INTERVIEW WITH AIR VICE MARSHAL DR. M. ABID RAO (R)

THE LUXURIOUS VVIP FLEETS OF AIRCRAFTS, BULLETPROOF CARS, AND VEHICLES, AND LIFE STYLES OF THE ARMED FORCES NEED TO BE SUBJECTED TO AUSTERITY.

KHALIL AHMED
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
May 16 - 22, 20
11

PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.

ABID RAO: I was born in Okara and brought up in Lahore where my father had his own business. I went to Don Bosco High School up to class 8th and then joined PAF School at Lower Topa and later Sargodha. I joined PAF academy Risalpur in August 1969 in the flying branch and graduated soon after 1971 Indo-Pak war. I served PAF as a fighter pilot and retired as an Air vice Marshal in 2005. My career included commands of a fighter squadron, fighter wing, fighter base, and regional air command. I served in numerous staff appointments at the Air Headquarters, General Headquarters, and Joint Staff Headquarters. I also served in the UAE Air Force on deputation as an Instructor Pilot and attended Ecole Militaire Paris for inter services war course. During service, I got opportunities to interact with the Air Forces of USA, UK, China and Turkey. The government of Pakistan conferred upon me the medals of Sitara-e-Basalat (1987), Sitara-e-Imtiaz (1998) and Hilal-e-Imtiaz (2002) for my services. In 2003, I was appointed Deputy Director General Civil Aviation Authority from where I retired. After retirement, I completed my PhD in international relations from abroad. On return, I joined a private TV channel as anchor for hosting talk shows on national and international affairs. I conducted over 250 shows and quit for my personal commitments at home and abroad. I taught at a private university and was a member of the research faculty at the Air War College in 2008. At present, I am serving as a Corporate Consultant in a private company. My first book of Urdu poetry is in the process of being published. I am married and have two daughter and two sons. My elder son is a Chartered Accountant and the younger one is a Barrister at Law.

PAGE: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT DEFENCE BUDGET OF PAKISTAN?

ABID RAO: This question needs to be debated extensively at national level. Pakistan did not have a defense policy for over 55 years. Reportedly, now we have one that has been prepared by military men. It appears to be a continuity of the past perceptions and priorities. Pakistan's Defense Policy should have significantly changed after its acquisition of the nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, changes beyond the frontiers of Pakistan like Afghanistan returning to a volatile situation and India's new military posture have been ignored. In the post 1947 era, Pakistan was extremely weak at the military front and feared forced return to the mother country i.e. India. This fear forced our national leader to knock at as many doors as was then possible for military aid. Secondly, the Indo-Pak partition resulted in a land dispute at the state of Jammu and Kashmir of which a solution could be found by the use of force. Pakistan tried this option in 1965 and the 1999 Kargil wars but did not succeed. Indian response of both occasions strengthened their position further and almost ruled out the military option as a solution to the dispute. In most countries, the foreign policy determines friends and foes and ensures a balanced approach to both sides. The economy of the state plays a vital role in the selection of the strategy and the doctrine. Military forces are created, maintained, and used within the limits drawn by the foreign policy and economic liberties. In Pakistan, it is a case of inverse rationalization. In short, the military forces dictate a foreign policy, define the foe (particularly) and tailor the economy to support its designs. In the absence of a clear and well defined Defense Policy, adhoc-ism was adopted. Since the country was ruled by army generals for almost 33 years in four tenures, they defined the threat and designed its response without any national consensus and aspirations. Now as the economy of the country is in spirals of inflation, unemployment, and balance of payment crisis, budget deficit are on rapid increase. The budget for education, health, and development is falling while the defense expenditure is rising and becoming more prominent in the current national environment. The common person in the streets has started questioning its relevance to the extent of slashing it dramatically. The foreign office has not been allowed to play an effective role in orchestrating tensions in the region to provide relief to the economy. In short, the defense budget is prepared on the same old adhoc basis and requires to be revisited. The Armed Forces need restructuring in light of the ever-changing environment. Most countries do that and we are not exceptions. The political government should make firm efforts to create a good balance between the defense requirements and the national development needs.

PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE IMPACT OF LAW AND ORDER ON DEFENSE BUDGET ALLOCATION?

ABID RAO: The primary role of the armed forces is to secure the boundaries of the country against foreign aggression. The other roles include supporting the government in countering insurgency, controlling poor law and order situations and providing relief in natural disasters. In some countries, during peacetime the armed forces assist the civil society in nation building activities like education, building road and bridges and policing etc. Poor law and order and insurgency cause a bleed on the resources of the armed forces and its combat potential. The classic example is employment of over 400,000 Indian troops in Kashmir on internal security duties and the employment of Pakistani army and air forces in FATA. This kind of employment of armed forces has multiple adverse effects on operational training, morale of troops and finally on the budget. The armed forces are trained to confront a known enemy but in poor law and order situations the location and identity of the enemy is not known. This warrants enhanced surveillance. Therefore, dilution of resources in intelligence, logistics, weapons, and manpower results in unpredictable extra budgetary allocation.

PAGE: WHAT ARE YOUR SUGGESTIONS REGARDING THE UPCOMING DEFENSE BUDGET ALLOCATION?

ABID RAO: Nothing has changed at the policy level. Therefore, the budget allocations would be made on the past track. Traditionally, all our defense matters, responses, initiatives, including nuclear capability have been defence specific. The development of nuclear weapons provided a kind of assured security against an Indian invasion and occupation of territory in Pakistan. Keeping the above in mind, the role of the conventional forces, type and size need a review. Pakistan does not have any aggressive designs against any country. Therefore, any change in budget allocation without the input of political and diplomatic segments would be inappropriate. The political leadership needs to develop its ability to challenge debate and then approve the defense budget. Writ of the political governments has not developed in Pakistan in this sector. The public accounts committee has raised numerous observations on lack of transparency in major defense deals, misuse of funds in commercial/business ventures of the armed forces in the name of welfare etc. which remain unaccounted and unsettled due to the weak political will.

PAGE: HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE OUR NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES WITH PAKISTAN IN TERMS OF DEFENSE BUDGET ALLOCATION?

ABID RAO: Pakistan's main adversary since 1947 has been India while Afghanistan has otherwise been a painful neighbor despite having no regular armed forces. China and Iran have posed no military threat. Therefore, only India's military budget is worth a comparison.

India has since many years planned to become a regional power and has been successful to a large extent. The Indian planners have maintained China as their main adversary. After developing the nuclear weapons, Pakistan has once again become relevant in calculation of Indian leadership despite lagging way behind in conventional war game. Due to a poor state of the economy, Pakistan has been compelled to give up the race at the conventional level. This is another significant and vital reason warranting restructuring of the armed forces particularly in manpower and type. This is the era of strong air and maritime forces as these two services are far more advanced in technology, rapidity of movement, range, and concentration of fire power. The ground forces are on most occasions in current time used for mop-up roles only. Since 1958 when the first army general took over, the policy of land strategy has been propagated and developed. Navy in particular has been ignored and deprived of its legitimate budget. India on the other hand has invested massively in its air force and navy gaining a qualitative edge over Pakistan. Pakistan's compulsion now is to maintain a credible deterrence in its nuclear weapons that would keep India away from any misadventure. The foreign policy needs to be far more effective vis-a-vis India so that conventional way is avoided. In today's economic conditions, even the present defense budget is becoming extremely difficult to afford. All other necessary measures need to be taken in order to reduce the burden on the defense budget. The luxurious VVIP fleet of air craft, bullet-proof cars, vehicles and life styles of the concerned segment of the armed forces need to be subjected to austerity. This is another area where Indian Defense budget enjoys superiority.

PAGE: YOUR VIEWS ABOUT NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION IN THE WORLD?

ABID RAO: Nuclear Proliferation is a matter of great concern to all nations of the world. However, the super powers have exercised a selective application of policies to control nuclear proliferation. Numerous disputes between nations continue to be allowed to remain unresolved. The weaker nations have been subjected to unfair treatment. This compels many nations to acquire nuclear technology by any means. Pakistan is a classic example in this regard. Had India been reasonable in her attitude towards Pakistan since partition, this region would have been far from nuclear flash point. Similar is the case of many other countries in the world that fear military defeat at the hands of its arrogant neighbors. If the world is to be made safer and peaceful from nuclear proliferation the disputes between countries should have to be resolved honorably. In the absence of this approach, world peace will continue to face the threat of nuclear proliferation by the weaker states.