In response to the prevailing internal and external security challenges faced by Pakistan, the federal government has put forward a proposal for a substantial 16 per cent rise in the defence budget. According to the budget document, the allocation for defence in the fiscal year 2023-24 is projected to be Rs1,804 billion, signifying an increase from the revised defence spending of Rs1,591 billion assigned for the outgoing fiscal year.
Experts opine that the justification for a 15.7 per cent surge in the defence budget stems from the record inflation and devaluation of the rupee against the dollar witnessed over the past year. A detailed examination of the budget reveals that the figure of Rs1,804 billion excludes Rs563 billion designated for retired military personnel pensions, Rs280 billion for the armed forces development program and other crucial expenses, and Rs58 billion for UN peacekeeping missions.
According to the 2023-24 budget document, out of the total defence allocation, Rs705 billion has been set aside for employee-related expenses, Rs442 billion for operational costs, Rs461 billion for local purchases and import of arms and ammunition, and Rs195 billion for civil works. Interestingly, all three branches of the military—the army, navy, and air force—have received equal budget increments, albeit with the army receiving the largest share due to its size and role.
Pakistan’s defence spending currently accounts for 1.7 per cent of its GDP, representing a decline compared to the previous year. In the 2022-23 fiscal year, defence spending constituted around 2 per cent of the country’s GDP, which expanded due to the reevaluation of the economy.
When comparing the average spending per soldier, Pakistan allocates $13,400, while India dedicates $42,000, Saudi Arabia $371,000, Iran $23,000, and the United States allots a substantial $392,000 annually. It is important to note, however, that the disparity lies in the significant disparity in the sizes of their respective economies compared to Pakistan’s.
Defence expenditure has consistently been a topic of discussion, with some advocating for greater transparency and open debate regarding the military budget. In recent years, the government has provided more detailed information about the defence budget. Nevertheless, there has been no open parliamentary debate on the subject. Observers argue that the increase in the defence budget is warranted, considering the imminent external and internal security challenges faced by the country.
Despite the withdrawal of US troops from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to deploy a substantial number of troops along its western border and erstwhile tribal areas to combat the threat of terrorism. Similarly, tensions persist between Pakistan and India, although the restoration of a ceasefire has provided some respite.