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Pakistan army downsizes: A bluff?

In an effort to improve its teeth-to-tail ratio, the Pakistan army has announced that it will reduce its strength by 50,000 personnel. A day...

Written by Gurmeet Kanwal |
May 8, 2004

In an effort to improve its teeth-to-tail ratio, the Pakistan army has announced that it will reduce its strength by 50,000 personnel. A day after making the proposal public, the army’s official spokesperson offered to discuss the proposal with India to arrive at a mutually acceptable reduction in respective force levels to “improve the regional situation”. The move has been hailed in this country as yet another indicator of Pakistan’s sincerity in taking the peace process forward and calls are going out to the Indian army to also trim itself.

The Pakistan army’s proposed downsizing will be mainly of non-combatant personnel belonging to the services and will not affect its fighting strength. The reduction 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 appropriated for fresh capital expenditure for modernisation. It is not clear whether the reduction will be permanent or only a suppression that can be made up by new recruitment 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 and reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) units. Pakistan is known to be raising all of these 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. This is well beyond Pakistan’s legitimate national security requirements. Pakistan’s defence expenditure has gradually reduced to about four per cent of its GDP 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. Also, Pakistan had once again become a frontline state for the United States (US) in its fight against global terrorism inspired by Islamist fundamentalism and had to be supported and General Musharraf grabbed the opportunity for his beleaguered nation.

After having run with the hares and hunted with the hounds for almost two decades, Pakistan now finds itself in the throes of an incipient Islamist insurgency. During recent operations in Waziristan in the NWFP, the over 60 army troops killed and hundreds were wounded. Many deserted and some senior officers are known to have refused to fight. 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 involvement for the Pakistan army in counter-insurgency operations that are manpower intensive. When the situation spins out of control, as will happen sooner rather than later, the army will need to raise new counter-insurgency units to rotate its regular infantry battalions. Prolonged tours of duty in low intensity conflict operations are a drain on morale and adversely affect the army’s fighting efficiency 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. The Pakistan army has long been in the habit of scoring brownie points and this reduction of 50,000 personnel could be 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 (May 1965) or Operation Gibraltar (August 1965) or Operation Grand Slam (September 1965) or Kargil (April-July 1999) is thrust on India.

Public memory being short, it has already been forgotten that General V.P. Malik, the then Indian army chief, had unilaterally announced downsizing of 50,000 combatant personnel and the exercise was well under way till the Pakistan army’s nefarious excursion into Kargil put paid to the plans. Hence, India’s policy planners must not jump to hasty conclusions. It’s better to wait and watch.

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