– Shantanu Mukharji
Out of its nearly 73 years of existence as an independent country, Pakistan had had long spells of military dictatorship beginning from Ayub Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf, who never allowed civilian flavour or democratically elected governments to survive. Hence, the country never saw civil liberties or freedom of speeches as the norm in a democratically chosen political dispensation. The all powerful military always had the last word. And even if there was a civilian head of government, he or she was only ceremonial. The deep state had its way and only its writ ran over the state of affairs.
Today too it’s the military establishment which is calling the shots and the civilian government under Prime Minister Imran Khan is largely believed to be a puppet government which is running on the express diktat of the armed forces. Only last week, the Pak Defence Ministry has proposed a pay hike of 20% for the defence personnel in the next financial year. This has caught the attention of Pakistan watchers who are always wary about Pakistan increasingly becoming a dangerous state with an omnipotent military. It’s clear that this is done at the prompting of the army. The government wants to keep its military officers and men in good humour so that despite financial crunch, devaluation of rupee and spiralling inflation, the army leadership is happy. They are kept in mental comfort as it’s the army only who are reining in or unleashing the terrorists to meet their agenda points even if that means a high level proxy war. It’s the ISI – the blue eye boy of the army which is virtually controlling these highly sensitive matters.
The development appears all the more worrisome because only last year the annual defence budget was raised by 4.5% and the budget then stood at a whopping 7.6 Million US dollars. Worse still is that Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Qamar Ahmad Bajwa had earlier categorically stated that Army was not going to ask for a hike in the salary of the armed forces due to Pakistan’s poor financial condition. Similarly, the Revenue Minister, Hammad Azhar had also very forthrightly declared in his parliamentary defence budget speech that the defence budget would remain unchanged at 1.15 trillion Pakistani Rupees. Why this U-turn at this critical juncture, is a million dollar question!
The proposed hike, in turn would keto the jihadis happy as they remain under the thumb of the Pakistani army and work under their directions for acts of terror. This keeps the civilian government also in check as they remain subjected to an emotional blackmail.
This development also is a happy news for the senior officers who will have more to enjoy than before as the country battles to contain the Covid linked implications.
Interestingly, exactly a month ago, on April 16, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had cleared an Imran Khan piloted proposal amounting to 1.4 million US dollars sought to meet the expenses related to Covid 19. One of the Indian economists with the IMF, had warned against the sanction highlighting apprehensions that such a huge sum approved in the name to redress Covid menace, could be blatantly abused for undesirable purposes. The recent development of hike in pay of defence personal looks to fit in the warning sounded by an expert.
If all the isolated pieces are joined together, we get a disturbing picture that the proposed pay rise may push Pakistan towards further economic downturn ignoring the priority of attending to the health concerns arising out of the pandemic. Also, as security experts fear that too much money falling into the hands of a government which is largely run under the directions of the military, may lead to some kind of military adventurism including a spurt in the cross border terrorism and it has every chance of getting out of control.
(Writer is a security analyst and a freelance columnist on geo political issues. The views expressed are personal.)