Recently Indian government announced increase in its defense budget, likely to be around $76.6 billion, surpassing the defense budget of United Kingdom and Russia. The move will have massive security concerns in neighboring states, especially Pakistan and China, that have competitive relations with India.
India is the third largest defense spender in the world due to the internal and external challenges it faces. India is justifying its $76.6 billion defense budget to the world by presenting the argument that New Delhi faces threats from two fronts. On one side, India is involved in military competition with China, and both have engaged in a military confrontation over Ladakh and Galwan Valley in recent years. On Second front it is having adversarial relations with Pakistan, whom India have fought four wars.
The adversarial relationship with Pakistan has always compelled India to enhance advanced missile technology, i.e., the Brahmos hypersonic missile co-produced by Moscow and New Delhi. Similarly, New Delhi has purchased an S-400 air defense system from Russia. India’s modern military development has serious implications for Pakistan. India is the fifth largest economy in the world, so it can spend a large amount of money on defense. In contrast, the defense budget of Pakistan is Rs. 1,523 billion, which is nothing compared to the Indian defense budget. Pakistan’s economy is not in a position to increase defense spending. Pakistan has less foreign exchange reserves and getting IMF bailout packages, so it is not in favor of Pakistan to start an arms race with India.
Pakistan is struggling with other security issues, but since it is the tradition to maintain traditional military security on top of the agenda, so other security issues are ignored. The same is the case in India which is continuously spending on defense and modernizing its military while other sectors of security, such as human security and environmental security, are ignored. This proves that both nations can never get out of this cage where the defense budget is more tediously important than the basic necessities of both overly populous countries.
India and Pakistan spend a hefty share of their budgets on defense to maintain a balance of power between them. India develops a missile or purchases modern advanced weapons or aircraft; then it becomes imperative for Pakistan to counter it by modernizing its military technology as well.
$76.6 Billion sets a high benchmark and standard for the Pakistani defense sector. In order to maintain the strategy of the balance of power for both nations, it is a necessity for the Pakistani defense sector to go for the higher budget as well. This is indeed very tough for the country, but again this is going to be a necessity.
India is continuously modernizing its military by spending a large amount on buying advanced military equipment such as the S-400 air defense system from Russia. Such air defense system is altering the strategic balance of South Asia. Though it seems that India is modernizing the military to counter China, another great power in the region, having border issues with India but the type of military equipment indicates that it is to be used on its frontiers against Pakistan.
The role of the US and China rivalry cannot be ignored in changing the strategic balance in South Asia. The US wants to counter the rise of China. For this purpose, it has made India, its strategic partner. India is also a member of QUAD, a four states grouping designed to counter the influence of China in the region. The US has also passed a law by which India will be exempted from sanctions on buying military equipment from Russia. India is capitalizing on this opportunity and is using it to modernize the military in the cover of threats from China, while practically such military equipment is not going to be used in the mountainous region bordering China and India.
Though Pakistan is also buying military equipment from China but based on its budget and deteriorating economy, Islamabad would find it difficult to balance New Delhi in the arms race. The only option left for Pakistan is to balance India in nuclear weapons, where Islamabad has superiority. There are repercussions of the nuclear arms race as there is no “framework for risk reduction” in south Asia, so it can lead to any mishap which can further escalate to nuclear war. South Asia is the only place in the world where three nuclear powers are present. Recently, mishandling by the Indian authorities happened, and they accidentally fired a Brahmos missile into Pakistani territory. It was the rational attitude of the Pakistani authorities that prevented the chance of a major war. Such immature acts by the Indian side can destroy the peace in the region.
To counter India, Pakistan spends a large share of the budget on defense, so other sectors such as education, environment, skills development, industrialization, and human security are ignored. Around 39 percent of Pakistani people are living below the line of poverty. Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate change as it is facing heat waves and unusual rainfalls, which are causing extreme floods. Unemployment in Pakistan is at its peak, and there is no focus on skill development in Pakistan. Industrialization is not a priority; rather, industries are being shut down due to extreme energy shortages. The education sector is getting less share of the budget, and interestingly, in the budget 2022-23, the education budget is further reduced. In a world where countries are increasing the shares of education and skills development in their budgets, Islamabad is decreasing. This roadmap that Pakistan follows needs to be changed, or its economy will remain dependent on bailout packages and loans. Pakistan should counter India, but it must invest in technologies and industries because the world is moving to the 4th industrial revolution and investing in new technologies such as AI, etc., but Islamabad is focusing only on traditional military threats.
Great powers, especially the US, must consider Pakistan’s interests before supplying military equipment to India. Washington must understand that its supply of highly sophisticated weapons can destroy the strategic balance in the region.
To conclude, Pakistan must focus on its economy. Pakistan should make necessary reforms to improve its economic condition and stop taking loans from International lenders. India can increase its defense budget because of its huge economic clout. Pakistan has capabilities to counter India, so it must now shift its focus toward the economy, as mentioned in “new security policy based on geo-economics.”
Muskan Moazzam is under graduate student of International Relations National Defense University Islamabad. She is also currently working as a research intern at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and they do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.