Ayaz Amir

Pakistan having all but abandoned its traditional stance on Kashmir, and confidence building gimmicks all the rage between India and Pakistan, you might think the time had come to cut defence spending and divert resources to social needs. But you would be wrong. For even as Pakistan gives peace a dubious facelift by making it look like appeasement, nothing on the horizon suggests we are about to enter the age of miracles. If anything, the military’s appetite

for shining hardware remains as strong as ever. The navy has a long list of equipment it wants from the US. The army has its own needs. But to beat everything is the PAF’s proposed

list of 75 F-16s worth three billion dollars. Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat declares this would give the air force “deterrence value”. But against whom? Not India with whom we

are building flaky bridges of peace. That makes sense when counterpoised against a target, or a clear threat. President Musharraf, however, has chucked the doctrine of external threat overboard, insisting, as he has more than once, that the enemy lies within. By which he presumably means Al-Qaeda, religious extremism, the MMA when it is not cooperative, and all those political elements not under the umbrella of the Q League. How do F-16s strike at the enemy within?

If the ‘composite dialogue’ leads to no progress on the dispute over the Baglihar Dam, the Kishanganga water project or the standoff at Siachen the mood in Pakistan could turn sour. Even so, war is no longer a theme taken seriously by anyone in Pakistan. As for India, it need not contemplate the grim prospect of war when all its expectations of Pakistan are being met free of cost and free of effort. China, vying for superpower status, has no F-16s in its inventory. Iran, threatened by the US and Israel, doesn’t have them. Poland and the UAE, to name but two countries feeding the US military-industrial complex, do. Expensive military hardware is only a sop to Arab vanity, serving no military purpose whatsoever. The Arabs at least have the money to service their vanity. We don’t have the same luxury. Putting some money into the health and education of the nation will do more for national security than so many F-16s.

Don’t we remember why we went down the nuclear path? We said the A-bomb would make national security foolproof, arming us against all eventualities. Well, since we have the bomb, why is defence expenditure still so high? A fallacy lies in this: the military no longer looms large in Pakistan because of Kashmir or India; it does so in response to the need to safeguard

its privileged position. So like any bureaucratic organism, existence for their own sake, unrelated to any objective need or external threat. We can have chocolate borders with India tomorrow but this won’t for a moment stop the military from appropriating the bulk of national resources. So let’s bury this illusion once and for all that soft borders will lead to a peace dividend, money for schools and hospitals, butter before guns.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad