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Pakistan Announces Military Downsizing - 2004-04-28

Pakistan plans to cut 50,000 soldiers from the army as part of a restructuring plan to save money and make its forces more "hard-hitting." This is the first military reduction in Pakistan, one of Asia's poorest countries.

Officials say the army chief - President General Pervez Musharraf - and top military commanders approved the downsizing plan at a two-day meeting that ended Tuesday. Military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan says the reduction in manpower will not affect the "fighting potential" of the army.

Instead, the cuts will be in administrative and support areas, so there will be more money for upgrading combat units.

"It envisages Pakistan army to be lean but lethal and hard-hitting," he said. "It will improve the teeth-to-tail ratio in which the tail is being reduced by about 50-thousand men. This restructuring plan is going to make more funds available to the army to enhance the combat worthiness and add to the technological edge of the army."

Pakistan spends nearly 25 percent of the national budget to field its army of more than 500,000 regular troops. Foreign donor countries have often urged the South Asia nation to cut its military expenditure to save money for health, education, and poverty-reduction programs.

But General Sultan dismisses suggestions that the downsizing in the military is being done under any foreign pressure. "The defense spending of Pakistan has to be in consonance with the regional environment and the kind of threat Pakistan is facing," he said.

Pakistan has long maintained that lingering tensions with neighboring India pose a security threat. Since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The two nuclear-armed nations went to the brink of another war over Kashmir two years ago, but tensions have eased since then, as India and Pakistan have resumed peace talks to settle their differences.