Ideas-2006: what did it achieve?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE government has billed the much hyped up Ideas-2006, the fourth exhibition of defence equipment to be held in Karachi last week, as a big success. The grand display of various weapon systems with indigenised names was said to be good for the countrys image. If nothing else, it was claimed that the exhibition proved beyond doubt that Pakistan had advanced technologically and could manufacture tanks and aircraft.

In the absence of technical evaluation from independent sources we cannot be sure how much of the defence manufacturing is local and how much it involves merely the skill of assembling various parts manufactured abroad as our car industry is doing. But Ideas-2006 had a negative impact in one important respect, apart from the traffic woes it created for the citizens of Karachi. It has focused attention sharply on the imbalance in the governments financial and policy priorities. Concern was voiced frequently in the talk shows held by television channels that the government is spending heavily on defence while the social sectors are being neglected.

This is not a baseless concern. Let us first take the argument that is directly related to Ideas-2006. An air vice marshal boasted in one programme that Pakistans arms exports will receive a fillip thanks to the exhibition. He said that we are exporting 200 million dollars worth of arms and that will offset somewhat our defence spending. One may well point out that the quantum of our exports is no more than a drop in the ocean being Rs 1.2 billion, even if we do not adjust the amount we spend on the import of parts and raw material for the manufacture of the exported weapons. And what is our defence budget? It was Rs 241 billion in 2005-06 and will rise to Rs 250 billion in the current fiscal year in fact it will be more when the revised figures are announced in June 2007.

That was the least worrying argument presented in defence of Ideas-2006. What is a cause for greater concern is the failure of our defence managers to understand that Pakistans policies are too defence-centric for our good. They always start with the premise that India is our enemy and if we do not build a feasible deterrence in the shape of a credible war machine and a nuclear capability we will make ourselves vulnerable to foreign aggression implying an Indian attack and destruction. One retired lieutenant general even said that this kind of security calls for a sacrifice from the people when they are denied facilities like health care, education and housing. The icing on the cake was his claim that the people are giving this sacrifice very willingly.

Leaving aside the argument whether people are happily renouncing their birthright to education and health care to build up a war machine to fight India, one can analyse the level of security a country enjoys when it has massive armaments but a population that is ill, under-nourished, illiterate and without a social welfare safety net. At present, Pakistan spends 0.7 per cent of its GDP on health (Indias spending is 1.2 per cent) and 2.0 per cent on education (India spends 3.3 per cent). On defence Pakistan spends 3.4 per cent of GDP as against 3.0 per cent that India does. India has been taken as the benchmark here for the simple reason that it is identified in our strategic planning as the enemy number one.

What is the impact of these misplaced priorities? Pakistans literacy rate is 49.9 per cent and school enrolment ratio stands at 38 per cent. Indias literacy rate is 61 per cent and its school enrolment is 62 per cent. Experience of the latter decades of the 20th century has conclusively proved that a strong, educated, healthy, confident and contented population living in harmony with itself is an asset that can never be equalled by the most sophisticated and state-of-the-art fighter bombers, tanks and machine guns whether locally manufactured or purchased abroad.

The classic example of how an oversized arsenal can become the cause of insecurity and destruction is that of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 it was not on account of a military defeat at the hands of its arch enemy, the United States. The Soviet Union proved to be its own worst enemy and imploded from within because its burgeoning defence budget had sapped it of all energy and destroyed its economy. It could no longer hold together its sixteen constituent republics which were in a state of unrest on account of a faltering economy. The Soviet economy had been affected, among other factors, by its humungous defence budget and the arms race it was involved in with the US.

Another factor that Pakistan must keep in view is the changed nature of security in the modern age and the strategy it will have to develop to keep itself safe from elements that could harm its integrity. Pakistan has not had to fight a full-fledged war with India since 1971. Even that war could have been avoided if Islamabad had handled the East Pakistan crisis with political acumen and statesmanship. It was our political failure that created a situation which India exploited as the opportunity of the century, to use Indira Gandhis words. Kargil was entirely Pakistans brainwave and a full fledged war was avoided by Islamabad withdrawing its troops before the crisis heated up any further.

It is inconceivable, given the political environment in South Asia and the global strategic balance, that India would plan to go to war with Pakistan to achieve territorial ambitions. The race is now in the political and economic spheres and it is here that we must concentrate rather than military adventures even by proxy. In such competitions foreign policy assumes foremost priority and Islamabad should focus primarily on its diplomacy and external relations.

A countrys foreign policy depends on the intellect of its policymakers and the skills of its diplomats. It may be added that an added advantage for a state is an underpinning of a strong economy, political balance and a stable, tolerant and adjusted society that comes with education, economic well-being and a sense of security. An overkill of a defence armoury actually detracts from the above and adds to national insecurity.