the Gordian knot
else is dictatorship?
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq
"The only people who do not have to pass the Civil Services exam to work for the government are the withholding agents." (Anon) The federal government retains two percent as collection charges from all the provincial governments on General Sales Tax on Services, which it collects on their behalf (Para 9.6 at page 42 of Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts 2006-2007).
The charade of popular sovereignty
Under the current arrangement, any individual or party can have little say in the way the army and Americans are running the affairs
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Notwithstanding the considerable perks and privileges that come with the gig, being a Pakistani politician is surely amongst the most thankless jobs in the world. One is charged with pretending to exercise power despite being powerless, protecting the privilege of those who do exercise power, and making claims that one cannot keep. During his just concluded trip to the United States, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani performed all of these tasks admirably.
Summits between Pakistani and American leaders are always stage-managed by the Islamabad establishment, but on this occasion the whole affair starting with the prime minister's pre-departure announcement to the embarrassment during his engagement with Washington's 'think tank' establishment was nothing short of soap opera material. It was telling that the all too regular visitor to Islamabad, US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher, remarked at the end of the visit that "this is the best Pakistani government that we could hope for".
The fuss was all about the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). And understandably so, since the Bush administration has finally been forced to publicly admonish the spy agency for 'supporting militancy' in the Pak-Afghan border region. That Washington has only now openly acknowledged the ISI's activities despite knowing about them for much, much longer reflects the growing contradictions of the 'war on terror' and the Americans' refusal to put its relationship with the Pakistani military at risk.
As if the Pakistanis knew what was coming, a badly disguised pre-emptive measure was undertaken in the shape of the announcement transferring control over the ISI to the Interior Division the day before Gilani left the country. Bear in mind that the ISI has always officially been subject to civilian authority and the attempt to make the administrative change was nothing more than eyewash, designed to appease the American media and political establishment. In the event, the administrative revision was quickly revoked after a couple of days of sensationalist media coverage.
In Washington, the prime minister repeatedly made feeble requests for Pakistan's sovereignty to be respected; and, on cue, American missiles started raining on South Waziristan. More such attacks can be expected in the coming days as the Bush administration attempts to prove that it is not unwilling to take the fight to Pakistan regardless of the fact that the country's military remains Washington's blue-eyed boy.
Arguably, the most telling moment during the whole fiasco was when Gilani defended the ISI in the face of charges that the spy agency was supporting militancy in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is a tragedy that has befallen every political government in Pakistan's history that it has chosen to defend the military establishment, knowing full well that its own weakness is a function of the power of this same establishment. Successive elected governments have been deposed by the establishment, because they have not been brave enough to put an end to the madness and have fallen victim to the same 'greater national interest' that they have gone out of their way to protect.
The Pakistan people's Party (PPP) government is without doubt stuck between a rock and a hard place, but the current state of affairs is at least partially of its own making. Asif Zardari himself admits that the party reacquired power through long and drawn-out negotiations involving Benazir Bhutto, the Americans and the Pervez Musharraf government. His point is to assert that the PPP is not in the business of making radical breaks with the status quo, especially given the almost impossible 'war on terror' situation.
But then Zardari is not the one directly facing the music. Gilani's position is completely untenable and it is a sorry truth that he enjoys no more power than the various Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) prime ministers did during their stints. Similarly, the Awami National Party (ANP) government in the NWFP has as little control over the ongoing 'military operations' in the province as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) government that ruled between 2002 and 2007. Indeed, under the current arrangement, any individual or party can have little say in the way the army and Americans are running the affairs.
And this is the crux of the matter. Regardless of how much has been made of the ISI issue, the relationship between the General Headquarters (GHQ) and the Pentagon is still very much intact. Gilani and his PPP, just like Asfandyar Wali and his ANP, are minor actors in the whole game. The debate over whether the PPP and the ANP should consent to be associated with a dispensation in which they have virtually no control is potentially endless. For the time being, they are sticking it out. It could be that no one asks their opinion when time is up anyway.
The Americans plan to make Afghanistan their base to keep an eye on the wider region, and their plan is a long-term one. That is why there has been a shift away from the war on Iraq to the war in Afghanistan within the American media. Much of the talk in political circles in the lead-up to the presidential election in November is about the timeline for forces to withdraw from Iraq and be redirected to Afghanistan. That is to say the mainstream political forces in Pakistan will either continue to acquiesce to a ceremonial role in government (when the military is not in government itself) or make a pact with the people of Pakistan to make a genuine bid for sovereignty, vis-a-vis both American and the army.
Regardless of how things pan out, violence is sure to increase both in FATA and in the rest of Pakistan in the short- to medium-run. Given the inability of militants based in FATA to meaningfully engage the Americans, if and when American attacks on Pakistani soil become a regular occurrence, the reaction will probably be along the lines of suicide attacks in major Pakistani cities. This is a terrifying prospect, and it is made even more so by the fact that ordinary people are virtually powerless to do anything to stop it.
In short, Gilani is correct when he says this is not just America's war insofar as it is a war that is taking place inside Pakistan. But what he neglects to mention is that the war that is unfolding in front of our eyes is a product of the machinations of the military establishment and its imperial patron. The common people are caught in the crossfire between antagonists that they cannot even fully identify. If the prime minister and his party want to distinguish themselves from the powerless puppets of the past, they should stop pretending they have a say in matters and then take a stand on the side of the people. This may not stop the downward slide, but will at least end the charade of popular sovereignty.
Australian military advisers for Pakistan?
By Kaleem Omar
Many of us in this country are long past the point of surprise. Nothing surprises us anymore, no matter how far-fetched, absurd or bizarre. But I have to confess that even a cynic like me was more than a little surprised when I read a news item on The Australian newspaper's website on Wednesday, stating that: "Australia is prepared to send military advisers to Pakistan to help its army in training for counter-insurgency warfare and stabilising the border with Afghanistan."
The news item in The Australian was headlined: Digger advisers to help Pakistan -- 'digger' being slang for Aussie nationals in the peculiar brand of English that is spoken in Australia. This language is also referred to by Aussies as 'Strine' -- which is short for Australian English. It is one of the ghastliest forms of English spoken on the planet, as anybody who has listened to Australian cricket commentators will know.
If Australian military advisers are now going to train Pakistani troops in counter-insurgency warfare, we could end up with bunches of Frontier Corps (FC) troops (most of whom are Pakhtuns) speaking a rudimentary form of Strine instead of their own language. One shudders at the thought of that happening.
By the same token, the FC troops might end up singing the Aussie song Waltzing Matilda (a sort of unofficial Aussie national anthem) instead of the well-known Pakhtun song Zakhme Dil; and telling stories not about their own heroes but of such figures as Ned Kelly, a nineteenth century Aussie outlaw, and Banjo Patterson, the author of the Aussie poem The Man from Snowy River. Again, the mind boggles at the thought.
The news report in The Australian went on say that: "Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will today (Thursday) call for a more concerted international effort to combat Taliban insurgents based in Pakistan's tribal areas, including economic aid and providing its army with the skills to conduct counter-insurgency campaigns as well as civil operations."
The Australian offer comes in the wake of US President George W Bush's statement of Tuesday, July 29, that he had received a "strong commitment" from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that Pakistan would try "as best as possible" to prevent militants from crossing into Afghanistan where they attack US and NATO troops.
The report said that Gilani, in turn, had "called on Washington not to act unilaterally in Pakistan, following a suspected US missile strike on al-Qaeda's top expert on chemical and biological weapons, Abu Khabab al-Masri, on Monday."
The report added that: "Mr Fitzgibbon will say today there is now a deeper recognition on the part of NATO and its allies that the Afghanistan campaign cannot be successful without a 'much greater' effort in Pakistan." The report noted that "Australia has had about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan for the past six years."
What the report failed to point out was that the real reason why Australia has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001 (just as it later sent a small contingent of troops in Iraq as part of the US-led so-called 'Coalition of the Willing' -- COW, for short) was because of the desire on the part of then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard -- a sort of down under version of the Bush neo-cons -- to curry favour with the Bush administration and earn political brownie points with Washington's neo-con cabal.
In other words, the presence of Australian troops in Afghanistan has nothing to do with any genuine desire on the part of Australian government to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan or with any genuine concern for the welfare of the Afghani people.
Motivated by the same sort of brownie-point considerations, the defence minister of the successor to the Howard government has now offered to send military advisers to Pakistan to help its army in training for counter-insurgency warfare and "civil operations".
"The international community cannot sit back and allow Pakistan to become the new breeding ground for al-Qaeda and Jemmah Islamiah," Defence Minister Fitzgibbon told Australia's National Press Club on Thursday.
"The best way we could help in Pakistan is to share some of our expertise in counter-insurgency with the Pakistan Army," he told The Australian newspaper on Tuesday. This, he added, could mean "sending a number of defence advisers to Islamabad."
What are we to make of all this? For one thing, what does Fitzgibbon mean when he says that Australia is prepared to help the Pakistan Army not only with counter-insurgency warfare, but also with "civil operations"? What "civil operations" does he have in mind -- civil policing operations or martial law operations or what?
For another, there would be no question of anybody attacking US and NATO troops in Afghanistan if the US hadn't invaded and occupied the sovereign country of Afghanistan in the first place, and hadn't later pressured NATO countries into sending troops to Afghanistan.
Fitzgibbon also seems to have conveniently ignored the fact that Afghan nationals are well within their rights to attack the foreign troops that have occupied their country. The Geneva Convention (to which the US and other NATO countries, as well as Afghanistan, are all signatories) says that the nationals of any country that has been occupied by foreign troops have every legal right to attack those troops in an effort to drive them out of their country.
Thus, according to the tenets of international law, as enunciated in the Geneva Convention, the Taliban, who are all Afghan nationals, have every legal right to attack the US and NATO troops that have occupied their country. These Taliban fighters are, therefore, not "insurgents", as the US and other NATO countries claimed. What they are, in fact, is Afghan nationals trying to rid their country of foreign occupation forces.
The US is preparing to reinforce its occupation troops in Afghanistan with two additional 4,000-strong combat brigades. One of the extra brigades could be deployed before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Australian defence minister has admitted that "progress" in Afghanistan is "frustratingly slow". That, of course, is the understatement of the year.
BJP's saner side
Neither India nor Pakistan can exploit the Kashmiris like a colonial power
By Murtaza Shibli
Ram Jethmalani is India's most famous criminal lawyer. He has taken unpopular cases, such as that of defending Indira Gandhi's killers to that of Abdur Rahman Geelani, a Kashmiri professor at Delhi University who was sentenced to death for his alleged role in the Indian Parliament attack in 2004 that nearly brought India and Pakistan to a nuclear war. Ram Jethmalani also remained the law minister of India and now heads the unofficial Kashmir Committee, which has extensive contacts with pro-freedom Kashmiri leaders in Srinagar. This committee also tried to start a dialogue between New Delhi and Hurriyat leaders. Ram Jethmalani is close to the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Hindu militant group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with whose support he was elected to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament). The News on Sunday interviewed him recently. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday: How do you asses the current situation in Kashmir?
Ram Jethmalani: Except for the disturbances that started recently, the situation in Kashmir is not that bad. I believe that the Kashmiris are tired of violence and terrorism, and they want peace. Today, there is a passionate desire among them that things should become normal. Fortunately, people from both Indian and Pakistani sides share this feeling. Therefore, Kashmir is not such a dangerous place; given a little effort, we should reach a permanent solution.
TNS: But recently Kashmiris have come out in hundreds of thousands demonstrating against the Indian government. Doesn't it seem that things have gone back to what they were in 1990?
RJ: What is happening today in Kashmir is totally irrational. A small tract of land has been reserved for people who want to go on a religious mission and build a temple. This is not transfer or destruction of land, but, unfortunately, it is easy for some mischief-mongers to whip up feelings of this kind and create a problem. I have no doubt that people sitting in the legislature are responsible for it.
TNS: Can you identify them?
RJ: I would not like to identify them, but any intelligent person can guess. Otherwise, there is no reason why a few plots of land reserved for peaceful religious reasons should result in so much violence.
TNS: How do you see the Hurriyat Conference's role in this?
RJ: They did not contest the elections and, officially, they are not in the legislature, but some of their sympathisers undoubtedly are. However, the principal Hurriyat leaders, and I am not talking about Syed Ali Geelani here, had arrived at a settlement with the Kashmir Committee in which it was agreed that extreme positions on both sides had to be abandoned. The extreme positions are, on the one side, independence; and, on the other side, abandonment of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that brings down the autonomy of the Kashmir state to the level of other Indian states. If both of these are abandoned, the solution is then a discussion on autonomy and transfer of a few subjects from the central list to the state list.
At one time, when Farooq Abdullah was in power, the assembly had passed a resolution about autonomy. This was in response to then-Prime Minister Narsimha Rao's statement that if the Kashmiris want autonomy, the sky is the limit. Once this resolution was passed, the Indian government was happy because the elected representatives of the state had started to find a resolution within the Indian Constitution. Unfortunately, the Indian government got bad advice and I regret to say that the person in power at that time was LK Advani. When I told them to start this dialogue on autonomy immediately to arrive at a solution, they said no.
Today, if the BJP returns to power, I hope it will seriously talk to the elected representatives of the state and discuss how much autonomy they want. On the other hand, Azad Jammu and Kashmir also needs autonomy. India should pledge that it would grant the same amount of autonomy to Kashmiris on its side that Pakistan would grant to those on its side. Neither India nor Pakistan can exploit the Kashmiris like a colonial power.
TNS: Why did Hurriyat leaders not contest the elections in 2002 despite your persuasion?
RJ: Because there was a fear among Hurriyat leaders that the election results might destroy their claim to be popular leaders, so they shied away from the elections. They might also be in consultation with people across the border, who might have believed that it was no use getting involved in the elections at that moment.
TNS: But hadn't you persuaded some of them to contest the elections?
RJ: I had certainly persuaded some people, but they were not people belonging to the Hurriyat. I had meetings with about 40 to 50 terrorists in Srinagar and, believe me, they agreed to contest the elections. Subsequently, a new party comprising 11 groups was formed. This party coalesced together and actually contested the elections. Therefore, I have always said don't teach the terrorists mere counter violence. Some terrorists are willing to understand and talk, and go back on the plea that they had made.
TNS: But, at that time, you blamed Farooq Abdullah for scuttling the whole affair?
RJ: Farooq at that time advised the Indian government not to talk with the Hurriyat. It was perhaps his impression that it would weaken his position.
TNS: The situation this time was different: Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was refusing to call for the election boycott, while Syed Ali Geelani was asking for the same. Then suddenly Amarnath Yatra glued the two parties together. Can you please explain this?
RJ: It seems to me nothing was done by the government that evoked this kind of response. Whenever passions are involved, whether rightly or wrongly, it results in a setback. However, we have suffered many setbacks in the past and I hope that we can survive this one too.
TNS: Do you think that the peace process in Kashmir is failing?
RJ: The peace process in Kashmir has reached its destination, it will never fail so long as you keep its spirit and will alive. Every time you talk of peace, you are adding to the movement of the peace process.
TNS: There has been talk of al-Qaeda in Kashmir. Do you see any credible threat from al-Qaeda in Kashmir?
RJ: After the Russians left Afghanistan, al-Qaeda fighters had to be shifted somewhere else. These fighters had got used to the reward for the work they were doing and their training had to be used, so they were distributed to various places in the world, some to Chechnya, Palestine and some to Kashmir that had its own attractions.
TNS: Does this mean that there is a connection between al-Qaeda and violence in Kashmir?
RJ: There is a connection, no question about it. It is unfortunate that we succumbed to the fear of terrorism and rigged the elections. That might have added to the strength of terrorists. Some young person might have genuinely thought that there was no hope of democracy in the future of Kashmir.
TNS: How far do you think the Kashmir Committee is being taken seriously by the Indian government?
RJ: They have taken it so seriously that they have been trying to undermine it. We have faced more resistance from the Indian government than anybody else.
TNS: What has been the response of the Pakistani government?
RJ: Very good, that is one of the bright rays of light in this darkness. Somehow, the people in Pakistan want to settle this problem. I have found this to be the attitude of President Musharraf.
TNS: Can the same not be said about the Indian side?
RJ: Certainly not.
TNS: Is it because Indian leaders seem to be in thrall of newly gained confidence or perhaps trapped in their own glory?
RJ: No, they think that loosening their hold on Kashmir might not go well with the Indian electorate and it might cost them votes.
TNS: The Kashmir Committee headed by yourself has a diverse membership (even a Kashmiri Pandit is a member), but there is not a single Kashmiri Muslim in it. Why?
RJ: This is true, but it is supposed to be a committee of Indians who are trying to talk to the people of Kashmir as well as Pakistan. However, I have no reservations about having a Kashmiri Muslim in the committee. We might seriously consider this in future.
TNS: You earlier talked of Pakistan's positive attitude in addressing the Kashmir issue. What may be the reasons behind this?
RJ: I am a firm believer that this change in attitude in Pakistan has been brought about by America. After 9/11, the Indian prime minister immediately said we were partners in the 'war on terror'. So did Musharraf. Whether by pressure or conviction, both are on the same side. That is what led to this peace process and potential to find a final solution.
TNS: Going back to the Kashmir Committee, has it ever taken any active position on human right violations in Kashmir or in any other part of India?
RJ: The Kashmir Committee has always taken a view that any human rights violation in Kashmir would hurt the Kashmiris and cause a setback to the peace process.
TNS: Many Kashmiri students, business executives and tourists have been picked up, thrown in jail and branded as terrorists, but nobody talks about it. What do you have you say about this?
RJ: If any Kashmiri Muslim was into that kind of trouble in any part of India, they are bound to have turned up to me; I have not had such complaints.
TNS: Can I give you specific examples?
RJ: Well you know of my defence of Professor Abdur Rahman Geelani, who was sentenced to death for the attack on the Indian Parliament. I defended him despite many problems and against a lot of odds. I can assure you that if any such case of human rights violation was brought to my notice, the Kashmir Committee would fight it.
TNS: There are a lot of allegations of Indian Muslims being involved in terrorism. How credible do you see them?
RJ: I don't think so. There can be a few who may succumb to temptation or become terrorists out of conviction, but it is a miniscule minority. I don't think we are in such a serious danger to even talk about it.
TNS: Do you think that any positive connection can be built between the Kashmiris and the Indian Muslims?
RJ: I believe that this relationship exists, though it has not been talked about. There is no harm in expressively making an effort to improve this relationship.
TNS: Has the Indian media been helpful in building the public perception on Kashmir or has it dramatised the situation?
RJ: I think that it has ignored Kashmir; it could have done much better.
TNS: In Pakistan, who do think is in a better position to address the Kashmir issue: President Musharraf or the new government?
RJ: I personally have respect for Musharraf's contribution to the peace process. I can only hope that the new government will not do anything to derail it.
TNS: Where do you place the Pakistan Army in the whole context?
RJ: If the government is honest, I don't think the army will be able to play in this. It is not possible in the current scenario to stage another takeover, so the new government should not be fearful of this.
TNS: But what happened to Musharraf's proposal of demilitarisation?
RJ: Demilitarisation will take place as soon as terrorism is stopped. India then would have no business to keep army in Kashmir.
Finally, good sense is appearing in Indo-Pak trading relations
By Pradeep S Mehta and Siddhartha Mitra
Opinion in Pakistan currently, particularly in the Urdu press, is crying foul on the new trade policy announced mid July: Indian goods will flood Pakistan and what not. With a border of around 3,000 kilometres, striking cultural similarities, a common DNA and almost no linguistic barriers, India and Pakistan are natural trading partners. However, the bloody partition that resulted in the birth of these two nations, wrangles over territory and inflated egos often characterising young and proud nations have ensured that only a tiny fraction of potential cooperation has been achieved.
Yet recent developments, particularly on the Pakistani front, indicate that all is not lost and there might be lasting peace and much more trade between the two countries on the anvil. Let us look back at the immediate past, and then envision the changes that might breathe fresh life and amity into the relationship between these two often hostile countries!
In 2006-07, Indian exports to Pakistan were valued at $1.35 billion ñ a mere 1.06 percent of India's exports to the rest of the world and indeed a small fraction when compared with the three percent of the rest of the world population living in Pakistan. The next year, 2007-08, was only slightly better: official Indian estimates show a Pakistani share in total Indian exports of 1.10 percent.
India's imports from Pakistan were an even more miniscule proportion of its imports from the rest of the world -- just 0.17 percent or $0.32 billion in 2006-07, which fell to only 0.12 percent in 2007-08, according to official estimates. In other words, India's Pakistani imports per Pakistani resident are just four percent of its imports per rest of the world resident.
The intensity of India's trading relations with Pakistan appears very weak when compared with relatively distant Indonesia, a country which is otherwise similar to Pakistan in many respects -- Asian, with comparable population, predominantly Islamic and a per capita income that is not vastly different from the Pakistani figure. Yet Indonesia accounted for $2.026 billion and 1.60 percent of Indian exports in 2006-07; its imports were even more impressive at 2.24 percent of Indian imports.
There is no doubt that there is immense untapped potential for trade between India and Pakistan. A 2007 study by ICRIER, an economic think tank located in Delhi, indicates an Indian export potential of $9.5 billion vis-a-vis Pakistan and a smaller import potential of $2.2 billion. This implies that currently India and Pakistan are exploiting only about 15 percent each of their export potentials vis-a-vis each other.
Both countries have adopted different methods to shut out imports from the other country -- Pakistan imports strictly on the basis of a positive list which catalogues items from India to be allowed across the border; similarly, potential Pakistani exports to India are often blocked by the latter's technical barriers to trade. Lack of information on both sides about the other is also responsible for the lack of depth in trading relations.
After years of treating each other like strangers in a rapidly globalising world, good sense is appearing in Indo-Pak trading relations. Pakistan in its new trade policy of 2008-09 has announced that it plans to promote raw material and capital good imports from India, and take advantage of the lower freight charges to reduce its cost of producing output.
Imports of CNG buses; processed diesel and fuel oil; machinery; mining, quarrying and grinding equipment; stainless steel; cotton yarn; and academic and scientific books from India are now being allowed into Pakistan. These measures follow other enabling steps, such as facilitation by both countries of trade across the Wagah border and the increasing use of rail transport as a vehicle for trade.
These steps not only signify a new era in Indo-Pak trading relations, but as a result will also usher in a new age of diplomacy and peace between the two countries. Pakistan's willingness to repose trust in India as a conveyor of essential inputs can be interpreted as a goodwill gesture and an olive branch; a country will surely not go to war with another on which its economic interests depend crucially.
The time has also come for India to respond generously. While the mentioned non-tariff barriers cannot be relaxed by India for just one country, the Indian government can help in alleviating information constraints about potential importables from Pakistan. Similarly, infrastructure improvements like wider roads, more spacious truck depots and warehouses near the Wagah border, as well as a reduction in time involved in customs and related procedures, might help. These constitute possible demand and supply side drivers of an increase in imports from Pakistan.
Apart from the productivity enhancing and cost-reducing effect of greater trade between the two countries, consumers too will benefit. Many goods that now fall in the category of non-tradables in both countries might become tradable as borders become more porous to goods and services over time. The resulting competition transcending national boundaries would surely imply lower prices and higher quality, resulting in greater consumer welfare.
The possibility that India will not reciprocate also exists. There is a temptation to let Pakistan make all the liberalising moves and benefit through the expanding trade surplus, and the lopsided relationship that it might imply. However, this is not an advisable course of action, because Pakistan might be forced to retract its steps if it does not get a reciprocal response from India.
(The writers work with CUTS International, Jaipur.
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Knowing the fault lines
The low prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding is a significant contributor to the infant deaths in Pakistan
By Dr Zaeemul Haq
Millions are spent on breastfeeding promotion in connection with the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) from August 1-7 every year. This week is celebrated throughout the world since 1992 with the objective of promoting the knowledge that breast milk is the best for the baby, her mother and the earth. A number of activities -- such as public walks, press briefings, seminars, TV talk shows, street theatre and other events -- are held to highlight the issue. The WBW also provides an opportunity to assess whether the promotional efforts have been successful in setting breastfeeding as a norm in society.
Breast milk is the most comprehensive of all the natural foods. Not only it ensures physical growth and prevents disease, it also provides the micro-nutrients essential for the development of brain and lays the structural basis for the infant's intelligence. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends initiation of breastfeeding within first hour of birth and continuing exclusive breast milk as the single and most appropriate nutrition for the first six months of the infant's life. Adding other types of milk or semi-solids not only deprives the infant of the advantages of breast milk, it also introduces him/her to disease-causing agents. According to estimates, 10-50 percent of infant deaths in the developing countries can be averted with the help of simple, home-based and cost-effective measures, such as exclusive breastfeeding.
The data from Pakistan reports an unsatisfactory situation in this regard. According to the most recent Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS, 2006-07), only 29 percent of newborns are given breast milk within one hour of their birth, while the remaining two-thirds are given other things, including milk, ghuttee, honey, tea, herbs, etc. The number of breastfed babies, however, rises to 70 percent within one day and 85 percent at one month of age, but all of them are not exclusively breastfed in accordance with WHO recommendations.
Other feeds are also added; as a result, only 55 percent of infants at two months of age get exclusive breast milk. The number plummets to 37 percent at six months, according to the PDHS. This figure has been questioned by some experts, but even if true, it is far from the recommended 100 percent at that point in time. This low prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding is a significant contributor to the infant deaths in the country. The high number (78/1000 live births) of children dying before completing the first year of their life is unacceptable, and can be reduced by simple and cost-effective interventions, such as early initiation of breastfeeding followed by its continuation up to six months of the infant's life.
Promotion of breastfeeding should not be difficult in a culture and society like ours. Majority of our population lives closer to the nature in rural areas. People of these areas -- where naturally available foods like daal (lentils), roti (bread) and ghee are preferred over processed food products -- logically accept breast milk as the most appropriate nutrition for their infants.
For that matter, even the urban populace has this knowledge and belief that breast milk is the best that a mother can give to her baby. The high rate (85 percent) of breastfeeding at one month of infants' age testifies to this. What then happens to these staunch believers when their babies cross the second month of life? Why other forms of milk start making their appearance on the baby's menu and, by the sixth month, only a little more than one-third of the infants get exclusive breast milk in our country?
Before embarking upon these questions, let us review the efforts carried out to promote and protect breastfeeding in Pakistan! The promotional campaigns have used hospital-based, as well as community-outreach strategies. The Baby Friendly Hospitals Initiative, conceptualised during the 1990s, aimed at providing counselling sessions on breastfeeding to the mothers. Subsequently, it was realised that the mothers coming to the baby-friendly hospitals for treatment of their sick babies were unable to properly receive the counselling on an issue that to their minds was not important at that time. More emphasis, therefore, was given to the counselling on breastfeeding during pregnancy.
In addition, a community outreach programme was initiated by the Ministry of Health in the name of National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care. More pregnant women were reached out and counselled at the household level by the lady health workers of this programme to promote early and exclusive breastfeeding. These efforts, coupled with messaging through the mass media, have had considerable effect on the overall situation, because exclusive breastfeeding at two months of age has increased from 27 percent in 1990-91 to 55 percent in 2006-07.
With the strengthening of civil society and rights-based organisations in Pakistan, protection of breastfeeding also gained popularity. It was realised that in the absence of any regulatory mechanisms, infant formula manufacturers were successfully pushing their products into the 'feeding baskets' of our children. With the passage of time, they have very subtly created and popularised terms like 'Meiji Baby' and 'Glaxo Baby', as analogous to 'Healthy Baby'. Continued lobbying at various levels resulted in the promulgation of Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Ordinance 2002.
Owing to the vicious networking of infant formula industry and feeble voice of consumers in Pakistan, this important piece of legislation is still awaiting formulation of rules and regulations for implementation. The lack of people's voice demanding for implementation of this law has been a crucial factor, and this is where promoters and protectors of breastfeeding have stumbled in the past. They have not gone deep enough to see why the percentage of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their babies came down from 85 percent to 37 percent in only four months? There must be some strong perceptions and beliefs leading the mothers to discontinue the habit of exclusive breastfeeding.
Surprisingly, only a few small studies have tried to explore the factors that cause discontinuation of exclusive breastfeeding among the Pakistani mothers. Most striking among these is a mother's false perception that she is not producing enough quantity of milk. She develops this perception because her baby cries in demand of the breastfeed, avidly takes it and falls asleep after the feed or plays for a while only to raise the demand once again after some time.
Ignorant of the fact that mother's milk gets digested and assimilated quickly to ensure the availability of all the nutritive requirements to the growing body, the mother thinks perhaps she is producing an inadequate quantity of milk. This false perception is reinforced by other family members, who also had the similar belief while they were feeding their babies. Unfortunately, this reinforcement is also provided by the health providers. In their busy schedule, in which not much time is left for counselling, or sometimes because of other motives, they also validate this perception and readily prescribe some substitute.
Another important finding is the mother's exhausted physical and emotional state immediately after birth, because of which other people become the first care-givers for the newborn baby. These family members holding the driving seat are not routinely involved in the counselling sessions on exclusive breastfeeding during pregnancy. As a result, they make decisions about the baby's feeding according to their best knowledge and capability. Delaying the first breastfeed to give ghuttee, some other milk, tea or honey, which occurs in two-thirds of the cases, is an important consequence. Continuing the other milk that was given as the first feed or adding it along with breast milk has been observed in many of these infants.
Working mothers who do not or cannot take their babies to their workplace are another important segment contributing to the large percentage of babies deprived of exclusive breastfeeding after two months. According to estimates, Pakistani women contribute 20 percent of total earned income in the country. About 70 percent of economically-active women in urban areas work in the informal sector, where they are financially exploited and have no protection of labour laws. With increasing poverty, those breastfeeding are faced with the challenge of either to continue their jobs or exclusively breastfeed their babies. The fact that an increasing number of infants are getting additional feeds at two months clearly tells who emerges as the winner.
The lack of attention to proper counselling on part of the health care providers also has a huge impact on the situation. A number of studies have shown that health care providers are considered as the most reliable source of health information. Their opinion is considered as a decree in the health matters. Their lack of attention to dispel the false perceptions regarding breast milk, and the habit of quickly prescribing a substitute, is a big setback to the cause of exclusive breastfeeding in the country. Some of the studies have also pointed out a lack of knowledge among them regarding the current guidelines on problems that have a public health implication. In a study conducted in 2007, the knowledge of medical students regarding the recommended duration of exclusive breastfeeding was found to be poor, with one-third absolutely clueless on the issue.
Other factors include the fear that breastfeeding will distort the mother's silhouette and make her body un-shapely, the subliminal yet continued promotion of breast milk substitutes by the infant formula companies, the shyness felt by the mother in breastfeeding her baby in the presence of other people, and the perceived comfort of mother by introducing substitutes along with breast milk. An in-depth analysis of all these and other possible factors is required in order to implement well-informed and evidence-based promotional campaigns to achieve 100 percent exclusive breastfeeding among infants up to six months of age.
According to State of the World's Children 2007, published by the United Nations Children's Agency (Unicef), in 2005, in Bangladesh, 36 percent of infants under six months of age were exclusive breastfed and the infant mortality rate (infants dying before attaining the age of one) was 54 out of 1,000 live births. In Sri Lanka, 53 percent were given this breastfeed and the infant mortality rate was 26 out of 1,000 live births. In the same year, Pakistan had exclusive breastfeeding percentage at 16 percent and the infant mortality rate of 79 out of 1,000 live births.
Clearly our country needs to significantly improve the rate of exclusive breastfeeding, for which an extensive review of current approaches for breastfeeding promotion and protection is required. Exploring the missing links should be the first step without which all the hard work of community health workers and the creative acumen of the advertising professionals will keep falling through the cracks.
(The writer works with Johns Hopkins University Centre for Communication Programmes.
Genuine efforts are needed for revitalising the state's ability to deliver
By Dr Noman Ahmed
The recent governance norms have vastly changed the value system pertinent to accountability, because the institutional efforts towards unearthing corruption and follow-up prosecution have been erroneously criticised as acts of persecution against the political leadership. With the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) firmly in place and the 'deposed' judiciary on-the-run, the mechanism of financial accountability seems a total non-starter.
It is common sense that those who may have bungled public funds will probably never be brought to justice in such a scenario. The downside of this problem is that the capacity of state institutions has drastically eroded in terms of decision-making, planning, procuring and implementation in all sectors of performance. Therefore, it is logical that, instead of attempting to resurrect financial accountability, efforts must be made to institute performance accountability for revitalising the state's ability to deliver.
Performance review is a modern concept in governance. Enlightened societies have adopted it due to its relevance and effectiveness towards service delivery to taxpayers. In the United States, there had been concerns raised by civil society that governmental accountability was internalised and difficult for the public to monitor. Concept and practice of performance audit was introduced for making the procedures transparent and quick to repair.
Former US President Bill Clinton advised his administration to examine every endeavour for which tax was charged. Based on the progress, he advised to instantly stop practices that did not deliver, and to continue investment in all systems and procedures that were beneficial to service delivery. This approach applied more effectively in the domain of implementation. When we compare the performance review measures and follow-ups in Pakistan, there emerges a completely dismal picture. Whether it is the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) or routine functioning of the state machinery, a thorough assessment is needed to improve the performance.
In the norms of governance, conceptualisation and decision-making are the first steps in any sectoral performance. They are approached in the order of ascending importance. The tasks of utmost urgency are addressed immediately. Colossal flaws can be found in the most vital sectors. In the domain of energy and irrigation water supply, the bureaucrats, technocrats and politicians continued the futile effort to focus on Kalabagh Dam alone. Knowing fully well the consequences of not building water reservoirs for agriculture and other uses, the opportunity of production was lost for at least three decades since the Tarbela Dam was built.
The ongoing global oil crisis has directly hit the power sector, which draws about two-thirds of its production from thermal plants. According to experts, Pakistan has enough hydel power potential to produce more than 40,000-megawatt electricity. Currently, only 16 percent of this potential is being realised due to delayed and flawed decision-making. Munda Dam, which was slated to become operational in 2016, is struggling to come out of snags. The feasibility of this 740-megawatt project was being prepared by an American firm, but it backed out in May 2008. Despite assurances from the concerned federal secretary, it is obvious that the project will not be completed on time.
Basha Dam, which is being built in Chilas, 200 miles upstream of Tarbela, shall take another eight years to complete. It is designed to generate 4,600-megawatt electricity. It may be noted that hydel power is six to eight times cheaper than thermal power. Therefore, increase in hydel capacity shall positively increase the fiscal space available to the country's economic managers. Needless to say, the opportunity cost of delaying dams runs into billions of dollars each year. Somebody has to be held accountable for not taking these vital decisions that are singularly responsible for raising the country's current account deficit unnecessarily.
Development works in Pakistan are largely dependent on contracting procedures. Much of these works in different sectors is carried out by foreign firms or local multi-national outfits. It is empirically found that the value for money output in a vast majority of these projects has been dismal. For instance, the Indus River Systems Authority (IRSA) awarded the contract of installing telemetry system, for generating accurate data on the water losses and other attributes, to a multi-national firm. However, considerable problems evolved thereafter. In short, despite spending Rs350 million on the project, the desired results could not be achieved.
The Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) is another case in point. Probably the largest project of its kind in Asia, the drain has been built with numerous defects that keep affecting its prospective beneficiaries. The extensive operation and maintenance cost of the drain is a serious drag on the exchequer. Besides, the LBOD played havoc during the torrential rains in May 2008, when people had to leave their abodes for safe locations. The World Bank inspection team also acknowledged the defects. These instances call for initiating performance accountability at the decision-making, technical, financial, executive and maintenance levels of the project. Unless we are prepared to take stock of such failings, catastrophes of similar kind are bound to reoccur.
The PSDP is the most important development outlay for the country. The politicians make us believe that by increasing the size of the PSDP, the impact of development shall increase. Theoretically, this should have been the case. But this does not happen on the ground. The loss of funds due to corruption is incredibly high. According to a study done by eminent economists of the country in 1996-97, corruption accounted for more than 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and its impact on the PSDP was even higher.
Another issue is the choice of projects against mutually competing requirements. At this stage also, political considerations seem to have overtaken the actual need of the masses in certain sectors. For instance, the National Highway Programme will receive funds at least three times higher than that of the Pakistan Railways. It is common sense that railways, as a mode of travel, have a direct link with socioeconomic development of the poor and lower-income groups. The Pakistan Railways also suffered tremendous losses in December 2007 riots following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. A plain performance analysis of the two modes can unveil the better value for money that railways can generate, both at the capital and operational cost levels.
A major issue in the performance failures and consequent loss of funds is at the level of micro-contracts. The lane sewers, water supply schemes, access roads, small buildings, repair works and replacement of tertiary infrastructure are some examples in this connection. Many research studies have established that much of these works are awarded on the basis of political gratification to the selected individuals, who mostly do not have the technical and managerial ability to handle such affairs. Though the loss of amount seems to be small, it has a grave implication on the quality of life of the targeted population and their productive outputs.
For instance, if a farm-to-market road is poorly constructed, it adds transportation cost factor to the produce of the farmers. A cumulative effect of this shortcoming has a bearing on the selling price of the agricultural produce. Similarly, an inaccurately constructed sewerage line can cause spread of diseases that may raise the domestic health care expenditures unnecessarily.
The mechanism of technical audit is almost no-existent at the district or tehsil level, thus the problem continues to grow out of proportion. Fiddling with the contract award procedures has miserably failed in the past, given our peculiar sociopolitical linkages. The best way of tackling this problem is to build the technical and financial capacity of small-scale contractors to execute the assigned works in a technically perfect manner. In short, the administration must venture to increase the performance outputs from whosoever wins the contracts.
An untapped resource
Is the federal government doing enough to help Sindh develop the Thar coal reserves?
By Shahid Shah
Commenting on the federal government's decision to take control of the Sindh Coal Authority, Nazar Hussain, a former political activist, says the Centre has no interest in taking care of the federating units. The federal government, he adds, repealed a notification of handing over the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to the Interior Ministry, showing its inability to act against the premier spy agency, but it can easily swallow up the provincial resources.
The federal government, through a notification from the Prime Minister's Secretariat on July 8, took control of the Sindh Coal Authority from the provincial government. The authority was established under the Sindh Coal Authority Act, 1993, and was governed through a board headed by the Sindh minister for Mines and Minerals. The federal government also abolished the Thar Coal Mining Company, a joint venture of the federal and Sindh governments.
Following in the footsteps of the previous government, which took control of two of Sindh's islands -- Buddo (Dingi) and Bundal (Bhundhaar) -- and signed a controversial contract with a United Arab Emirates (UAE) firm to develop them, this is the first blow to the provincial autonomy by the current federal government.
Sindh has almost 98 percent coal reserves of the country. Of the 185 billion tonnes of coal deposits in the province, more than 175 billion tonnes are in Thar alone. Sindh coal is ranked lignite, which is used for power generation around the world. The Thar coal deposits are sufficient to cater to the country's fuel requirements for centuries and can generate more than 100,000-megawatt electricity.
Though Pakistan's power generation from coal has been reduced to less than one percent from more than 30 percent at the time of the subcontinent's partition, the natural resource is still used as the main fuel for power generation in the United States, Germany, China, India, South Africa and Australia. Coal provides more than 23 percent of the global primary energy needs and generates nearly 39 percent of the world's electricity.
The federal government's decision to develop a 'one window' department on Thar coal is being seen as an attempt to undermine provincial resources, because direct foreign investment has been invited for the project. The Prime Minister's Secretariat's notification says the federal government will technically empower the provincial government on coal development and power generation. Provincial officials, however, believe that the decision is aimed at swallowing up the big chunk of investment that is likely to land in future.
The Sindh government recently received investment offers of $2.5 billion from reputed national and international agencies in response to an invitation for expression of interest, issued by the Sindh Mines and Minerals Department. The Thar coal project has the potential to generate 1,000-megwatt electricity. According to Engineer Naseer Memon, the mining capacity can be increased from six million tonnes to 30 million tonnes annually to generate 5,000-megwatt electricity. This alone ensures that the project will draw attention of the investors.
This thinking gets support from the proposed formation of the Thar Coal Authority. The authority will comprise seven members, four of whom will be from the federal government. Sindh will nominate a professional or a technocrat as the authority's chairperson and one of its ministers as a member, while the vice-chairman of the authority will be the federal minister for Water and Power. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and secretary Ministry of Water and Power will also be members of the Thar Coal Authority.
Sindh government officials believe that with exception of two members to be chosen by the provincial government, the remaining five members will be 'imposed' by the federal government and they will dominate the decisions of the authority. Sindh is not the only province that has reservations about the federal government taking control of its resources. Balochistan is also a major victim. The late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti lost his life demanding a fair royalty for the Balochs from the Sui gas fields.
Analysts also view that the notification of the federal government had no legal authority. There are two legislative lists under the 1973 Constitution: Federal Legislative List and the Concurrent List. Items not mentioned in the two lists are considered as provincial subjects. Not mentioned in any of the lists, coal remains a provincial subject too. The aforementioned notification, therefore, is constitutionally invalid, Memon observes.
On the other hand, the Sindh Cabinet convened an emergency meeting and established the Sindh Coal Board with the province's chief minister as its head. The Cabinet demanded that the control over the Thar coal reserves should remain with the provincial government. The federal government's decision has provided the nationalist forces of the smaller provinces, who usually blame Punjab for usurping their rights, with another issue. This will prove to be another setback to the inter-provincial trust, views one analyst.
Sindhi politicians, writers and intellectuals have demanded that the control over the authority and coal royalty should remain with the province; otherwise, it would increase the feeling of deprivation among the inhabitants of the province. There have already been many protest demonstrations against the federal government's decision.
Addressing the government of Pakistan, members of the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan, as well as all the citizens of the world, Sindhi politicians and writers demanded through an online petition that the recent announcement by the Government of Pakistan to establish an Islamabad-based Sindh Coal Authority be retracted immediately. They believed that the rightful owners of the vast coal deposits in the Thar region were the people of the province and the recent action of the federal governments was illegal and unconstitutional.
The head office of the authority should continue to be based in Karachi and the majority of members should be appointed by the Sindh government. "The proposed composition of the authority, that four out of its five members will be federal government appointees, is totally unacceptable," said the petition. The petitioners called the federal government's action a serious violation of the Constitution of Pakistan and an attempt to secure control over the provincially-owned natural resources.
If the provincial government surrenders to the pressure of the federal government, they warned, the people of Sindh will oppose any decision taken that do not protect Sindhi interests by holding public demonstrations and conducting hunger strikes. The international companies must realise the immense risk they would be taking by engaging with a federally appointed agency, because the formation of such an authority might be declared illegal by the courts in future.
Dr Ali Akbar M Dhakan, a local writer, says the federal Cabinet's decision of setting up the Thar Coal Authority, after abolishing the Sindh Coal Authority, is a blow to the provincial autonomy. He adds that the federal government and the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) are not serious in the development of the Thar coal deposits. "The treatment meted out by the federal government to Shenhua Group Corporation, a Chinese company, forced the latter to roll back its $1.5 billion investment plan after it had already shipped heavy machinery for drilling coal in Thar," he alleges.
The change for which the masses voted on February 18 is still
nowhere in sight
By E Anwar
Despots prefer rubberstamp assemblies: on the one hand, they can be presented by them as semblance of democratic dispensation to the outside world; while, on the other hand, they can be used to endorse and legitimise their whimsical decisions without any hindrance. This is the only way they can enjoy absolute authority without any corresponding responsibility.
Musharraf had one such assembly; Zardari has found another. This was despite the fact that the people of Pakistan had overwhelmingly voted for a change on February 18 and wanted all the decisions to be taken in the Parliament, not knowing that the new assembly would too be used on the pattern of the outgoing one. The prime minister has virtually turned out to be a spokesperson for Zardari and the assembly a rubberstamp.
Zardari House, located in a posh sector of Islamabad, has become the actual hub of all activities with its occupant taking all the important decisions, which otherwise should have been taken by the parliament. Cabinet members as well as top state functionaries depend on Zardari House for continuation in their respective offices and seek instructions from the same, instead of doing so from the Prime Minister's Secretariat.
Similarly, the so-called exile group was accommodated as ambassadors-at-large and on other lucrative positions at the behest of Zardari House. Still worse is the fact that the prime minister himself is not interested in asserting his authority and seems fully contended with whatever he is having now. Take, for example, the case of the 'deposed' judges! Gilani openly says that he can issue the notification of their restoration within no time if ordered by Zardari to this effect. He seems to be forgetting the fact that he, and not Zardari, is the chief executive of the country, in which capacity he is supposed to take decisions in the best interest of Pakistan with the only requirement of consulting the Parliament in the process.
An assembly is as effective and independent as its members. On the same analogy, the current assembly is no more than a mere showpiece, with all the important decisions being taken outside it. For instance, the prime minister was on a renaming spree a few days ago. Virtually each and everything was named after the late Benazir Bhutto and even December 27, when the twice former prime minister was assassinated, was declared as a national holiday, yet Gilani did not bother to follow the prescribed procedures or consult the Parliament on the issue. Rawalpindi saw its important landmarks being named after Benazir Bhutto. Has the prime minister obtained the consent of the residents of the city in any way, especially when majority of them are not PPP supporters, as is evident by the voting pattern of the last general elections?
Similarly, death sentences are awarded to perpetrators of most heinous crimes, yet the prime minister commuted these sentences to life imprisonment in the same go, again without consulting the National Assembly of which he is the leader. His only concern seems to be the will and the desires of Zardari. In the process, he has disappointed his fellow Pakistanis who had been made to believe that Gilani was not a yes man, by quoting in the media some of the events from his past, and would take decisions that he deemed appropriate. When even seemingly insignificant decisions are not being taken in the Parliament, what to talk of the vital ones, such as operation in the tribal areas, cooperation with the United States, the proposed constitutional package, the local government system, etc?
Take, for example, the devolution plan. The issue was debated at length in the National Assembly a couple of weeks ago. An overwhelming majority of parliamentarians demanded the abolition of the current local government system and favoured going back to the Local Government Ordinance of 1979, which they considered a better piece of legislation. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) members were at the forefront of making this demand, but one fine morning the newspapers carried the statement of Zardari that he wanted to continue with the current local government system.
Within no time, the tone and tenor of PPP members changed; they took a U-turn and stopped talking of going back to the old local government system. One would like to know from Zardari that who is the decision-making authority in the current set-up? In a parliamentary democracy, the parliament represents the will of the people and takes decision on their behalf. Then why does Zardari thrust his decisions on the representative body of the people of Pakistan? In other words, what else is dictatorship?
Similarly, Kalabagh Dam was considered as the thorniest issue the country was faced with, but instead of having discussed it in detail in the Parliament, the relevant minister chose to declare the fate of such an important project in an ordinary press conference. Zardari has maintained so much hold on the decision-making that whenever he goes on a foreign trip, which he does very often, the decision-making comes to a virtual halt in the country.
Even the diplomatic community in Islamabad is clueless as to whom should they consult in times of need and this fact was also pointed out in one of the recent editions of 'The New York Times'. The adventurers having long-term ambitions within the folds of the Pakistan Army must have been laughing up their sleeves: was this the democracy people of Pakistan had been longing for years? But in this era of awareness and information, the people of Pakistan cannot be taken for a ride.
(The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist.
Shifting the burden of its responsibilities on withholding agents, the federal government remains insensitive to their woes
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq
"The only people who do not have to pass the Civil Services exam to work for the government are the withholding agents." (Anon) The federal government retains two percent as collection charges from all the provincial governments on General Sales Tax on Services, which it collects on their behalf (Para 9.6 at page 42 of Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts 2006-2007).
On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is also a signatory. Following this historic act, the UN General Assembly called upon all member countries to publicise the text of the Declaration, and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories." The failure to implement these instructions by the Pakistani authorities is another ghastly, grisly and hideous story.
Article 7 of the Declaration reads: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination." This principle is also enshrined in Article 4 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In civilised societies, laws are supposed to apply equally to all the citizens and legal entities, without even an iota of doubt that one segment of society of class of people is being given preference over another.
Though such an ideal situation appears utopia, yet the responsible and representative governments, wherever possible, try to implement these. One finds no apparent or plausible justification for their non-enforcement. For example, it would be incorrect to accuse a hangman for murder or manslaughter when he pulls the noose around the neck of a convict, because he is merely carrying out the court's instructions; or to file a case against a police officer for assault and battery where he attempts to arrest a criminal, because he too is just performing his duty. No doubt, some laws may have different implications for different people, but generally there is a consensus that they should be non-discriminatory.
The implication of this is that barring a few issues related to essential services, what is good for the federal government should be equally good for the provincial governments and other corporate / non-corporate bodies too. Hence, if the federal government is entitled to retain two percent as collection charges from all the provincial governments on general sales tax on services, which it collects on their behalf, then other bodies should also have the right to retain the same percentage (if not more) on collections they make on behalf of the federal government. After all, cost incurred to carry out such obligations is separate from the expenses that are borne in the course of normal administration or businesses!
When the federal government has entitled itself to compensation (duly endorsed by the Parliament) for work that it does for others, then what prevents the legislation for similar compensation to those who toil relentlessly in collecting massive amounts of taxes for the Centre's treasury? This (mal)practice on the part of federal government constitutes not only forced labour, which is unlawful under Article 11(3) of the 1973 Constitution, but is also tantamount to modern-day slavery that is prohibited under Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."
One does not have to be a proclaimed slave for falling in the category of victim of slavery. In fact, it is the substance of the matter (nature of a job) that determines emancipation or otherwise. Therefore, when the federal government obligates withholding agents for collection of taxes on its behalf, it must bear in mind that these agents will have to spend substantial money to fulfill the imposed duty. This involves, in case of the corporate sector, an exclusive department with its own set of employees and other infrastructure that consumes a hefty chunk of their gross profit, which eventually leads to reduction in overall business profits and dividends. Of course, if any laxity or default is committed in the course of this bonded labour, then the withholding agents are subjected to penalties, additional taxes and even prosecution.
Shifting the burden of its responsibilities on withholding agents, the federal government has the audacity to remain insensitive to their woes. Over the last few years, it has been observed that with each passing day not only is this burden increasing but strong coercive methods are also being introduced to supervise their activities.
The Finance Act 2008 has inserted a new authority, the Directorate General of Withholding Taxes, in Section 230A of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. This directorate will exercise unbridled, unfettered and unlimited powers in whipping and lashing the 'withholding slaves', forcing them to submit to their masters without as much as raising a meek voice against them, what to talk of demanding some compensation for their labour. How else can a picture of slavery be painted? If this were not bonded labour, then would the government please clarify exactly what is meant by slavery or servitude?
Surprisingly, despite there being a huge department for collection of various taxes and duties, the major portion of revenue target achieved during a fiscal year is dependent upon the efforts of withholding agents. Instead of performing the duty of collecting taxes themselves, the revenue officers are largely engaged in overseeing the work of these agents -- as if they were their employees (or slaves?). Employees of the government earn salaries, but what do slaves get in return? Nothing: only punishment and fear of prosecution even for an inadvertent and small lapse.
It is a pity how an employee of, say the income tax department, can make the life of a withholding agent extremely miserable by his or her arrogance and attitude. There are many instances where withholding agents have been tormented by the presence of such people on their business premises on the pretext of audit and/or examination of accounts related to withholding. All these things could be tolerated if the government was generous enough to compensate these agents by allowing them a cut in the taxes collected by them. This way there would hardly be any grievance.
On the contrary, these agents would perform even better without being threatened of dire consequences. Keeping the corporate psyche in mind, a sensible legislation would greatly enhance revenue collection and reduce the burden of expenses on the withholding agents, guaranteeing a more amiable private-public relationship while upholding the tenets of both the 1973 Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
(The writers, tax advisers, are visiting professors at the Lahore University of
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