ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s strained economic condition puts to question the country’s capability to spend billions of rupees on the defence sector on the pretext of enhancing the defence exports and kicking off related strategic ventures.

While the country grapples with worst kind of economic crises owing to crippled industry due to ever-rising inflation, increasing cost of industrial expenditures following massive hike in power tariff as well as security situation, billions of rupees are reportedly being pumped in the strategic projects without any accurate anticipation whether such kind of large-scale investment at the cost of public money would bear any fruit.

Some reports suggest that Pakistan intends to export sophisticated JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to certain countries by next year and $ 100 million (over 10 billion rupees) have been released in this regard. Interestingly, this reported amount is more than four times the size of funds allocated to Pakistan’s defence production sector (2.3 billion rupees) in this year’s fiscal budget. In the defence budget for the ongoing year, there is no mention of any prioritised project in the Defence Production Division suggesting the exports of JF-17 Thunder and the allocation of over Rs 10 billion for related expenses.

The budgetary allocations for defence and defence production sectors for the fiscal year 2013-14 suggest, of the Rs 627 billion defence budget, the Defence Division has received Rs 4.2 billion and the Defence Production Division, Rs 2.300 billion. Separately, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) have respectively got Rs 1.3 billion and Rs 5.8 billion. Pakistan Army has got Rs 310 billion in this year’s fiscal budget, which is almost 50 percent of the total defence budget for 2013-14. The PAF got Rs 131 billion that makes 21 percent of the Rs 627 billion defence budget while Pakistan Navy got Rs 63 billion, around 10 percent of the defence funds. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) got Rs 6.2 billion.

As many as 20 projects have been prioritised for which Rs 3.5 billion have been allocated while only two projects in the Defence Production Division have been prioritised with the allocation of Rs 2.3 billion.

Adding to the mystery shrouding reported plans for exporting JF-17 Thunder, the top government functionaries concerned have kept conspicuous mum over the issue. This correspondent called Rana Tanvir Hussain, Federal Minister for Defence Production thrice at his personal cell number on Friday to get his viewpoint on the issue but he did not speak. His personal assistant Muhammad Bilal said the minister was in a meeting with Governor Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar and was not available for comments.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, on contact, expressed inability to comment on the issue saying the matter was not known to him. “Frankly speaking, I haven’t heard of any such development. How can I say anything without having proper knowledge?”

The Secretary Defence Production Lieutenant General (r) Tanvir Tahir was called at his official landline number 051-9270930 but he, according to his staff, was not in the office.

Jointly manufactured by Aviation Industry Corp of China and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), JF-17 Thunder is originally a Chinese product, with the related technology shifted to Pakistan in the recent years.  Regarded as a third-generation multipurpose combat jet, the JF-17 Thunder, in technical terms, is known as FC-1 Fierce Dragon.

In an interview with a Chinese news agency in May this year, Chairman PAC Air Marshal Sohail Gul Khan had claimed that several countries were interested in buying JF-17 Thunder from Pakistan. The PAC manufactured more than 40 JF-17 Thunder aircraft, he had said

The recent media reports claim Pakistan is to export five to seven JF-17 Thunder jets to the countries like Sri Lanka, Kuwait and Qatar and related deliberations are under way.

Requesting anonymity, a retired air marshal said, the manufacturing cost incurred on JF-17 Thunder is 1.5 billion to two billion rupees, roughly. “It needs to be determined whether there is a significant room for exporting this aircraft and earning profit after incurring such huge amount of money,” he said.   Pakistan’s current defence budget of Rs 627 billion has seen 15 percent surge compared to the last year’s defence budget of Rs 545 billion that was revised at Rs 570 billion.