Zardari rules out defence budget cut

Zardari rules out defence budget cut

Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari has ruled out any cut in Pakistan’s defence budget in the face of a reported demand by the International Monetary Fund or IMF for military spending to be slashed by 30% in order for the country to avail of aid to tide over its economic crisis.

“It is neither the subject of the International Monetary Fund nor on its agenda," Zardari said.

Reports have suggested that the IMF wants Pakistan’s defence budget to be cut by 30% over the next four years if the country avails of emergency aid to tackle a financial crunch. Pakistan is currently in negotiations with the IMF for funding.

However, Zardari told The News daily that there would be no cut in the defence budget.

Observers believe any pressure from world bodies like the IMF for a cut in Pakistan’s defence spending could lead to strains between the powerful military and the civilian government led by Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.

Replying to a question about his expectations on funding from foreign sources and countries in this difficult juncture, Zardari said Pakistan is making concerted efforts to stand on its own feet and not go around asking for charity.

“I intend to take all help from the family of democratic countries as in the new world there is no country which is dependent on its own, but all of them are inter-dependent," he said, adding he could cooperate with other countries in seeking strategic support.

Asked about the shedding of the President’s sweeping discretionary powers, such as the ability to dissolve parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister, Zardari said the PPP’s stand on the subject was clear.

The party feels there is a “need to strike a balance between the powers of the President and the Prime Minister", he said.

Zardari said he had not and will not exercise these powers in a unilateral manner. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister is the chief executive and the President was acting in consultation with the premier, whose advice is binding, he added.

The President is the “creation of parliament" and it was up to lawmakers to decide what powers they want the President to have. Power belongs to parliament and its will would prevail, he said.

Asked about the series of missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas by US drones operating from Afghanistan, Zardari said no country should serve as a base for attacks on other nations. Such assaults drew a negative reaction in Pakistan and caused economic weakening and insecurity, he said.

Zardari described terrorism as “the child of poverty" and said its cure lies in prosperity. “Eliminating poverty is the only cure for terrorism on a long-term basis and everything else is a temporary panacea," he said.

The PPP, he said, has formed the Friends of Pakistan forum to “convince the world through dialogue and make it aware of the problems of Pakistan". The forum, he said, is basically a new platform for dialogue.