ISLAMABAD: Pakistan expressed strong concern on Monday at the sharp increase in India's defence spending, saying it could trigger an arms race between the South Asian neighbours.
Last week India increased defence spending to Rs 77,000 crore ($16.8 billion), a rise of 16.7 percent over the amount fixed by the previous BJP-led coalition in February.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the scale of the increase was not justified by recent moves to improve ties in South Asia, including talks between India and China and thawing relations between old foes India and Pakistan.
"Naturally, this would accentuate the asymmetry that we already have in the conventional sphere between Pakistan and India," Khan told a news conference.
"I would like to say this would, wittingly or unwittingly, advertently or inadvertently, accelerate the arms race between the two countries, which we could have avoided."
India defended one of its highest peacetime hikes in annual defence expenditure by saying the funds were needed to honour a slew of arms contracts finalised by the previous Atal Behari Vajpayee government.
But Masood Khan said: "There is no need, no doctrine justifying arms build up.
"This trend in their Budget runs contrary to the regional developments, which were very salutary, and it is a cause of concern to us and I am sure it is a cause of concern to several other countries in the neighbourhood."
Pakistan raised it own defence budget by seven percent in the financial year 2004/05, which started on July 1, to 193.92 billion rupees ($3.32 billion) from 180.54 billion rupees spent in 2003-04.
After coming to the brink of a fourth war in 2002, the countries have embarked on a tentative peace process to settle disputes including the core issue of Kashmir, the Himalayan region over which they fought two of their three wars.
The next round of bilateral talks between officials and foreign ministers are slated for late August but the two sides will also meet on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Islamabad later this month.