New Delhi: As Pakistan gets its twenty-second IMF loan but far less than what it sought, the question that ought to be posed to prime minister Imran Khan is this. How has Pakistan changed from before? What’s “new” about Pakistan that Imran keeps harping about? The only novelty about Pakistan would be when military spending is drastically cut and the military is retired to the barracks for the foreseeable future. That is certainly not happening and anything less scarcely adds up to a “new Pakistan”. Although he means well, Imran Khan should not be taken seriously any more.

In its report of defence spending for 2018 published last month, the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) places Pakistan at twentieth spot with military expenditure of $11.4 billion. The spending constitutes four percent of Pakistan’s GDP which is the highest since 2004. It also puts the country among the top ten states with the highest “military burden”. Military burden is described as a “state’s military expenditure as a share of GDP”.

There’s more. For the past decade, Pakistan’s military expenditure has shown yearly increase. Between 2004 and 2018, the increase measured seventy-three percent, of which the 2017-18 spending showed an eleven percent rise. Eleven years ago as well, the IMF sought military spending cuts as a condition for giving loan. Those were the years when Pakistan was visualized as a key ally in the “war against terror” and IMF’s demand was quickly overruled. Pakistan and the United States are no longer on those old terms but there is nothing to suggest that the IMF sought military spending cuts for the new loan. This is such a pity.

Pakistani economists and commentators are unanimous that Pakistan would be no better placed with the new IMF loan of $6 billion repayable in three years than if it had not materialized. Almost none of them speak of the elephant in the room which is Pakistan’s defence spending which consumes eighteen percent of all budgeted government expenditures.

A stock counter to military spending reduction is that Pakistan’s national security would be compromised. A close scrutiny of the counter exposes its infirmities and indeed reveals the Pakistan military’s institutional interest to appropriate a goodly chunk of the budget. When the Pakistan military speaks of national security threats, it chiefly has India in mind, although all the wars with India were provoked by Pakistan. The loss of East Pakistan made Pakistan go nuclear, but having become a declared nuclear weapons’ state in 1998 a fortnight after India became one, its spending has shown no decline with the establishment of deterrence equilibrium with India but rather registered a sharp rise.

In the Cold War, Pakistan allied with the United States against the Soviet Union to win political, economic and materiel support against India in the Kashmir dispute. It was no surprise that it hoped to replicate the success of the Afghan mujahideen war in Kashmir in the Eighties and this led to the sponsorship of terrorism in J and K and elsewhere in India. Both the mujahideen war and the J and K terror campaign produced blowbacks as they would and compelled the Pakistan army to mount costly and barely successful campaigns against domestic terrorism. With Pakistan sinking into terrorist violence, state failure and national instability, it was inevitable that market economics, growth and prosperity would flee the country. The fact that Pakistan has needed twenty-two IMF loans since 1958, including the present one, narrates its own sad story.

Since the United States is engaged in a geo-economic war with China, the Donald Trump administration was firm that no part of the new IMF loan would go to repay Chinese debts. All the same, in applying the caveat to the loan, Washington has failed to look at the whole picture. Chinese investments in Pakistan are even more invidious than they appear. For the $60 billion Beijing has committed for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, it will earn many times more in debt repayment, crushing Pakistan. Imran Khan opposed CPEC in the beginning but caved in under army pressure. The Pakistan army is China’s most steadfast client in Pakistan, forever obliged to China for nuclear and conventional arms support to Pakistan against India, and for its all-weather friendship. What it boils down to is that although China is poison for Pakistan’s economy, it has to consume the poison under compulsion of the Pakistan army fighting an ideological war with India.

In sum, a large proportion of Pakistan’s economic troubles owe to the Pakistan army, its foreign alliances, and its foreign wars. And the IMF bailouts Pakistan has often needed in consequence do not punish the chief culprit, the Pakistan military, but penalize ordinary Pakistanis. The new IMF loan will put Pakistan through a fresh turmoil of double digit inflation, higher utility charges, higher taxes, abolished subsidies, currency devaluation, savagely cut developmental expenditures, and more, and the resultant public anger will be directed at Imran Khan, not the unelected profligate military brass. Before long, he will be replaced by another gullible political leader. The military will continue as luxuriously as before even as it destroys the economic fundamentals of Pakistan.