Pakistan’s Armed Forces are among the ten largest in the world, not out of choice but necessity. With an implacable foe not well disposed towards us having a fighting machine many times our conventional size and waiting for any opportunity to pounce, it would be height of irresponsibility on the part of our leadership, a dereliction of duty, not to have an adequate defence. Given that sheer numbers do not create effectiveness and the potential to wage war without external assistance is only a part of effective deterrence, indigenous manufacture of arms and equipment is a must. Inheriting all the Ordnance Factories at the time of independence in 1947 India had a headstart, Pakistan starting from virtual scratch. Despite sanctions imposed by the west post-1965, both Pakistan and India had access to Chinese and Soviet weapons and equipment respectively. Till very lately the Russians (successors to the Soviets) had a very clear lead in technology over the Chinese, particularly in aircraft and missiles. Because we did not know how to cope with the realities of realpolitik till faced with a 9/11-type crisis, we left open the field to India to additionally acquire state-of-the-art weapons and defence equipment technology from Israel.
IDEAS 2002 has been a great success. Because of the adverse international media perception about Pakistan’s internal security environment, especially in Karachi after the Sheraton and US Consulate General bomb blasts only a few months ago, the holding of the Defence exhibition was considered unlikely as Embassy after Embassy gave “travel warnings” to their citizens about the dangers of journeying to Pakistan. Even though the threat of war has somewhat receded, India’s entire Armed Forces still remain in offensive posture on our borders. For 42 delegations from 32 countries to take part in the Exhibition is therefore a tremendous vote of confidence in Pakistan, and in the Musharraf regime, which put its prestige and credibility on the line to stage the event come what may. As the major force behind the inception of this initiative (when he was COAS only), the President deserves credit for creating the Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) in early 2001 as a follow-up of IDEAS 2000. As the first head of DEPO, the man who husbanded this idea along while serving in the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), Maj Gen Ali Hamid, should be given credit for an enormous amount of staff work, co-ordination and logistics going into this effort. The private sector has played a tremendous part through Pegasus Consultancy, whose Managing Director Asim Siddiqui, Mr IDEAS himself, is a young man with a future. Knowing something about profit and loss, one can safely surmise that IDEAS 2000 must have been a net loss and IDEAS 2002 a borderline business proposition only. Pegasus has thus invested in the future in the national interest at cost to itself, this calculated risk has to be commended. One must mention Col (Retd) Akbar Sharif, the real unsung hero behind IDEAS. Do not be misled by the “Rakaposhi Tours” visage, this man opened many closed doors, organising the major logistics and converting the non-believers of IDEAS, far above and beyond his mandate. Having put his heart and soul into the event, “Sheriff” deserves far more than “mention in dispatches”, force-multiplied many times over for suffering in silence serving officers with scarce commercial knowledge and a penchant for tying up everything in bureaucratic knots. Alongwith Gen Pervez Musharraf himself, Maj Gen Ali Hamid and Asim Siddiqui, Col (Retd) Akbar Sharif has a pride of place in making the enterprising idea of IDEAS successful.
IDEAS is an excellent vehicle for marketing our locally manufactured defence material abroad. Not only will increased manufacturing mean cost-effectiveness due to economy of scale but it will earn valuable foreign exchange. The largest delegation came from China, our good friend through thick and thin, representation was there also from Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt, Ukraine, France, Saudi Arabia etc. We should give them preference for our defence purchases, not those who did not care to make an appearance. Many senior ranking foreign officials of three-star rank (and even above) took keen interest on all the days. The participation of quality Pakistan vendors was very welcome, they got a chance to display their quality products. We must be proud of our public sector defence industry. The aircraft, missiles, tanks (and other armoured vehicles), radars and communication equipment etc, that we produce, guarantees our independence and sovereignty in the face of a very unjust world that compromises truth in the face of commercial potential. The Exhibition was rightly closed to the general public, defence wares are hardly consumer goods for mass-public use. This is of far more interest to the uniformed lot and those associated with it in various forms. Given that heavy security had made large areas of Karachi where the Exhibition was held into a no-go zone, why was it held in Karachi at all? Then again our complete military hierarchy (B echelon included) travelling down to Karachi must have been at great State expense, also an unnecessary security risk. Why not hold such an Exhibition in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area? With all Foreign Missions located in Islamabad, it will far more feasible for concerned persona to see the exhibits on display. There is a need to create such an industrial exhibition park up north close to the capital. Incidentally only Hall 4 has been made like exhibition halls should be, without pillars. Someone in the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) has made a packet out of the other three halls. It would be interesting to note what Halls 1, 2 and 3 cost in square feet as compared to Hall 4, has NAB shown any interest in this scam or is the EPB management managing the usual cover-up for which EPB is notorious for?
The concept of IDEAS must give food for thought to our defence planners, some of whom are rooted in the past, their ideas mired in the Second World War while the rest of the world has gone high-tech with “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA). We need to have “more bang for the buck”. It was a real disappointment to see Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) not yet manufacturing a 5.56 mm calibre basic infantry weapon even though a shootout took place more than a decade ago between US Colt Industries, Austrian Steyr AUG and German Heckler & Koch. The Rifle G3 (7.62 mm) may be a good weapon, in today’s world it is obsolete, moreover ammunition load (double the weight for 7.62 as compared to 5.56) counts. The “Red Car Park” for IDEAS 2002 was also an eye-opener, this car park, meant only for VIPs and military vehicles had 200 plus military-type vehicles present, there were more than 5-6 types of vehicles in each category. Where is the much-talked about standardisation? The Al-Khalid tank with it’s 1200 HP-power pack, 125 mm smooth barrel main gun and a fantastic power-to-weight ratio is many levels above soft vehicles. Having such a superior technology, who conspired to scrap the soft-vehicle program? Where is the YAESU truck?
For the Air Force we need to have a substantially better aircraft than the Super-7 being presently co-manufactured with China. We should have persuaded the Chinese to make the SU-24 they manufacture under licence from Russia as a an aerial gun platform. With the capability we have in PAF Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, where we have even re-furbished and rebuilt vintage Mirages, we should have been far beyond the K-8 and the Mashak trainers. The Navy has come good with a deep water capability, we have done extremely well in acquiring the knowledge to make state-of-the-art French Agosta submarines in Pakistan, what we also need to be able to build in large numbers is a fleet of fast missile torpedo boats to augment our coastal defences. More must be invested in our Air Force and Navy, the US-led war in Afghanistan has shown that war is an all-arms affair where precision guided missiles (PGMs) can be delivered no-holds barred from land, sea and the air. And given our helicopter needs, why do we not have as yet a helicopter-manufacturing facility?
Instead of getting into fertilisers, cement, textiles and oil, Fauji Foundation, Shaheen Foundation, Behria Foundation and Army Welfare Trust should have focussed on public sector-private sector collaboration with foreign entities in defence and defence-related manufacturing units. Public investment in defence production needs to be force-multiplied by private sector participation, innovation, expertise and enterprise. By a mix of countertrade and counter-purchase we could have achieved economy of scale and quality, earning foreign exchange instead of simply spending it. While IDEAS 2002 has been a success, it will give greater dividends if our defence planners take note of the major deficiencies in our defence productions and take cogent measures to rectify the gaps inherent in our present “order of manufacture” when related directly to the weapons and equipment “order of battle”.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).