Economic Instability Also Presents Risk For Pakistan Military

Economic Instability Also Presents Risk For Pakistan Military
Pakistan has one of the world's largest defense forces. The nuclear-armed state has approximately 640,000 active military personnel, with rapidly growing deterrence and defense capabilities. However, the country's economic situation is in dire straits; unless drastic measures are taken, long-term damage to its economy might become unavoidable. The issue of economic uncertainty does not directly translate into the military's sustenance, or its ability to provide defense in times of war or conflict, but it does help empower the military's effectiveness.

Traditional approaches to military power cannot be employed in the twenty-first century. Several factors, ranging from population to economic standing to geopolitics and regional dynamics, are now determining multiple components of offensive military capabilities. This premise is based on the neomercantilism theory and Michael Beckley's argument about a country's economic development and military effectiveness. Building on this, Pakistan - a developing state with a volatile economy - heavily relies on the IMF as well as other international institutions to keep its economy afloat. The political inability that followed the ousting of its former prime minister has meant that Pakistan has been unable to secure IMF assistance or bailouts from other countries, putting its economy in jeopardy.

An uncertain economic outlook has a significant impact on a state's institutions, of which the military in Pakistan is regarded as one of the most important. Understanding how this uncertainty intersects with the functions or overall effectiveness of military power is also prudent, not only for the sake of the broader discussion but also for policy-making in a country like Pakistan.

Islamabad is confronted with tough economic, political, and security concerns, as it also prepares for general elections in October. After six years, the country's army has a new army chief. However, it is unclear how his actions will impact the course of events. Imran Khan, the former prime minister who seems to be on the verge of disqualification from public office owing to suspected campaign financing irregularities, has softened some of his inflammatory ideas. The dissolution of two provincial assemblies, in which his party was in government, has caused even more political upheaval, and this may eventually lead to additional economic consequences as well.

Pakistan has an ally in the form of China, which is quietly increasing its military power and effectiveness while leading the world's economic race. India is attempting to pursue a similar policy, to which much of Pakistan's military deterrence can be attributed. It is critical to remember the other non-traditional threats that have emerged in the country and around it. Pakistan's military faces internal security challenges as well as the resurging threat of terrorism, which have resulted in a high number of military personnel losses.

To be more specific, the environment in which Pakistan finds itself, as well as the state of its economy, necessitates an approach that goes beyond the common generalization of the risks at hand.

Since Pakistan is located at a significant geographic location, it has constantly faced threats from its bordering states. Relations with India have predominantly remained strained since Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has risen to power. On the other hand, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan have also been seriously compromised since the Taliban came into power in Kabul.

The fencing of the Pak-Afghan border, the re-emergence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), maintaining peace and stability in the recently mainstreamed tribal districts, securitization of the border alongside the Line of Control (LoC), fencing of the border with Iran, as well as facilitating domestic law enforcement agencies in maintaining peace and stability across Pakistan, are but a few of the major challenges faced by Pakistani military. All these issues require a consistent cash flow from the Government of Pakistan that is uninterrupted.

While the military has its economic ventures running across the country as well, its major funding lies under the authority of the Government of Pakistan. It will be difficult for the military to sustain all of its operations in the current circumstance. The government has already decided not to launch a full-scale military operation against the terrorists, but rather has opted for targeted operations. Moreover, how the military continues to perform its tasks with the same zeal and enthusiasm is also an issue worth discussing. While Pakistan has transformed its future vision from “geostrategic to geo-eonomic,” it cannot entirely pacify its military needs due to an uncertain situation across all its boundary lines. Hence, Pakistan's focus on geostrategy and securitization of its borders and territory will continue to remain the same.

The current economic uncertainty is affecting the entire nation, along with its important institutions that are responsible for keeping the country safe. But this raises questions for the military in particular, which needs to sustain its manpower and maintain its military equipment battle ready, as it faces security challenges from within and outside. The development of Pakistan and its economy equally mean the development of the military, that continues to face threats posed by terrorism.

While there may be critics of the military budget, international geopolitical and security dynamics have linked a stable economy with a stable and well-maintained military. Pakistan may be a developing country, but its regional location and economic connectivity with other countries are linked to the security provided by the military.

For Pakistan to maintain its sovereignty, it needs to navigate through this economic uncertainty with policies and plans that eliminate the fear of sovereign debt default by Pakistan within the coming months. If the uncertainty persists, the risks for the military increase as well, which merits introspection by those at the helm of affairs.

Aisha Saeed is an independent media and foreign policy analyst.