Pakistan’s Focus on its Military Cannot Be Ignored


Over the last four years, Pakistan has advanced in rankings, progressing from 15th place in 2020 to its current 9th position, as per Global Firepower’s 2024 report. As per this report India has maintained its position as the world’s fourth most powerful military. Incidentally, all top four military powers in the world have maintained their respective positions, including the United States, which secured the top spot in 2006.

The Global Firepower ranking evaluates military capabilities based on factors such as manpower, equipment, natural resources, finances, and geography across land, sea, and air. The combined Power Index (PwrIdx) score is generated, with a lower score indicating stronger military capabilities.

Despite confronting various socio-political and economic challenges, Pakistan continues to spend a considerable amount of its budget in enhancing its military capabilities.

Military Capabilities

As a result of the ongoing conflicts in the world it is imperative for countries to have a strong and modern military force both as a deterrent and to maintain territorial integrity. In order to meet the wide spectrum of contemporary security threats and challenges, major powers around the world are modernising their armed forces. States are emphasizing not only on production and acquisition of new and technologically advanced weapons system for their armed forces, but are also training their military personnel to meet current and future challenges.

Military capabilities depend not only on size, but also on the ability to launch operations in the shortest time, fight in all terrains, standard of training, doctrines, holding of weapon systems in terms of capability, reliability, and availability, as also morale.

An Army that Needs a Threat

According to scholar Ashley Tellis, Pakistan aims to revise power asymmetry with India. It sees India as an existential threat to its survival and perceives itself to be India’s genuine peer competitor. Therefore, Pakistan continues to use force, as well as jihadi terrorism, to achieve its strategic objectives of weakening India and securing political concessions.

Namita Barthwal in her article referring to Christine Fair says, pursuing territorial gains in J&K has imposed a high cost on the Pakistani state. It has indirectly affected the security of Pakistani citizens and the state’s political stability. Fair argued that, the revisionist goals of Pakistan endure despite the accretion of evidence that the country cannot achieve J&K even modestly at present and is less likely to prevail in the future as India’s power differential continues to expand.

In his book ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends,’ former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani wrote of the disproportionate resources that the Pakistan military held from the beginning. “Pakistan’s share out of Partition comprised 21 per cent of British India’s population and 17 per cent of its revenue… Under the terms of Partition, Pakistan received 30 per cent of British India’s Army, 40 per cent of its Navy, and 20 per cent of its Air Force,” he wrote.

The first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, allocated 75% of the first budget in 1948 to defence and to cover the salaries and maintenance costs of the forces. “Thus, Pakistan was not like other countries that raise an Army to deal with threats they face; it had inherited a large Army that needed a threat if it was to be maintained.”

In a speech at the Army Staff College, Quetta, Jinnah had said: “Do not forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people. You do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted.”

Paradoxically Pakistan’s Generals have done exactly the opposite and even when not in power have exerted control over the civilian governments. The events post the recent ‘general’ elections have once again proved that the pathways to power in Pakistan lie not with the people but the ‘military.’

Army Chiefs have directly ruled the country as dictators and have steered not only the country’s defence, but also its foreign policy. The Army Chief is the de facto behind the scenes ruler. This structure is likely to remain reinforced with the experience of South Asia where the military does not give up power as has recently been witnessed in Myanmar. Though there may be episodic cycles of political stability and instability, this system is likely to continue in the future with the Army steering policies.

The radical Islamist parties are all controlled by the Army and represent a latent threat to the mainstream political parties. Further, as the levers of power are retained by the Army, in case any political party tries to make any overtures with India and build bridges in the relationship they are side-lined by the Army. This has been witnessed with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif both during Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore and with President Musharraf during the Agra Summit. The ‘India Card’ will always be played.

Non-State Actors & Proxy War

The Army is firmly controlling the ISI, which is used to influence domestic politics, control radical organisations and shape foreign policy. The ISI is the agency responsible for their Asymmetric Warfare Strategy and is the umbrella organisation of all intelligence agencies even though its mandate is strategic in nature.

Pakistan’s Army uses non state actors as a strategic tool of state policy. It been persistently training, supporting, funding, and facilitating various non-state actors to fight unconventional and grey zone wars. They have the ability to use fundamentalist terrorist groups as proxies both in Afghanistan and Kashmir with plausible deniability while furthering their interests.

Pakistan’s Army and ISI have been cultivating Mujahedeen in Afghanistan for decades. The current dispensation in Afghanistan led by Taliban has been a product of Pakistan Intelligence and Army. The ISI used the Taliban to establish a regime in Afghanistan which would be favourable to Pakistan, as part of their ‘strategic depth’ objectives. Since the creation of the Taliban, the ISI and the Pakistani military have given it financial, logistic, and military, including direct combat support. However, unfortunately for Pakistan, Taliban 2.0 has not panned out the way they expected and there are rising incidents of terrorism across the Afghan border, the latest being the death of seven soldiers, including two officers, in North Waziristan’s Mir Ali, in Mohmand District on 16 March 2024.

State of Economy

Pakistan cannot match India’s power potential and scope of economic influence that India wields in its relations with major powers. Analysis of Pakistan’s defence budget clearly shows that they are spending a far greater amount as a percentage of their GDP on Defence. While external debt is a major problem for them and many industries are stressed, they have yet been able to focus on building a stockpile of nuclear weapons and developing missiles. Further, if National Security as defined by Pakistan’s military remains a priority, the prospects of revival of economic growth look very bleak.

Pakistan has a nominal GDP per capita of $1,543 in 2020-21 which ranks 161st in the world.  Its GDP is $377 bn which is 41st in rank.  Its external debt in March 2023 was $125.7 bn. Pakistan’s forex reserves in January 2024 were $8.27 bn. There is no doubt that increasing debt is going to force them into becoming a satellite state of China.

However, despite its dismal economy Pakistan Army keeps spending a disproportionate share on itself. This is mainly due to the large commercial ventures they run and foreign aid and assistance.

Strategic Deterrence/Capability

Pakistan has traditionally made it clear that its nuclear arsenal is totally India centric, with the aim of nullifying any conventional edge that India may have over Pakistan. The reason behind not having a written Nuclear Doctrine is to create a sense of uncertainty and insecurity as to what might be Pakistan’s course of action in a conflict.

China has been actively facilitating Pakistan’s nuclear weapons proliferation. Pakistan’s strategic programme, from design, production to delivery is mainly dependent on supplies and assistance from Chinese entities, in the form of equipment, services and technology transfer. China assisted and continues to assist Pakistan in its weapon related nuclear and missile program, violating international commitments.

Pakistan–China Strategic Collusivity

Sameer P. Lalwani, a senior expert on Pakistan underlining the growing importance of China Pakistan relations suggests, China has been a stalwart supporter of Pakistan’s conventional arsenal since the 1960s and the country’s most important defence partner since the end of the Cold War. Over the past decade, China has become Pakistan’s leading and most important provider of arms as measured by value and Pakistan has become China’s largest and most important arms recipient, acquiring almost 40 percent of Beijing’s arms exports.

Pakistan and China have a multi-dimensional relationship despite differing beliefs, social and political differences. China has supported Pakistan economically, militarily, and politically, while Pakistan is its only diplomatic partner who has supported it in all international forums. It is in the common interest of both countries to contain India. There is collusivity between China and Pakistan as far as India’s land border is concerned. There is emerging collusivity in the maritime domain with the development of Gwadar and growing commonality in Naval equipment. Its strong politico-military ties with China also seek to counterbalance India’s influence in the region. The collusivity represents itself in manifold domains; development of infrastructure to include road, air, and ports inter-operability due to commonality of equipment, training, sharing of intelligence, missile, and nuclear technology. In addition, the dependence on China in the fields of cyber, EW, space and access to new technologies including disruptive technologies, dual use technologies and Artificial Intelligence will only get solidified.

Presently, Pakistan and Chinese military objectives are converging in Ladakh. In addition to the G314 or Karakoram Highway, China is building several arterial roads to improve the overall infrastructure. There are tunnels on these roads being mountainous terrain, which could have dual purposes. The Shaksgam Valley has been ceded to China by Pakistan. Pakistan is claiming that the border should extend from NJ 9842 directly to the Karakoram Pass and not Indira Col, where the borders of the three countries meet. Siachen glacier and the areas to the North have great strategic value but in future it is the availability of fresh water from this area which China needs particularly for its silicon microchip industry.

The Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan which borders Pakistan occupied Kashmir is also of great strategic relevance due to its proximity with the Central Asian Republics and the extension of the CPEC through this region. Overall, this region of greater Ladakh is fast becoming the latest battleground for the three nations (India/China/Pakistan).

China’s interest in the Port of Gwadar has strategic implications for the maritime security architecture of South Asia. Gwadar, would enable control over the world energy jugular. Further, Chinese naval presence at Gwadar will give added surety to Pakistan.

Looking Ahead

The growing hostility between India & China is an opportunity for Pakistan. The conflict on the LAC has forced a shift in India’s focus towards its Northern Borders and consequent rebalancing of formations thereby reducing the threat to Pakistan.

China’s growing fingerprint in Pakistan could increase the threat that Pakistan poses to India, particularly as China expands its military position there. The China-Pakistan collusive hybrid threat dilemma will get compounded in the times ahead. However, the dynamics of the increasing Chinese and Pakistani relationship could prove a further impetus toward deepening the U.S.-India partnership in the face of a common threat from China and Pakistan.

Pakistan is also working on several new initiatives and reforms to reinvigorate its defence industries. These include new policies that would encourage greater oversight of its activities, deepen engagement with the private sector businesses and academic institutions, and drive more transfer-of-technology (ToT) arrangements in big-ticket contracts.


It is clear that Pakistan, which has often been seen to be a failing state has continued in its present form and is unlikely to fail despite its serious internal issues. Its military modernisation has also kept pace due to the economic aid and military equipment it has received from various countries.

Pakistan is reaping every benefit it can, from the China-Pak friendship and is likely to continue its low-cost Kashmir strategy. However, in the long run it is slowly but surely modernizing its military with the sole purpose of targeting India.  While India modernises, restructures, and rebalances a de novo look needs to be given to counter the emerging dynamics of the threat perception. Indian Army has rebalanced with the primary focus to the north. Meanwhile on our western borders Pakistan’s military is by no means weak.


Major General Jagatbir Singh was commissioned into 18 Cavalry in December 1981. He has held various command, staff, and instructional appointments. He also served as a Military Observer in Iraq and Kuwait. An alumnus of Doon School, Dehra Dun and St Stephens College, Delhi, he often speaks at public forums and is a prolific writer. Presently he is a Distinguished Fellow at the United Service Institution of India.


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