DG ISPR defended budgetary allocation for defence

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ISLAMABAD: Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Babar Iftikhar on Tuesday said that the defence budget allocation for the fiscal year 2022-23, contrary to perception, had decreased after factors such as inflation and rupee depreciation were accounted for, and was now 2.2 per cent of the GDP from 2.8pc last year.

In the budget presented by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Friday, defence services were allocated Rs1,523 billion, which makes up 17.5pc of the total current expenditure and is 11.16pc higher than last year. In terms of expenditure, the defence budget is 16pc of the government's planned total outlay — exactly the same as it was a year before.

The declared increase in defence budget was in sharp contrast to the cuts in spending on the development sector (11pc), health (31pc), education (1.5pc) and housing (77pc).

The allocation makes up nearly 1.94pc of the GDP and 16pc of the total expenditure planned by the government for the next year. The hike is almost at par with the average inflation calculated for the year ending on June 30.

However, in an interview with anchor Kamran Shahid on Dunya News show On the front, DG Iftikhar defended the budgetary allocation for defence and denied that it has seen an increase.

He said there was an "annual debate" on army's allocation following the budget, adding that the money earmarked for defence services was based on the "threat perception, challenges, deployment and the resources available".

"So [after] considering at all these things, the army hasn't had any [net] increase in the budget since 2020," the DG ISPR claimed. "When you look at inflation and rupee depreciation, it (defence budget) was actually reduced. It was 2.8pc of GDP last year and now we are at 2.2pc so the budget is continuously going down in GDP terms."

He said that after factoring in this year's inflation, the defence budget had actually taken a hit of Rs100bn. "Despite these challenges, we did not allow any shortcoming in our capabilities," Iftikhar added.

Elaborating on the measures taken by the army to curb its spending, he said instructions had been passed to conserve fuel and reduce expenditure on utilities, while Friday would be observed as a "dry day" where no official transport would be used except for emergencies.

DG Iftikhar further said the army had returned to the government Rs6bn from Covid allotments and Rs3.5bn from other allotments in last year's budget.

The DG ISPR confirmed that former army chief General (retd) Pervez Musharraf's family was in contact with the military regarding his mooted return to Pakistan in light of his poor health. He said that Musharraf's return to Pakistan from UAE was a decision for his family and doctors to make.

"The institution and its leadership have the stance that he should come back," he said.

The DG ISPR also talked about Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa's recent visit to China, saying it was "very important". He said the trip would have "far-reaching effects" that would soon be seen.

When questioned about former prime minister Imran Khan's longstanding claim of there being a US-backed conspiracy behind his ouster, the DG ISPR said he had "already clarified" the matter as he proceeded to reject the claim again.

Regarding the first National Security Committee meeting on the diplomatic cable at the centre of the conspiracy allegation that was held during Imran's tenure, the DG ISPR said it was attended by top military leadership and the participants were "clearly and in detail briefed by agencies that there is no kind of conspiracy or any evidence of it".

Asked to explain how he defined an act of interference and an act of conspiracy, Iftikhar said they were diplomatic terms and diplomats could better explain them.

The DG ISPR was also asked about "propaganda and criticism" against the army after it "distanced" itself from political affairs. He acknowledged that the army and its leadership were being targeted through "baseless rumours and propaganda which is very unfortunate and shouldn't happen".

He said that everyone was entitled to their opinion, but no one had the right to "reject facts and target an institution and its personalities on the basis of lies".

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