If Pakistan could take pride in the areas where it has made genuine progress against all odds, it is clearly defense production and nuclear civil and military capability.
At independence Pakistan did not inherit a single defense industry. Most of the ordnance factories and defense-manufacturing units were located in what now constitutes the Republic of India. In the civilian sector apart from a few re-rolling mills and sprinkling of repair workshops the situation was no better. There was also a dearth of engineers and scientists especially in defense or nuclear related fields.
Considering that we literally started from scratch, we could take pride that during these seventy-two years Pakistan has established a sound technological and industrial infrastructure in the defense sector. Most of the major defense industries are in the public sector but for a few years the private sector has also been engaged in both the development of technology and manufacturing. In many areas the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, Heavy Industries Taxila and Aeronautical Complex Kamra in collaboration with high-tech civilian firms are manufacturing components, sub-assemblies and complete systems. The role of civilian firms in producing sophisticated electronic and optical equipment has been particularly significant. Involving the private sector in defense industries has several beneficial outcomes. This encourages cross flow of sophisticated technologies from defense to civil industries and research organizations that otherwise would remain quarantined. There was initially considerable resistance to the involvement of the private sector among military leadership. There was an erroneous impression that by involving the private sector the government would lose control over defense production. There were also issues of security but all these were gradually overcome.
The advantages of making the private sector a greater partner in defense production far outweigh the disadvantages. Serious difficulties are, however, foreseen in moving towards privatization. Pakistan’s private sector faces major hurdles with its limited industrial diversification, shortage of qualified manpower, scarcity of strategic materials and low investment capacity. In addition, the private entrepreneur, with a few exceptions, generally lacks the ability to meet stringent military specifications for product ruggedness and reliability. However, that can be addressed through the systematic sharing of scientific knowledge for industrial use at the national level by the existing defense production industry. It is a must for building a solid self-sustaining arms industry. Apart from other benefits, involving the private sector more effectively in defense production would give the civil sector a strong sense of participation in the defense of the country and raise the nation’s collective commitment to national security. Experience has shown that privatization of certain units or factories producing specialized products acts as an instrument of systematic economic, technological and industrial development and reform.
It is common knowledge that in U.S., Germany, France, Sweden and several western countries, most of the major weapon systems and equipment are developed and manufactured in the private sector. Pakistan’s private sector’s involvement in design, development and production of defense equipment would depend on its technological and industrial development.
In years of my involvement with defense production I realized the most important aspect in manufacturing is quality control, best management practices, and modern concepts of accountability. Any compromise on quality can be suicidal in battle and during training. Efficient management ensures quality and higher level of accountability.
For Pakistan, building new ordnance factories from scratch has been a huge challenge. Pakistan remained subjected to very strict sanctions from U.S. but China has been extremely cooperative in providing design of industrial buildings, plants, machinery and technology. I had the privilege of setting several new ordnance factories with Chinese assistance in Pakistan Ordnance Factories Wah and its satellites in Gadwal, Sanjwal, Havelian and other locations.
To ensure our technology met broader international standards and new innovations in arms and equipment we turned to erstwhile Czechoslovakia and several eastern and western European countries. However, the most substantive and consistent support came from China.
What our defense planners and civilian government should bear in mind is that the prerequisite for effective and efficient defense production is a sound defense policy. This has to be based on an objective threat assessment and a balanced resource allocation. Manufacturing of sophisticated military equipment requires a long gestation period with long-term planning and long-term commitments. Good planning and commitment on the part of military leadership has resulted in Pakistan manufacturing and assembling fighter and trainer aircraft, armored fighting vehicles, frigates, submarines and several weapon systems and equipment. It is indeed encouraging that our defense industry is fully conscious of meeting the evolving needs of the armed forces in a hostile neighborhood and dynamic world.
In a few cases this aspect remained weak in our decision-making, as a consequence military equipment that could have been produced in the country was purchased from abroad. Balancing indigenous production and foreign procurement is one of the most important functions of civilian and military leadership.
Advances in the field of defense products and technology have been spectacular in the last four decades. Progress in aerospace, electronics, microelectronics, electro-optics, computing, lasers, exotic material manufacturing, telecommunications, and reinforced fiber plastics have revolutionized weapon systems and brought in new concepts of national defense. All these developments pose a challenge for Pakistan’s defense planners.
Research & Development
At the global level advances in the civil and defense sectors is moving at an exhilarating pace and the two sectors are mutually reinforcing. Pakistan will always remain at a disadvantage if it lags behind in scientific, technological and industrial development, as is the case now. No doubt we have benefited enormously from China in terms of transfer of technology, setting up of defense industries and receiving critical components and assemblies. With their assistance we have moved up the ladder in manufacturing and designing certain critical products on our own. Hopefully, as we expand and deepen our industrial and technological base we should be aiming at undertaking more of designing, developing and manufacturing defense products. It is essential that we aim at indigenous manufacture of only those items that are expected to be a part of inventory for several years, are economically viable and have a high priority. Moreover, technology transfer apart from adequate financial resources requires pertinent equipment and an adequately large pool of trained manpower to harness the technology into the defense production processes.
Experience has shown that manufacturers are reluctant to transfer technology. Even if they do, they would demand exorbitant prices and retain certain critical technologies. It is important to ensure that our interest as a buyer is fully kept in mind while finalizing the contractual deals.
There are other factors that need to be kept in mind while planning and executing defense production. It must be ensured that defense production and procurement is free from corrupt practices. Corruption is incompatible with quality control. The lives of our soldiers and integrity of the country depend on quality of weapon systems and military equipment.
During the 1950’s and right up to 1965 Pakistan was a major beneficiary of U.S.’ defense assistance as we were its partners in several military alliances: the Baghdad Pact, CENTO, and SEATO. Pakistan also received significant aid during the eighties when erstwhile Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan. U.S. provided valuable assistance in terms of supplying weapons and equipment but it was a reluctant partner in transferring technology. This phenomenon is not peculiar to U.S. but is common in most of the major defense manufacturing countries. There were exceptions where U.S. transferred technology for the manufacture of Armored Personnel Carriers, anti-tank weapons etc. but only when these were superseded by modern versions. However, where we benefited most in relative terms with India was the superiority of their weapons systems, fighter aircraft – the F-16 as an example, armored vehicles, electronic and optical equipment. These were superior to India’s Russian-based military inventory of tanks, and electronic equipment etc. The other benefit of U.S.’ military assistance was their advanced repair and maintenance systems that we co-opted with minor modifications for our three services.
No discussion on Pakistan’s defense production would be complete without reference to its nuclear capability, for nuclear deterrence along with conventional defense is now the cornerstone of Pakistan’s security policy. As recent events have once again demonstrated that an effective nuclear deterrent is Pakistan’s security guarantor against India. In order to restrain India’s hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hegemonic designs, Pakistan’s nuclear threat to remain credible is crucial for Pakistan. The U.S.-India strategic cooperation and Washington’s plans to build India’s military capabilities against China by co-producing state-of-the-art weapon systems will compel Pakistan to place even greater reliance on nuclear deterrence.
The unlawful and arbitrary step taken by India to abrogate the special status of Kashmir and engage in the worst form of brutality on the Kashmiris has brought to fore the dangerous prospects of a conventional or even a nuclear conflict. The silence of the international community including the Muslim countries in restraining India leaves no choice for Pakistan but to step up its support for the just cause of the Kashmiri people at the United Nations and important world capitals, while keeping its defense capabilities in a state of readiness to ward off any Indian aggression.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
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