After a meeting of senior formation commanders last week, Major General Shaukat Sultan, the spokesperson of the Pakistan army, announced that in an effort to improve its teeth-to-tail ratio, the army will reduce its strength by 50,000 personnel during the year 2004. The Pakistan army has long been in the habit of scoring brownie points and the proposed reduction of 50,000 personnel is one more step in that direction.
After a meeting of senior formation commanders last week, Major General Shaukat Sultan, the spokesperson of the Pakistan army, announced that in an effort to improve its teeth-to-tail ratio, the army will reduce its strength by 50,000 personnel during the year 2004. The reduction will be mainly of non-combatant personnel belonging to the services. A day after making the proposal public, Sultan offered to discuss the proposal with India to arrive at a mutually acceptable reduction in respective force levels to “improve the regional situation.”
The proposed downsizing is aimed at saving a portion of the expenditure on personnel with a view to enhancing the combat potential of the army by qualitative upgradation. Hence, the restructuring effort will not reduce the defence expenditure in real terms as the funds will be reappropriated for fresh capital expenditure for modernisation. It is not clear whether the proposed reduction will be permanent or only a suppression that can be made up over six to nine months if it becomes necessary. It could also be an attempt to re-muster non-combatant personnel for new “force multiplier” units such as electronic warfare, information and cyber-warfare, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition and air defence units, all of which Pakistan is known to be raising in its quest to catch up with the revolution in military affairs (RMA) that it has missed so far.
The total strength of the Pakistan army is approximately 550,000 personnel. Pakistan’s defence expenditure has gradually reduced from about six to four per cent of its GDP over the last few years though it is still over 20 per cent of the total government expenditure. Pakistan was on the brink of becoming a failed state when the international community and institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF stepped in to bail it out at the behest of the Western nations, the logic being that a nuclear-armed state could not be allowed to fail. At the same time, Pakistan once again became a frontline state for the United States (US) in its fight against global terrorism inspired by Islamist fundamentalism and General Musharraf deftly garnered support for his beleaguered nation.
After having run with the hares and hunted with the hounds for almost two decades, Pakistan is now itself in the throes of an incipient Islamist insurgency. During recent operations in Waziristan in the NWFP, the army suffered over 60 troops killed. Serious attempts have been made to assassinate General Musharraf and terrorist violence has been growing beyond the usual flashpoints such as Karachi. All these point to a long drawn-out involvement for the Pakistan army in counter-insurgency operations that are manpower intensive. If the situation spins out of control, which may happen sooner rather than later, the army will find itself having to raise new counter-insurgency units to ensure that its regular infantry battalions do not have to serve prolonged tours of duty in low intensity conflict operations that are a drain on morale and adversely affect the fighting efficiency of units for conventional operations.
It emerges quite clearly that either the Pakistan army has not thought things through clearly or the proposed reduction is nothing but window dressing to make it look good to the international community and the financial institutions. The Pakistan army has long been in the habit of scoring brownie points and the proposed reduction of 50,000 personnel is one more step in that direction. As for the mutual force reduction with India, such fanciful proposals have emanated before from Pakistan’s GHQ in Rawalpindi so as to lull India into a sense of complacency before the next Rann of Kutch or Gibraltar or Grand Slam or Kargil is thrust on it. India’s policy planners and Army HQ would do well to take these proposals with a huge pinch of salt.