Information Warfare: The Sweet Scam And The Last Straw

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May 30, 2011: On May 22nd, a small group of Taliban, wearing military uniforms, got into the Pakistan Naval Station at Mehran (outside of Karachi), killed twenty people and destroyed two of Pakistan's four P-3C maritime patrol aircraft, along with a helicopter. Four of the attackers were killed, but at least two were seen to get away. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack, and said twenty people were involved (although only six were seen.) Coming after the May 2nd American raid that killed Osama bin Laden within sight of the Pakistani Military Academy (and a town full of Pakistani troops and retired officers), something unexpected happened. The Pakistani media, and most Pakistanis, turned on the military. This included many media outlets that had long been pro-military, and many individuals noted their long support of the military, as they now admitted that this support was undeserved.

The criticism usually made it clear that there was still plenty of support for the troops, but that the military leadership was not up to the task, and had not been for some time. For the few dozen senior generals and admirals who do run the armed forces, this change in public opinion is the worst threat they have ever faced. Actually, even more senior officers may be in danger as well. That's because the senior officers have long been known for their corruption and high-handed behavior (as in taking over the government periodically).

It was also the military that adopted the policy of supporting Islamic terror groups for attacks on India. The military had not been able to beat the Indians in a conventional war, so perhaps Islamic terrorists would have more luck. But this arrangement came with strings. That is, the Islamic radicals wanted Sharia (Islamic law) made the law of the land and, eventually, the country was to be run by clerics (as Iran is). While many Pakistanis supported these ideas, neither of them worked. The Islamic terrorist attacks on India merely enraged India and have brought the two nations to the brink of nuclear war several times. Sharia has not done anything about the massive corruption in Pakistan, but it did reveal that Islamic clerics can be just as corrupt as your average Pakistani politician or military officer. So the Mehran raid was, for many Pakistanis, the last straw (as in "the one that broke the camel's back").

Since the late 1940s, most Pakistanis have supported their armed forces, despite losing every war it has fought, and taking a disproportionate chunk of the government budget (over half). But this support has been eroding for years. Now, the military has to fear for the worst. This will either be the dismissal of many senior officers or, worse yet, sharp cuts in the defense budget. That will be justified by widespread realization that it has been the military that has been portraying India as a constant threat when, in fact, India is anything but (Pakistanis who read Indian newspapers kept wondering about that.)

But for the moment, the scam the generals and admirals have devised is still working. Last year, Pakistan increased its defense budget 17 percent for this year, to $5.2 billion. While Pakistan increases its defense spending every year, to try and keep up with archrival India, it rarely goes up this much. The increase this year was mostly due to the war against the Taliban in the tribal territories, and Islamic terrorism in general. At the same time, most of the increase is covered by military aid from the United States (which has provided some $10 billion in military aid in the last eight years.) However, the news recently reached Pakistan that this aid was being cut because American auditors had found many of the bills Pakistan submitted, for goods and services needed to fight terrorists, that the U.S. said it would cover, were false. The U.S. accountants believed that, at least in the last year, someone in the Pakistani military was stealing at least 40 percent of the money.

Most Pakistanis have only recently become aware of the full extent of military corruption. For example, it was only three years ago that, for the first time in over four decades, Pakistan revealed details on its defense spending. In 2008, the Pakistani defense budget was $4.1 billion. That figure explains why this data has been kept secret for so long. That's because Pakistan's military rival, and neighbor, India was, three years ago, increasing its defense budget by nearly 50 percent, to $39 billion (mainly to deal with China). The difference should be no surprise. India has six times the population (at 1.1 billion) and 7.5 times the GDP ($1.1 trillion compared to $145 billion) of Pakistan. India's economy has been booming for over a decade, while Pakistan's largely stagnates.

This military spending disparity has long been suspected, even with the secrecy. The GDP differences were well known, as were the details of how the two forces were equipped. This, of course, is why Pakistan put so much effort into developing nuclear weapons. Only this would provide a credible defense against a foe with superior conventional forces. Pakistan has been spending about three percent of GDP on defense, while India was long been spending two percent (the recent increase will make it three percent). The global average back then was about 2.5 percent. The most dominant military powers on the planet spend at least three percent of GDP on defense. Pakistan is neither rich nor dominant and has been spending money it doesn't have, in a vain effort to keep up with its much larger neighbor. Now that India has matched Pakistan's three percent, Pakistan has to seriously consider peace, because they can't afford to go above three percent of GDP. But peace would derail the sweet scam the Pakistani generals and admirals have been running for decades.

Then there's one final insult. Over the last few years, India has accounted that Pakistan is no longer the main potential military adversary. No, now it's China, and India has been redeploying its forces, and military spending, accordingly. Thus the Pakistani military has a high opinion of itself that is not shared by the Pakistani people, local Islamic terrorists or long-time arch foe India.

 

 


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