CURTAILING DEFENCE EXPENDITURE

Karachi June, 2011

Pakistan thrives on conspiracies; viewing itself as a victim of convoluted international plots. The fault is never ours; there are many to blame for our woes. The Indians are out to get us; a US-Israeli nexus exists to wipe us off the map; the Arabs, the Iranians, the Afghans; everyone has an eye on our untold latent wealth; Russia and its neighbors seek passage through our territory to reach the warm waters of the Indian ocean even as the rest of the world seeks access to China from our shores . Threats from across our borders are supplemented by those that exist within our frontiers. Ethnic, religious, social, professional rivalries abound. The Baluchis, the Pathans, the Mohajirs, the Punjabis, the Shias, the Sunnis, the Ahmedis, the Christians, the Hindus, the industrialists, autocrats, bureaucrats, politicians, the lawyers, the judges, the judged, the laborers; each group has it in for the others; each viewing itself as the only patriot, the only savior and each labeling the others as agents of evil.

Superimposed across this incredible landscape, surpassing all elements sits the all-powerful Pakistan Military Machine; a law unto itself; unquestioned and unanswerable. Pakistanis have been taught one lesson many times over. You do not mess with a guy who carries a gun. Whether it is a street urchin intent on taking your purse or an organization that has been charged with the responsibility of securing the national frontiers; you do not take on the guy who has firepower. We may resent them but we know better than to challenge the guns. In the first instance, we accept the situation resignedly as we hand over our wallets and cellphones while in the latter case we treat the armed forces deferentially, pandering to their needs; becoming obsequious and sycophantic whenever necessary. Any protestations there may be about the way the Armed Forces of Pakistan conduct their business are couched in obtuse, circumspect language. We thus can have political leaders calling out to ‘patriotic generals’ to deliver them from those who are supposedly not. We can have human rights activists labeling generals as ‘duffers’ while in the very same breath heaping praise upon the rank and file. We can have our politicians enthusiastically extend the tenure of a Chief of Army Staff only to stutter incoherently when, on his extended watch, a military and intelligence failure of immense proportion unfolds in Abbottabad. We do not have any hesitation abusing retired, ‘have been’ military leaders under whom we may have groveled and genuflected shamelessly while we cannot have the guts to question those presently are in active service; our Commander in Chief unable to send anyone home even when they say that they ‘will resign if told to do so’. Unable to handle the situation, unwilling to confront any issue, we allow things to fester; thereby deepening the divide between the ‘fauji’ and the ‘bloody civilian’.

Make no mistake, the Armed Forces are needed; the nation is extremely vulnerable; Pakistan has many enemies, both within and without and, to worsen matters, it does not even recognize some forces that threaten its integrity. We therefore pay a huge price to protect ourselves, putting our economic, educational, social, developmental, physical and indeed our moral health on a back burner. We tolerate, nay, even applaud the constant refrain that our armed forces are ill equipped and that the enemies are all powerful. We commit to a resolve to eat grass in order to develop a nuclear capability and when that is achieved, we resignedly accept the need to fund a much stronger conventional defense capability. Whenever an enormous bill of defense expenditure is presented and we are brought another step closer to actually eating the proverbial grass; we are told that we cannot question defense expenditure; we must, not unlike the unfortunate maiden of folklore, smile and bear it. The nation submits to a further lowering of quality of the lives of its citizens as it defends its frontiers. We actually do something much worse; we continue funding the perceived defense needs of the nation even as we are repeatedly given proofs that there is something seriously lacking in our force structure and the manner in which we defend ourselves. When an intruding force penetrates our defenses almost 200 kilometers deep inside and stays in our territory for over three hours, we allow the Air Force to shrug off the incident by simply stating that the visitors came stealthily. When the world’s most wanted man is found living in relative comfort in a garrison city deep within our borders, we accept the Army’s explanation that they ‘did not know’. When a secure naval installation experiences a disaster of historical proportions, we absolve the Navy as its Chief states that the ‘attackers were highly trained’. And, then we brace ourselves as each service, without even a whisper of remorse, seeks additional funds to counter these new threats. The nation funds a whole new set of weapons and defenses at enormous cost sacrificing development and growth.

The reasons why this happens are complex and many but one major reason is that Pakistan has allowed the organization responsible for defending against the threats to also become the one responsible for identifying the threats. The average Pakistani has no say in these matters because no one has any visibility or expertise in matters pertaining to defense. The few ‘experts’ we have are retired individuals intent upon justifying the needs of the armed forces or some bright eyed, fresh academics who can question the need but lack experience and insight necessary to argue the complex issues of defense versus development. The nation is forced to rely on the Military for defining its own needs. The military, any military, is designed for self-preservation; its role is not to plan for national development needs. Ours goes one step further; it does not have any inbuilt measures or economic discipline that ensures judicious spending.

It will take a very long time for us to develop the vision which strikes the right balance between development and defense. It will take interminably long for us to figure out whether it is better to keep increasing the size and inventory of our armed forces or whether it makes more sense to develop the national economy, morale, literacy rate, awareness and capability of our people and indeed, our foreign policy and attitude towards our ‘enemies’. Unfortunately, we cannot wait for that to happen. We can no longer continue to travel down a slippery slope of economic doom propelled by the belief that curtailing defense expenditure means a lowering of our defensive capability.

This is the fallacy that needs to be recognized and remedied. This nation needs to understand that it is very possible to reduce defense expenditure without compromising capability in any manner. Indeed, it is even possible to enhance capability while saving funds.

There is one singular action which, if carried out by the Government of Pakistan, can by itself generate substantial savings while simultaneously satisfying the public need better accountability of defense spending. Pakistan needs to rid itself of the multi-service structure that exists for its armed forces. The Army, Navy and the Air Force are three distinct, separate organizations and, despite the many vocal claims to the contrary, there is absolutely no desire, motivation or indeed the compulsion within them to integrate. Even though the Nation has created, funded and manned a Joint Service Headquarters at huge cost, the unfortunate truth is that it is purely a ceremonial organization. Each Service pays lip service to integration and commonality while actively pursuing goals that ensure that the individuality of the Service is enhanced further. The nation needs to put aside sentimentality and emotion. We need to take the bold and imaginative step of integrating the multiple services, military, paramilitary and quasi-military into a singular whole. Pakistan needs to institute a Unified Military Command. We need to dispense with the three services and the fourth, ceremonial, Joint Chiefs of Staff Headquarters. We need to reconstitute our entire military machine under a singular, unitary Command and Control Structure.

For Pakistanis, civilian and fauji alike, to understand how this measure would save enormous resources without compromising capability, it is necessary to recognize the flaws in the present multi service structure.

  • The Pakistan Air Force is the primary agency responsible for defense of the nation’s airspace. The Pak Army however has developed substantial air power capability. Today the Army Aviation Corps has more aircraft, fixed wing and rotary than the PAF. This is not to state that these are not needed; all that needs to be recognized is that massive savings can be effected by pooling these assets under a singular command structure.
  • The Navy has developed its Air arm which fields search and rescue, maritime surveillance, transportation and anti-submarine aircraft. The Navy has historically also (and still does) to acquire its own dedicated squadron of fighter aircraft for the maritime role.
  • The Army has its own airfields and bases; so does the Pak Navy.
  • In common-user airfields, the estate is divided amongst each service with each force carrying out its own servicing, maintenance and repair of assets which may well be common.
  • The Army and Navy have aircraft; the Air Force and Army have boats, the Navy and Air Force have Commandos.
  • The Pak Army possesses the expertise for defending ground installations. Yet, the PAF has developed its own force for the defense of its airfields, dispensing with the Army troops that had earlier provided this capability. The Navy has its own complement of ground combateers. Each service has its own Special Forces units.
  • Even though the PAF is charged with the responsibility of defending the Pakistani airspace, the Pak Army has its own, completely separate Air Defense Command. Likewise the Navy has developed its own air defense capability. Both services have acquired their own sensors, own detection and defense systems, radars, missiles, anti-aircraft guns and, perforce, Command and control systems. In many cases they are not compatible with each other and huge expenditures are incurred to make them work together.
  • Each Service has its own ground based missile defenses. In multi user locations it is not uncommon to have each service deploying its own defense systems. The PAF has to cater for the Army and Navy anti-aircraft defense weaponry even as it operates in its own ‘friendly’ skies.
  • Each service has developed its own extensive aircraft repair and maintenance facilities. The Ministry of Defense has put in place yet other depot level facilities. Even when the aircraft being used are identical, each service creates, funds and uses its own independent support and maintenance facilities.
  • The PAF has its own logistics depots; the Army and Navy their own. In many cases one may have parts lying unused whereas another user may be hurting for those spares. Fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, transports, vehicles, guns, ammunition; the range of common user items is huge. Equipment may be unserviceable in one Service whereas another Service may have the needed parts available in stock.
  • The PAF is the largest user of fuel, oil and all petroleum products. Yet it is the Pak Army which is the Service responsible for fuel supplies to the three services. Voluminous book transactions take place as each service maintains its own logistics facilities and staff for this purpose. Despite this, substantial losses occur regularly.
  • Engineering services are provided to the other two Services by the Pak Army through the aptly termed Military Engineering Services (MES). This however does not prevent each service from creating its own establishments, manpower and facilities for its infrastructure needs. Engineers are deputed to the other two services on a regular basis. Once again, a huge range of common user items from furniture to glue, from appliances to socks are procured by each service separately at widely differing prices.
  • There exist many establishments within Pakistan that are manned by a completely redundant set of officers and men from each service simply because of a need for each service to ensure that its needs and requirements are met. As an example, there exist at the Karachi Port separate facilities and organizations for the Navy, the Air Force and the Army for handling imports for each service. The same is true for a huge range of services and facilities.
  • The Procurement channels for each Service are independent and span the globe. Key embassies abroad have officers and men from each service stationed to facilitate their acquisitions. Locally, similar situations exist. The Air Force procures its own uniform cloth, the Navy its own, the Army its own. There is however a central, Army controlled testing and acceptance facility for local procurements. It is very possible and indeed has happened many times that the one service may acquire the very same item at a completely different price than its sister service.
  • Each service has its own medical facilities. Although the Army recruits and trains doctors and paramedical staff for all three services, yet each service also hires directly from the market.
  • Each service medical facility is designed for its own personnel. An individual from one service cannot be treated in another Service’s medical facility as a matter of routine.
  • Drugs and medicines, once procured centrally are now procured separately by each service; each service purchasing from different sources at different prices.
  • In most instances, multiple medical facilities exist at one geographical location. The Karachi metropolitan area is a perfect example. Spread across the landscape from Malir to Manora, from Hub to Korangi, there are multiple military hospitals, clinics, trauma centers etc. each catering to its own service members. Many are understaffed; a specialist may be available with the Army but not with the PAF or the Navy. A tedious, cumbersome process exists if a referral has to be made to another service facility.
  • Each has its own meteorological facilities; the Army determines its own weather, the Air Force its own and the Navy its own.

The list is endless. It spills over to housing, welfare, social and extracurricular activities.

  • Each service has its own colleges, its own schools, its own social groups and youth development organizations.
  • Each Service has its own housing schemes for retirees.
  • Each has its own Foundations for post-retirement welfare and business activities.
  • Each has its own lead-in institutions and cadet colleges for grooming and training aspiring officers.
  • The PAF has a sailing club; the Navy a parachuting/skydiving club.
  • Each has its own golf courses.
  • Each has its own welfare organizations, its own wives clubs.

There is more; ironically under the guise of integration. Each Service has a sizeable flock of officers and men deputed to each other’s organizations for ‘coordination’ and ‘joint’ issues related to planning and execution. The entire military structure of the nation is topped by an ineffective, wholly ceremonial ‘Joint Headquarters’ where another, huge but useless apparatus has been put in place to carry out cosmetic and completely unnecessary oversight of resource allocation; a function which is by law, and indeed by executive authority, the domain of the Ministry of Defense and for which yet again, sizeable staff is provided by the three services. Staff is also present in other organizations and ministries, carrying out identical, repetitive functions for each service. Audit, Finance, Procurement, Legal; you name it; each service has its own civil and military staff looking after its interests.

The ground reality is that instead of integrating, the three services have become more polarized, more possessive and inter-service rivalry, a desirable attribute, has morphed into finger pointing. Be it the Kargil debacle, the War on Terror or indeed the Mehran disaster; each service can and does point to the others for not doing enough. When it comes to allocation of scant resources, each Headquarter fights tooth and nail with the other two to grab as big a chunk of the pie as possible. Size matters and in all issues, operational or welfare related, the Army dominates. Whether it is the selection of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a President of the Defence Housing Authority or indeed the Manager of a golf club, the Navy and the Air Force are largely spectators, watching despondently from the sidelines. Any ‘goodies’ that come the military way are distributed in the ratio of size, the PAF and PN getting single digit percentages. Medals, grant lands, official Hajj and Umra contingents, attaches in embassies abroad; whatever; size prevails.

As stated earlier, the list is endless. These are but a few examples of wasteful spending that can be done away with without compromising our defense capability. The fix is simple. Unification of Command.

It is easy to present examples of other nations that have such unitary military structures but such an exercise is nugatory. Quoting the eminently workable Israeli or the Canadian system of unified command will only evoke the detractors to quote the Indian, the American or many other multi-service systems. Even if there were no examples of unified defense forces anywhere, we need to do what is best for Pakistan and what our country needs at this juncture is to integrate our services into a unified command and control structure. There are compelling reasons for this.  The Armed forces have proven to be ill equipped for the new dimension of warfare, even as we roll terminologies such as 4G and 5G warfare glibly off our tongues. We impress nobody and confound many as we browbeat a cash strapped government to allocate funds that do not exist. We go shopping for F16s, frigates, tanks and artillery when we already have a new type of war raging in our cities, across our countryside. A war that needs different weapons, different counters. Perhaps the most compelling reason is that we do not have the money.

We need to come to terms with reality. If nothing else, the disaster of PNS Mehran must bring home the ludicrous, antiquated nature of the command and control structure of our armed forces. We need to get past these outdated organograms and reorganize into one singular defense force with unity of command.

The benefits are enormous. To start with, we can bring the numbers down to one of each; be it four star ranks or staff colleges. From Directorates of Procurement, Audit, Accounting, Estates and land management to Service Headquarters, from barracks, housing, messes, bases, cantonments we can free up immense resources both human and material. We can dispense with all duplicate, triplicate and even quadruplicate systems, making available manpower for operational tasks rather than doing unnecessarily repetitive tasks. By standardizing uniforms, training schedules, by integrating logistics procedures and processes, by dovetailing combat potential or each force into a homogenous whole, we can reshape and make more meaningful the entire spectrum of military activity across Pakistan.

Unification is the crying need of the hour. It means much to everyone. From the government which can generate huge economies of scale to the lowly airman or sailor who can benefit from wearing the same uniform, evoking a new respect from the jaded civilian populace. From the visible reduction of the number of cantonments, to the dispensing with individual service housing schemes; from doing away with the triple redundant ADCs that adorn the backdrop of all political leaders, to a singular rank and uniform code, unification would generate immense benefits. It would lead to an increased efficiency of all departments within the Army, Air Force and Navy and indeed, the paramilitary and civilian organizations. The nation would be able to optimize its resources, both manpower and material.

The best part of the whole Unification process is that it does not cost anything; does not require any prolonged gestation period. All it requires is the will and direction of the government. Given this, it could begin tomorrow.

Or, maybe never.

For the very same reason. There is no money involved.