ISLAMABAD: In a landmark development, details of the 2008-09 defence budget on a two-page document were tabled in the Senate, as several lawmakers called for a cut in the allocations, keeping in view the overall economic situation.
The Army’s budget estimates are Rs128.699 billion, Rs71.006 billion is estimated for the Pakistan Air Force and the Navy’s share is Rs29.133 billion, whereas the total defence budget is Rs295.306 billion. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was asked to review the budget if possible.
While some opposition senators insisted on allocating more for the armed forces, some of their colleagues wanted a downward review in funds under the head of general expenditure and operating expenses.
The proceedings were marred by a rumpus, which hit the House when Khalid Mahmood Soomro passed some remarks against the Army for its operations in Balochistan, South and North Waziristan.
Some senators from both sides of the aisle hurled allegations against each other. The debate on the defence budget remained suspended for some time. After the impassioned speech by Deputy Chairman Senate Jan Muhammad Jamali, Leader of the House Mian Raza Rabbani presented the defence budget amid massive desk-thumping by the treasury and opposition members alike.
However, the debate was held in the second sitting, whereas during the first sitting that began with a whopping delay of two hours, for which no explanation was given in the House, the general budget debate was concluded. Ishaq Dar was given time to speak on the budget in the evening.
The selective break-up of Rs295.30 billion defence budget is: the lion’s share goes to the army, with Rs128.69 billion, its employees related expenses are Rs71.2 billion, the operating expense of the army for the next fiscal is estimated at Rs22.33 billion, its assets’ maintenance expense is estimated at Rs21.5 billion.
Likewise, general expenses are Rs17.654 billion, for other stores and stocks, Rs21.527 billion and the same allocation has been made for physical assets, whereas for travel and transportation, Rs4.682 billion. Rs13.560 billion for civil works.
The Pakistan Air Force is being allocated Rs71 billion with operational expenses estimated at around Rs16.46 billion and its employees-related expenses are Rs10.7 billion; Rs39.597 billion each for physical assets and other stores and stocks, and Rs4.239 billion for civil works.
However, its expenses for maintaining its assets are higher than that of the army at Rs39.579 billion. While, the Navy has a total budget of only Rs29.1 billion, its operational expenses are Rs3.535 billion, employees-related expenses Rs6.750 billion.
The Defence Production Division has the budget allocation of Rs66.4 billion: these include the arms and armaments produced in the country and the quality certification of defence units. During the debate on defence budget, lawmakers from across the aisle, welcomed its tabling and termed the day as historic, and expressed hope next year, more details would be available.
Mian Raza Rabbani said it was a first step that the defence budget had been presented in the Parliament as per their commitment made in the Charter of Democracy. The entire nation and political parties would be behind the army if it played its role under Article-242 of the Constitution. Some people have been using the military to prolong their rule, creating a confrontational environment.
“We are neither against any institution nor want any confrontation, but want to strengthen the Parliament and that the institutions function in line with the constitution,” he emphasised. He made it clear that there was a mention about the role of the secret agencies in the charter and the government was committed to realise that.
The lawmaker clarified that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had given no direction for taking phones of politicians and journalists, rejecting the impression created in recent days. Senator Azam Swati of JUI-F proposed to the army chief to voluntarily have a look on the allocations, as Rs549 billion were for the entire country’s development and Rs295 billion for the armed forces.
Several treasury senators called upon the army to function within its constitutional parameters and desist from playing any role in politics. Leader of Opposition Kamil Ali Agha insisted that while criticising the army, one should not forget the numerous services rendered by the institution in 1965 and 1971 and the earthquake in 2005 and on other such occasions.
He said the armed forces were the defenders of the country who had a role in maintenance of law and order also, hoping, next year the defence budget details may comprise 200 pages. PML Secretary General Mushahid Hussain Syed said it was a great day and called for the accountability of the state institutions including the army, as the Parliament was supreme.
He noted that there was a need to redefine the national security’s concept with reference to the rule of law, the Parliament, education and the civilians. PPP’s Rukhsana Zuberi proposed that a study should be conducted to ascertain the possible environmental impact of the new GHQ being built in Islamabad.
“The defence is misleading, as the retired army personnel’s pension has been included in the civilian budget and there is no need to increase the defence budget. It should be slashed instead,” said Shahid Bugti of JWP.
Dr Abdul Malik of National Party noted that 11.56 per cent of the total land that too prime land belonged to the armed forces. Like Germany and Japan, Senator Ismail Buledi noted, Pakistan never required the army. Whereas, Dr Muhammad Saad said the army should be on the pattern of Israel army, comprising of farmers, teachers, clerks and other segments of society.
He said that these army personnel were paid modest salaries and could be ready on a one-hour notice. The senator charged that the army would have to shun the British colonial traditions. Nisar A Memon of PML-Q insisted that it was everybody’s democratic right to speak about any institution, but the sensitivity of the national security should be kept in mind.
Zafar Iqbal Jhagra said that they had great respect for the army as an institution, but its role could be discussed, as it was not a sacred cow. Prof Khurshid Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami pointed out that during the military rules, the allocations for the PAF and the Navy were gradually reduced in proportion to the army’s budget.
He was of the view that the Parliament could take up the matter and give an advice in this connection. Ghafoor Haideri said that the army would face criticism in the Parliament if continued with its political role and killing its own people in different parts of the country.
ANP’s Muhammad Adeel said the defence budget should have carried information about the profits of the Fauji Foundation, Askari Bank, Bahria Foundation, the army-related stadiums, petrol pumps and other such activities.
Razina Alam said she was proud of the armed forces for its services to the nation and wanted increase in the defence budget, keeping in mind the rising inflation. Kamran Murtaza noted that the defence budget debate was useless, as neither the Senate nor the National Assembly could slash or add any amount under Article-82 of the Constitution.
Source: The News, 18/6/2008