20th biggest military spender in the world with a $11.4-bn bill, said a report published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) in April. This was 4 per cent of the nation’s GDP and its highest spend since 2004.
Major General Asif Ghafoor, Director General (DG) Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) — the media wing of the military, in his twitter message on Tuesday, claimed the voluntary cuts in the defence budget for next fiscal year “would not be at the cost of defence and security”.
“We shall maintain effective response potential to all threats... It was important to participate in the development of tribal areas and Balochistan.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan appreciated the military’s “unprecedented voluntary initiative of stringent cuts in their defence expenditure,” especially in light of the country’s financial situation and said he was grateful for the move that came “despite multiple security challenges” that Pakistan faces.
Indian Defence analysts, while welcoming the development, advised caution, pointing to the element of economic compulsion before Pakistan.
Major General SB Asthana, Chief Instructor at the Think Tank United Services Institution, said, “Pakistan is reeling under huge inflation and is under massive debt to the IMF and China. Also, the FATF has scheduled its plenary and working group meetings for June 16-21 in Orlando, Florida, which will be crucial for Pakistan.
It has to escape from the greylist and pre-empt falling into the blacklist— either of which would have serious economic repercussions. The cut in no way means that Pakistan will change its policy towards India.”
Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, Director of the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS) said, “It cannot be forgotten that the Army is the Pakistan government. It will take whatever decision it wants to and whenever it suits it.”
“Don’t expect any change in its policy towards India at a time when we are aggressive on anti-terror operations and they are testing missiles even in such a bad economic situation,” Gen Bhatia cautioned.