Islamabad: While corruption is seen as the topmost problem confronting the nation's people after terrorism, a social worker has sought to take aim at military spending which accounts for over 40 per cent of the budget each year.
A well-known social worker and businessman in Islamabad, Raja Jahangir Akhtar, has announced that he is preparing to go on a hunger strike unto death in protest against the massive budget allocation for the military by the government.
Akhtar has been known for his espousal of social issues for over three decades and has been arrested on many occasions, even being sentenced to one year's imprisonment and 10 floggings by a military court during the General Zia-ul-Haq-era in the early 80s.
He told this correspondent on phone: "I would continue my hunger strike till acceptance of my demands or unto death." The thrust of his demands made public through an open letter to political parties remains peace with neighbouring India and a simultaneous diversion of military expenditure to development sector.
"One way to meet our current economic challenges to end our confrontation with India and Afghanistan like the Soviet Union did against America and other western countries. We can do this by maintaining the strength of our army at a level which existed before the 1965 war," read his letter. The activist proposes a golden handshake to "the rest of the army which can serve the country in a better way" after settling for a manageable size of the military.
Though news about Anna Hazare's agitation against corruption in India has found echoes in Pakistan as well, Akhtar says his inspiration is purely homegrown and has nothing to do with what is happening across the border. He hastens to add that he personally fully backs Hazare's demands in India. He had earlier planned to begin his hunger strike from July 21 but has now set the start date for September 12.
Akhtar demands removal of all headquarters of defence forces in civilian areas so as to avoid civilian casualties in the event of any outbreak of war.
"Hiroshima is the worst example. It was general headquarters of Japan's defence forces when America used nuclear weapons during the Second World War," he wrote in the letter.
By achieving reduction in military budget, the activist suggests that every district in Pakistan "may be provided with infrastructure for education from primary to intermediate level. Children of marginalised sections of society be provided with free education".
Akthar has delayed his hunger strike until after Ramadan as he won't be able to maintain vital liquid intake otherwise. He is planning to launch his protest in Islamabad from September 12.
"I firmly believe that Pakistan faces no external threat. Whatever threat we face is from within. We need to divert all our resources to end poverty, promote education and improve public health," he said.