In a press briefing on Friday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed that Pakistan’s defence expenditure was low compared to the region, and that the government would look at ways to improve revenue generation to plug more funds towards defence needs.It’s unclear where is the minister taking his facts from because credible sources of defence expenditures across the globe do not substantiate his claim. We hope that the minister can either explain the statement or realise his mistake and issue a rebuttal. The public deserves better than being fed misinformation, or unsubstantiated claims, especially by its elected representatives.According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a non-partisan and credible source on defence spending across the globe, Pakistan’s defence budget is the highest in the South Asian region when calculated as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP). Even in absolute terms, our spending on defence is second only to India’s in the region. With defence spending already at such a high level, for a country that has chronic social and economic problems to deal with, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government would do well to invite all the parliamentary political leadership to a wide-ranging dialogue on the issue. With just a few months remaining in the announcement of the next year’s budget, now is the time for such a dialogue, whereby political parties must be invited to give inputs defence spending for the past few years. Considering such an exercise has never been undertaken in the country, its dividends in terms of consolidation of democracy will also be huge.The point to note is that Pakistan is already spending a lot more than other countries in the region, as well as those comparable to it in terms of social and economic indicators. This fact needs to be appreciated by the government so that the national discourse can then be directed towards finding ways to rationalise the defence bill. None of this is to say that Pakistan has to compromise on its security needs. Instead, this is an opportunity for the country to re-visit its defence policy so that we don’t have to rely entirely on missiles and gunpowder to maintain deterrence in the region. This is all the more important given the PTI’s consistent claims about re-orienting state institutions towards social welfare. The government is already undertaking an austerity drive and it claims to be working on the debt burden too. This leaves national defence as the only other major expenditure on which no conversation has yet started. Perhaps, it is time the political leadership should focus their attention to it as well. *Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2019.