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Senator raises alarm over cut in defence budget

Updated June 15, 2019

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Retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum says govt’s decision to freeze the defence expenditure  translated into a cut of Rs100bn. — AFP/File
Retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum says govt’s decision to freeze the defence expenditure translated into a cut of Rs100bn. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A PML-N senator on Friday raised alarm over the proposed ‘cut’ in defence expenditure at a time when the country was facing internal and external threats.

Opening the debate on the proposed budget in the Senate, retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum, who heads the house standing committee on defence, said the government’s decision to freeze the defence expenditure translated into a cut of over Rs100 billion after taking inflation and devaluation into account.

He said although the defence authorities said they were ready for the axe, parliament should consider its implications nevertheless.

“Pakistan’s enemy is purchasing Rafale fighter jets, has top of the line tanks and S-400 air defence system. The enemy also has aircraft carriers while Pakistan has a dearth of ships,” the senator said with reference to India.

He said while it was good to have a desire for good ties with neighbours, a nation should not go out of its way to please others.

Senator Abdul Qayyum criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for making repeated attempts to speak with Indian premier Narendra Modi and said it amounted to national humiliation. “Modi doesn’t deserve to be given so much importance.”

Gen Qayyum advised the government to benefit from the “expertise of the PML-N’s experienced team” to tackle the economic crisis, specifically naming former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former finance ministers Sartaj Aziz and Ishaq Dar as well as Ahsan Iqbal, who was minister for planning and development in the previous government.

“The present government is directionless, incompetent, confused and lacks the vision needed to steer the country out of the economic crisis confronting it,” Senator Qayyum observed.

He said the government had lost the nation’s confidence as it had outsourced economic management to institutions backed by forces not ready to tolerate a nuclear Pakistan.

The Senator said major economic indicators like GDP, foreign exchange reserves, foreign investment and per capita income had all unfortunately nose-dived, making the economy shrink from $320 billion to $280bn.

“On the other hand, inflation has gone up from 3.5 per cent to 7.2 per cent and the finance minister says it may go as high as 13 per cent during the next financial year.

“A few million people have lost their jobs and five million have gone below the poverty line,” the chief of Senate’s defence committee said.

Sherry Rehman, the PPP’s parliamentary leader in the upper house, lambasted the government for not taking parliament into confidence over the IMF agreement.

“We all know where the new budget was made. It is the first made-by-IMF budget in the country’s history. The IMF brought the government to its knees before even approving the assistance package,” she observed.

The senator claimed the PPP-led government (2008-13) had successfully negotiated a package with the IMF that was five times more than what the country qualified for.

“The standard procedures followed by democracies across the world before presentation of the budget were disregarded by this government. Even though both houses have finance committees, no government representative consulted them,” Sherry Rehman said.

She accused the government of carrying out “economic terrorism” by raising oil prices repeatedly even though the prices are coming down in the international market. “What the government is doing falls in the ambit of economic terrorism. When PPP was in office, oil prices were as high as $147 per barrel, but we managed to control prices at home.

“At the moment the oil price is around 60 dollars per barrel. So what justifies the skyrocketing oil prices in our country. These runaway prices are ruining livelihoods,” lamented Sherry Rehman.

The former Leader of the Opposition also slammed the government for the debt it had incurred, ridiculing the prime minister’s decision to set up a commission to investigate how Pakistan’s public debt had shot up by “Rs24,000bn since 2008”.

“An investigation should be carried out against the present government instead because they have put the future of all Pakistanis at stake by borrowing staggering amounts without consulting parliament.”

Earlier, the opposition staged a walkout to protest the arrest of former president Asif Ali Zardari and the government’s failure to implement Senate’s resolution calling for withdrawal of reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019