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A story told by defence spending of India, Pakistan and China over the decades

Each war till the 1990s (whether conventional or covert) that Pakistan imposed on India had one thing in common – Pakistan’s military spending expanding prior to the conflict and India’s shrinking.

Usually, defence budgets are seen in a very restricted fashion. The absolute amount allotted and the rise in the budget from the previous year is what’s primarily evaluated. But defence spending tells a much deeper economic and geopolitical story that needs to be analysed especially now that we have the advantage of hindsight.

Let’s start off by comparing India’s and Pakistan’s historical defence budgets (amount in billion US dollars).

Historical defence budgets of India and Pakistan

The comparison has been made for every ten years but the years 1965, 1971 and 1999 have been included for they signify conflicts between India and Pakistan, and 1991 and 1992 have been mentioned as they were the peak years of Pakistan’s Operation Topac in Jammu and Kashmir.

Following graph shows the percentage rise in budgets for both nations.

Percentage rise in defence budgets of India and Pakistan

1965 Indo-Pak War

In 1963 and 1964, Pakistan’s defence spending was $0.74 bn and $0.83 bn respectively. During the year of the war – 1965 – it crossed the one billion mark for the first time to reach $1.348 bn.

This reflects an increase of 82% in two years and 61% in one year! To add perspective, in the last 30 years, not even China has increased its military spending by this much in a span of one year despite witnessing incredible economic growth.

We now know why Pakistan did so. After India’s loss in the 1962 Indo-China war and with the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, Pakistan saw a great opportunity to cut-off Kashmir from India. Planning for this war clearly shows in the rise in its defence budgets.

Meanwhile, India’s military spending fell by 4.6% between 1963 and 1965. In 1963, India’s defence budget was 10.09 times of Pakistan’s; by 1965 it fell drastically to 5.29 times.

Preparation for a war against India is aptly evident in the purchases of arms made by Pakistan from 1963 to 1965. It bought arms worth $0.497 bn in this period; $0.216 bn was spent on aircraft (43.4%) and $0.166 bn on armoured vehicles which include tanks (33.4%). A total of 77% spent on arms that were immediately needed against India.

1971 Indo-Pak War

Pakistan’s military spending during 1965-1970 again saw a rise; it reached $1.561 bn in 1970 seeing a 16% growth. In the same period, India’s spending FELL by 0.43%. The valley between the spending reduced further – 10.29x in 1963, 5.29x in 1965, 4.55x in 1970. This probably buoyed Pakistan to risk another conflict with India.

Similar to 1965, Pakistan’s spending prior and during the war may reflect its intentions, or at least, it does show preparedness for conflict. From 1968-1971, Pakistan bought arms worth $1.97 bn of which $0.84 bn was spent on aircraft (43%); $0.66 bn on armoured vehicles (33%); and $0.16 bn on ships (8%).

Operation Topac

Operation Topaz or the Zia Plan was Pakistan’s detailed and rather ingenious plan to burn and cut-off Kashmir from India through terrorism, pro-Islam and anti-India propaganda, and by forcing the Indian Army to spread all over J&K and Punjab thus thinning its efficiency and abilities.

It was thought of in 1984, planned till 1986, and brought into play in 1989. Now look at Pakistan’s defence budget rise during the 1980s — 121% from $2.31 bn to $5.1 bn. A clear sign of Pakistan’s insidious intentions.

This reveals another aspect. The Soviet-Afghan War took place between 1979-1989. By 1989 the Soviets had exited. During this period Pakistan acted as America’s ally in training the Mujahideen, supplying them with weapons, funnelling funds; Pakistan was America’s eyes on the ground.

Is it, thus, just a coincidence that during this period Pakistan’s defence budget more than doubled? Not at all. This shows Pakistan embezzled American funds and directed them towards its own budget.

The years 1991 and 1992 were the most active militancy-wise in Kashmir. Again, Pakistan added funds to its defence budget during this period. India, on the other hand, was weakest economically and militarily with its defence budget shrinking a whopping 12% between 1989 and 1992.

Focus also on Pakistan’s paltry growth in defence spending during 1990-2000; just 8.4%. This reflects how once Russia exited Afghanistan, Pakistan no longer had American funds to add to its own budget.

Each war till the 1990s (whether conventional or covert) that Pakistan imposed on India had one thing in common – Pakistan’s military spending expanding prior to the conflict and India’s shrinking.


The worst phase for our military was 2010-2013 when the defence budget FELL by 0.13%. If we step back a year, that is to 2009, military spending increased from 2009 to 2013 by just 0.26%. In the same period, Pakistan increased its spending by 20% and China by 35%. Two enemies to contend with along with serious internal issues and the government didn’t even give the forces enough funds to cover inflation!

Correlate this to the tremendous corruption during this very period and it becomes clear that the money meant for our security was instead being was pocketed.

Now for some other interesting statistics regarding the defence spending of the two neighbours.

Defence spending of India and Pakistan

Which nations were top weapon suppliers during periods when both nations were at war? (time period = year preceding a war, year of the war, and the subsequent year)

Top weapon suppliers to India and Pakistan before wars

We turn to the top 5 weapon suppliers for India and Pakistan from 1950 to 2018 enabling a holistic picture that caters to wars and changing geopolitical times.

Overall top weapon suppliers to India and Pakistan

There are many recent deals like the Rafale one that haven’t been accounted for in the data.

Of the total $4.00 bn of weapons imported from Israel, $2.09 bn have been purchased since 2014 (52%), that is when Narendra Modi came to power! As importers of arms, India ranks first with imports of $121.1 bn while Pakistan ranks 18th importing arms worth $37.4 bn.

To conclude, I give a brief comparison of India’s and China’s defence spending, after all, China is India’s most potent long-term threat (amount in billions).

Defence spending of India and China

In 1990, our military spending was at par with China, and look how by 2013 the difference became unassailable. A sad state indeed of how India couldn’t capitalize on its economic potential and thus modernize its forces as needed.

From 1990 to 2013, China’s budget increased 8.4 times while India’s by just 2.6 times. China expanded economically at an unprecedented rate in the last 30 years which reflects in its military spending. India, however, missed the bus. Too much internal politics, too much corruption, lack of vision, no proper long-term growth plan. Irreparable damage done.

Following graph shows the percentage rise in budgets for both nations.

Percentage rise in defence budgets of India and China

Some more valuable statistics for both nations.

Defence spending of India and China

Despite India’s average defence budget as a share of GDP being 35% more than China’s in the last 30 years, presently China’s overall spending is 260% more than India’s. This shows how a robust economy should be the utmost priority; military spending and modernization of forces becomes a natural byproduct.

A major takeaway from the above data is that China has not been frenzied about military development. This is in stark contrast to Pakistan or even to most Western countries. A 2% military spending of GDP and 10.8% of government spending is not exorbitant. To lay this in perspective here is the spending as a % of GDP for a few other nations:

  • France: 2.6%
  • South Korea: 2.8%
  • Russia: 3.8%
  • America: 3.8%
  • Saudi: 10.1%


Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Vinayak Jain
Vinayak Jain
Fiction and Political Writer | Geopolitics | Defence | Bibliophile

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