By UMAIR JAMAL
Question of survival
The Russian president recently visited India where he signed a mega arms deal with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to the deal Russia is going to supply S-400 surface-to-air missile system, which is considered one of the country’s most advanced and sought-after weapons systems globally. The arms deal which is worth more than $5.2 billion has raised major questions not only in terms of what sort of threats this weaponry case pose to Pakistan’s deterrence forces but also to what this major purchase bill means for Pakistan when it comes to matching India’s heavy spending on its air defense systems.
One thing that remains clear is that Pakistan’s security community is going to be thinking seriously about this development in the neighbourhood and about different ways to counter the threat which S-400 poses to Pakistan’s security. The simplest way to describe the threat which S-400 poses is this: S-400 is the world most advanced long-range air defense system, capable of terminating all sorts of threats from the skies. Moreover, the S-400 can engage almost all types of modern warplanes. The information about the S-400 which is available publically shows that the air defense system can even successfully take on fighter jets with stealth capabilities.
While it remains to be seen what would be Pakistan’s response, particularly concerning the country’s airforce, this development has placed Pakistan in a very tough situation. Even if Pakistan was to resolutely follow on a plan to counter the S-400 threat from India, it would not only require lot of resources but will also require a robust diplomacy internationally which is capable of convincing major international forces about selling similar technologies to the country.
It is expected that the deployment of the S-400 air defense system in India will begin within the next two years. That doesn’t mean that Pakistan is not capable of responding to any provocation such from the neighbourhood. The question has now come down to the economic calculus. Does Pakistan have enough financial resources to match India’s military modernisation? India’s more than $5 billion purchase means that its economy can handle such a big arms deal while Pakistan’s on the other for now cannot even consider buying defense equipment anywhere around billion dollar digits. While it’s important that take effective measures to ensure minimum credible deterrence not only in conventional postures but also in non-conventional areas, Pakistan’s economy as well the state of its international diplomacy is not in a condition that can allow the country’s pursuit for a massive counter-measure against new emerging threats.
There are two things to consider. If one is to do a brief comparative analysis of Pakistan’s economy with that of India, the numbers do not support the former’s cause. The growing difference between the two countries’ economies has placed Pakistan’s military up-gradation in a tough place. While Pakistan’s archrival and a country responsible for Pakistan’s dismemberment is investing around $6 billion on a single military purchase, the government in Pakistan is scrambling to raise around $8 billion to run the country’s overall economy. This simple yet alarming situation should give all of us sleepiness nights. With an economy which remains under billions of dollars’ debt and is looking for more debt to prevent an internal implosion cannot expect to invest billions of dollars in military modernisation to avert foreign incursions. The ruling elite of Pakistan, particularly the political elite of the country, needs to realise that the time to do politics over petty issues is long gone. An uncontrolled growth in population, dying exports, and non-existent industrial base and heavy repayments of debt will only leave space for an internal crisis which is not in any in Pakistan’s national interest.
This is a situation which is not in any way in Pakistan’s interest. An international diplomacy with a weak economy doesn’t have much effect
One example of how Pakistan bad economic position has become a liability for its international diplomacy is the United States’ position on creating hurdles in Pakistan’s attempt to avail funding form the International Monetary Fund. The last two months have seen Washington continuously putting its weight behind disrupting Pakistan’s plan to negotiate with IMF. A few days ago, IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld advised Pakistan to review the loans it was receiving from China and avoid “excessive debts which cannot be repaid”. An official statement released from the White House said that “The United States closely examine Pakistan’s request for a loan from IMF,” adding that “part of the reason that Pakistan found itself in this situation is Chinese debt.” With Washington having a majority of voting power in IMF, the former can create unavoidable distress for Pakistan. While it’s clear that the US and China are engaged in a global battle to lead the world economically, its countries like Pakistan that have become a bargaining chip in major powers strategic losses and gains.
This is a situation which is not in any way in Pakistan’s interest. An international diplomacy with a weak economy doesn’t have much effect. Pakistan’s weak economy has become a liability not only for international diplomacy but also for its defense.
Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.