Wednesday, May 21, 2014

More money for the military?

A senior defence ministry official - an air-vice marshal - briefed the Senate's Defence Committee on May 19 about the budgetary needs of the military. The official somewhat disingenuously told the Senate committee that Pakistan was the lowest spending on defence in the entire region and the figure he quoted to substantiate this claim was that Pakistan spent around $8,400 per soldier while India spent roughly three times that per soldier. A more accurate measure of comparison would be defence spending as a percentage of GDP which in Pakistan's case is 2.6 per cent of GDP compared to India's 1.8 per cent. Similarly, Pakistan spends $35.4 per capita on defence compared to India which spends $29.9. One is not sure whether any of the Senators present in the committee hearing could figure that what they were being told was not entirely true and that Pakistan does spend far more on defence than it should be given the size of its economy, GDP per capita and low human indicators. The official -- perhaps inadvertantly -- also told the Committee that military pensions had now reached Rs 100 billion per year and that this figure was paid out of the civilian budget. This means that the real defence budget for 2013-14 is not $6.37 billion as publicly admitted in official statistics and budget documents but around $7.4 billion, thereby making the official's claim that Pakistan spends the least on defence in the region even less credible. And now on to those who cry hoarse and paint anyone who asks such questions or point out such discrepancies with the label of 'anti-state' and/or 'anti-national'. The defence budget is paid out of public funds and this is taxpayers money and hence the public has a constitutionally guaranteed right to know how this money is spent. At one point in the briefing, the Defence Ministry official was asked by some senators about the size of the ISI budget and whether it was audited and he declined to give any details. While it is true that the size of the budget for intelligence agencies the world over is not a publicly known figure, it is however shared with members of parliament -- which is precisely a reflection of the fact in mature democracies of parliament being sovereign. In Pakistan's case, it would be fair to say that this detail is not shared with MPs except perhaps with the defence minister and the prime minister. The other issue that is raised by apologists for yet more military spending has to do with the fallacy which says that a lot more funds could be freed up in the budget for health and education if the budgets used for these sectors was used more efficiently and if there was less corruption. This ignores the fact that there is corruption in all sections of the government, not just civil, and further the inescapable reality that a country like Pakistan needs to be spending far more than it currently does on health and education, and that this extra money is not going to come from simply utilizing the existing budget for either more efficiently.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

So begins the unravelling

By Saroop Ijaz The 2013 election was rigged. It was rigged before it happened. It was rigged before Mr. Imran Khan woke up to the fact. It was rigged when TTP picked favorites. In the run up, during the campaign, ANP leaders were killed every day. PPP and ANP were threatened, attacked, maimed and told that they could campaign at their own peril; the peril was violent death. The field was uneven, and the field was Punjab and Punjab only, since our “estranged brothers” were in no mood to allow campaign and electioneering in the rest of Al-Bakistan. Yet, to point to this elementary fact was to be an apologist for the beleaguered parties, to defend corruption.  The prime beneficiaries were Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Imran Khan, who in the competitive spirit did not even spare a moment to condemn the attacks on rivals, to condole with the leaders and families of those killed. Callousness was the name of the game, leaders of PML-N and PTI implying and sometimes saying it directly that PPP and ANP had it coming, that they deserved to be murdered by the terrorists for poor governance and corruption. Would the election results been substantially had there been a level playing field? Most probably not, however, it certainly would have been less bloody. More significantly, there would have been dissent, a semblance of diverging views. Some of us warned about the “right versus the right battle”, with the liberal (even if token) parties coercively relegated to the bench even before the match started. It was not because of any love lost for the liberal forces and their performance; rather it was and is for sanity. The primary problem with an internal right contest was that there is only one direction to go, i.e. more right. Side note to friends in India: be very afraid, we have been there, done that, and got the T-shirt (which is smeared in blood now). The political rightist forces, PML-N and PTI now compete with not only the religious right of JI and JUI-F but also JUD, SSP/ASWJ and other assorted, pleasant “non-state” actors, and at times with the TTP itself for that space. The PML-N and PTI cannot win this. While, it was fun to be all glib and sly about the temporarily alignments and beating them at their own game, except, it will not happen.  Media had by then found out that xenophobia sells, and it sells best as a hybrid of religion and xenophobia. The hand is now being overplayed. When Shaheed Governor Taseer was murdered, it was apologia and obfuscation, same with Shahbaz Bhatti, and it continues to this day. Recently when Shaheed Rashid Rehman was assassinated, no television channel found the issue news worthy since there were dharnas to cover, and blasphemy law discussions have more chances of attracting bullets rather than ratings (one sparkling exception was Mr. Ejaz Haider’s excellent program on Capital TV). The Media tried very hard not to find blasphemy law, yet the blasphemy law has found the Media. It is in the nature of these things. Competitive spirit and temporary powerful allies just like the elections at play again. It is the “rival niji” channel under attack and hence “fatwas” inciting violence are being solicited and then aired on prime time. Some of them must be feeling pretty smug at the prospect of market share, ratings, and money. Well, not for long. The “fatwas” will come back to you. The agent provocateurs of today will be the victims of tomorrow. If the dangerous shenanigans do not cease immediately, it will not be a question of “if”, it will most certainly come back to other “niji channels”. Hafiz Saeed and friends have already become legitimate, now they are fast becoming the mainstream, all the rest just being fringe.  Once they do their latest media fan boys will be the first to fall. A lot of what it seems is sadism on National television is really masochism, diligently preparing the guillotine for themselves.  If you create an environment where a “Fatwa” is all you need to have the rival eliminated, and you are not the fatwa granting authority yourself, well, you are not awfully smart then, are you? What Mr. Imran Khan and Ch. Nisar Ali Khan do not understand that electoral reforms and cabinet positions will be redundant in the Khilafat. The Emirate will not tolerate Mubasher Lucmans on the airwaves (Actually, very, very hard to tolerate even before the Emirate). To make hate and terror mainstream does not work, particularly for the wannabes, be it wannabe Taliban politicians (Taliban Khans) or wannabe hysterical television anchors (Lucmans As the Amir, Mr Fazaullah has demonstrated given the opportunity “our estranged brothers” can run media enterprises of their own. The non-State actors are having a festival. The last line of defense is the most visible now. From Prime time television to outside press clubs. One perhaps needs to re-think the label “non-State”. The defense day parades in the years gone by were a visible manifestation of the State. Now they are conducted by the Difa-I-Pakistan under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Hafiz Saeed. If the mighty guardians of our State have publicly come to this, then the end perhaps is nearer than we had imagined. The history of temporary alliances in this country is long and wretched. Today, the ASWJ, Sunni Ittehad Council and the Shia organizations being united in the “great cause” of eliminating a television channel. They have all united before a few times. One was the second amendment (Side note: one not newsworthy report was that an Ahmadi charged with blasphemy was murdered in police custody yesterday, do not let it dampen the Nationalistic fervor though). Islands of hatred and persecutions do not work. Some of them know it all too well, right now. Yet, for the “greater good” they again stand united today. Not for long, some of them will fall. By becoming allies they lend credibility to the voices which have called for their murder before, and will do it again once the honeymoon is over. Good news: at this rate, unprincipled alliances and appeasement will be over soon. Nobody left to be appeased, or to appease, just one happy pious group. The inquisition will be televised. Ladies and Gentlemen, hold on tight, this how all of it unravels.