From J-10C Fighters To Submarines, How Is ‘Heavily Indebted’ Pakistan Acquiring Latest Military Hardware?

China is strongly contributing to the strengthening of Pakistan’s military by providing fighter jets, warships, missile technology, drones, etc. This is part of China’s strategy to counter the influence and power of Quad-4 (that includes India) and the West’s other regional alliances.

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, an agreement was signed between China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Company Ltd and the Pakistan government. As part of the agreement, China would build eight Hangor-class submarines for the Pakistan navy; four to be built in China, and the remaining four in Pakistan.

A grand launch ceremony of the first Chinese-built ceremony held at a building base in Wuhan was attended by high-ranking officials from Pakistan and China.

On the occasion, Pakistani Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Naveed Ashraf said, “The submarines will play a pivotal role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. It would add a new dimension to the ever-tested Pakistan-China friendship.” In the agreement, there is also a provision for technology transfer.

Pakistan’s Arms Imports

According to a report by the Stockholm International Pee Research Institute (SIPRI), published last March, 82% of Pakistan’s arms imports were from China between 2019 -2023, compared to 69% from 2014-2018.

During 2019 and 2023, China delivered major arms to 40 states, but more than half of these exports, around 61%, were shipped to only Pakistan.

Quoting the Financial Times, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on April 28 wrote that a former senior Pakistan naval offer with knowledge of the negotiations told in 2015 that the contract could be worth between US $4 to $5 billion.

Commenting on strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan, the SCMP made a cryptic remark that the two countries have been all-weather strategic cooperative partners since Xi visited Pakistan in 2015, and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbor and rival, India. This is the crux of their strategic cooperation.

The Big Question

The big question is how can a cash-starved country like Pakistan, reeling under multilateral foreign debt to the tune of $124.5 billion, which is 42% of its GDP, afford to go for a 4-5 billion project of acquiring eight submarines?

Despite depleted foreign reserves and the ongoing economic crisis, Pakistan’s finance minister has allocated 1804 billion rupees for defense, which shows an increase of 15.4% over the previous year.

Last year, the federal government had projected 5% GDP growth, which was reduced to 2% due to devastating floods. But for the current year, it has been reduced to 0.29%. To borrow the quote from the Business Standard of March 01, 2023, Pakistan has no food for its people but purchases weapons.

The Subtle Stories

For a few years, we have heard many stories of economic crises and financial crunch overtaking Pakistan’s polity. Pakistani media has been profusely doling out harrowing tales of shortage of food items and scarcity of essential commodities like wheat, oil, cereals, milk products, etc. Inflation is touching the skies, and people are on the verge of starvation.

What are the reasons for this critical economic situation? Pakistani authorities are reluctant to go into the details. There has been political turmoil, in-fighting among the political parties, and horrendous stories of personal and party-based vendetta. This all makes the situation murky.

One story that has many takers in and outside Pakistan is that since real power remains in the hands of the army, the army gets the lion’s share of the national budget.

Apart from that, the army has a vast money-generating mechanism as it owns factories, estates, and business centers, legal and illegal, which produce enormous wealth that entirely goes to the coffers of the generals.

The IMF vehemently raised this point during its prolonged talks with the Pakistan government for the release of the pending installment of the loan.

The grapevine has it that the army did not allow any cuts in its allocations whenever the annual budget is presented in the Assembly. Therefore, the army does not face financial constraints when importing arms and military hardware.

Afghan Diaspora Network (AND) channel broadcast on March 01, 2023, said that while Pakistan’s citizens are queuing up for wheat pulses and medicines, the Generals have usurped a major part of the budget for new weapons. The army, responsible for much of what is wrong in Pakistan, cannot deny that it has fattened up on what has been snatched from the people.

It goes on to make this sensational revelation: “In times of crisis, the so-called guardians of Pakistan – the army – has refused to share close to USD 10 billion which its various enterprises generate every year”.

It claims that such largesse is spent as privileges and perks for military personnel, mostly for the generals in the form of land, houses, and other benefits. The public has no access to these huge sums.

The government has imposed heavy taxes to meet the IMF loan conditionalities. Who is to pay this enormous amount of tax: the civil society, not the army?

The army was allocated $669 million in 2019, which escalated to $760 million in 2020 and $884 in 2022. These were the years when Pakistan suffered from the Corvid pandemic, followed by the great floods. 

USAF In Pakistan
Representational Image


In an Urdu channel broadcast, BBC made a sensational revelation about how the Pakistan army was controlling foreign policy, indirectly reducing the elected government to a mere rubber stamp.

BBC reported that the US implicated Pakistan in the power struggle between two leading political parties, viz Tehreek-I-Insaf of Imran Khan and PDM, led by Shahbaz Sharif.

The US brought pressure on Pakistan to say goodbye to its neutrality on the Ukraine issue and supply arms and ammunition to Ukraine. Two American companies, Global Mobility and Northrop Grumman, transported via a British military cargo plane a huge quantity of Pakistani ammunition and arms to Ukraine.

Pakistan denied having sold ammunition to Ukraine and claimed it never broke its neutrality in the war in Ukraine. BBC said that the State Bank of Pakistan data shows a significant increase in arms exports for the fiscal year 2022 – 23.

BBC reported a secret deal under American pressure in which the US would help Pakistan win a majority vote in favor of Pakistan at the IMF as Pakistan was battling to release the remaining part of the committed loan amount. BBC said that the British military cargo carrying ammunition flew from Pakistan’s Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi to the UK military bases in Cyprus, Akrotiri, and then Romania at least five times.

BBC claimed that Pakistan signed two contracts with the US to sell 155 mm shells. These two contracts were signed on August 17, 2022, and Pakistan made a profit of $364 million from this transaction. The two agreements took place during the rule of the PDM that ousted Imran Khan.