Ideas-2006: what did it achieve?

What is a cause for greater concern is the failure of our defence managers to understand that Pakistans policies are too defence-centric for our good.

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE government has billed the much hyped up Ideas-2006, the fourth exhibition of defence equipment to be held in Karachi last week, as a big success. The grand display of various weapon systems with indigenised names was said to be good for the countrys image. If nothing else, it was claimed that the exhibition proved beyond doubt that Pakistan had advanced technologically and could manufacture tanks and aircraft.

In the absence of technical evaluation from independent sources we cannot be sure how much of the defence manufacturing is local and how much it involves merely the skill of assembling various parts manufactured abroad as our car industry is doing. But Ideas-2006 had a negative impact in one important respect, apart from the traffic woes it created for the citizens of Karachi. It has focused attention sharply on the imbalance in the governments financial and policy priorities. Concern was voiced frequently in the talk shows held by television channels that the government is spending heavily on defence while the social sectors are being neglected.

This is not a baseless concern. Let us first take the argument that is directly related to Ideas-2006. An air vice marshal boasted in one programme that Pakistans arms exports will receive a fillip thanks to the exhibition. He said that we are exporting 200 million dollars worth of arms and that will offset somewhat our defence spending. One may well point out that the quantum of our exports is no more than a drop in the ocean being Rs 1.2 billion, even if we do not adjust the amount we spend on the import of parts and raw material for the manufacture of the exported weapons. And what is our defence budget? It was Rs 241 billion in 2005-06 and will rise to Rs 250 billion in the current fiscal year in fact it will be more when the revised figures are announced in June 2007.

That was the least worrying argument presented in defence of Ideas-2006. What is a cause for greater concern is the failure of our defence managers to understand that Pakistans policies are too defence-centric for our good. They always start with the premise that India is our enemy and if we do not build a feasible deterrence in the shape of a credible war machine and a nuclear capability we will make ourselves vulnerable to foreign aggression implying an Indian attack and destruction. One retired lieutenant general even said that this kind of security calls for a sacrifice from the people when they are denied facilities like health care, education and housing. The icing on the cake was his claim that the people are giving this sacrifice very willingly.

Continue reading on: Dawn

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