analysis
The world in and after
The last year proved just how difficult it will be to bring all of Pakistan's diverse nations together to take power away from the establishment and its cronies
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
For 500 years capitalism has created enclave after enclave of gore and suffering. Yet the powers-that-be have always depicted it as the epitome of everything good about human civilisation. In the 20th century this dominant discourse was challenged, ultimately unsuccessfully, by the experiments of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. With the end of the Cold War the ideologues of imperialism congratulated one another, announcing that there is no alternative to capitalism and liberal democracy. By the end of the last decade it was clear that the mutual back-slapping was premature, but it took 10 years for the bubble to finally burst. And now capitalism faces its biggest crisis of legitimacy since the Great Depression.

firstperson
Missionary zeal
By Zaman Khan
Peter Jacob, a well known human rights activist, is the Executive Director of National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP). Born in 1961 in Khanewal, Peter has worked with many civil society organisations, including the Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) in different capacities. He is the editor of the Human Rights Monitor, which is an annual report on the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan. He has written a number of articles for local and international publications and has several books to his credit on human rights including, Insani Haquq Ka Irtiqa, and Insani Haquq Ka Bainul Aqwami Nizam.

Democracy beyond voting
Growing awareness among the people has instilled in them the courage to hold elected representatives accountable
By Dr Noman Ahmed
After the Supreme Court's verdict that declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) void ab initio, various runners up of the previous elections have become hopeful again. Predictions abound that the nation will be dragged into mid-term elections as those affected by this verdict may not be able to hold the ground. In other words, playing elections appears to be the best pastime of a powerful group of influential, especially those who have earlier lost. They enthusiastically prepare for a fresh bout in any format or form. The local bodies elections, if conducted as per announcement of the Prime Minister, shall make another worth-participating tournament.

governance
Taxes and democracy
The reason why we have failed to establish social democracy is the unwillingness of the rich to pay taxes
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq
Our oppressive tax system that taxes the poor and exempts the rich is playing havoc with the socio-economic fabric of society. Behind the present chaotic socio-economic and political situation in Pakistan, amongst other factors, is an increasing gulf between the rich and the poor. It is shocking that with every passing day more and more people are being pushed below the poverty line -- their total number is now not less that 45 million in a country where rulers unashamedly waste billions of rupees on their personal security and comfort.

Austerity begins at home
A substantial reduction of the current expenditure requires cuts in the size of the government
By Hussain H Zaidi
The federal government has recently approved several austerity measures with a view to containing public expenditure, especially on the non-developmental side. Given the country's economic situation, the decision is a step in the right direction. However, its enforcement will be a real challenge for the government.

PERSONAL POLITICAL
Making windows into men's souls
By Beena Sarwar
Writing this on December 25, 2009, two words come to mind -- 'morality' and 'terrorism'. Flashback to the first Al Qaeda arrest, February, 1995: Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) picks up Ramzi Yousaf, the Kuwaiti-Pakistani behind the 1993 World Trade Center car bomb that killed six people (the target was thousands). His arrest is credited among others to then FIA additional director Rehman Malik (current Minister for the Interior).

industry
Right click
IT businesses suffer in the presence of high tariffs and import of discarded computer hardware
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Just like in the past many years, the government of Pakistan kept on expressing its resolve this year to give a boost to the IT industry. On different occasions the policymakers had termed the sector an engine of growth for the whole economy.

Wrong reflection
Over 40 percent Swiss people opposed the ban on minarets, which means they have no problems living together with the people of other faiths
By Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
There is a topic of sociological and political importance in the context of Christians and Muslims residing in Europe -- Islamophobia; does it really exist? One may come across divergent views while trying to understand the issue. While some would deny it, others would attribute it to the September 11 attacks; some would even associate it with the increased presence of Muslims in the Western world. Whatever may be the causes of this phenomena, one thing is for sure that the gulf of differences between the two sides has swelled rather out of proportions during the past few years, the root cause of which turns out to be the widening communication gap and futility of Muslims and Christians' bodies that have failed to live up to the expectations.

 

 

analysis

The world in and after

The last year proved just how difficult it will be to bring all of Pakistan's diverse nations together to take power away from the establishment and its cronies

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

For 500 years capitalism has created enclave after enclave of gore and suffering. Yet the powers-that-be have always depicted it as the epitome of everything good about human civilisation. In the 20th century this dominant discourse was challenged, ultimately unsuccessfully, by the experiments of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe. With the end of the Cold War the ideologues of imperialism congratulated one another, announcing that there is no alternative to capitalism and liberal democracy. By the end of the last decade it was clear that the mutual back-slapping was premature, but it took 10 years for the bubble to finally burst. And now capitalism faces its biggest crisis of legitimacy since the Great Depression.

That capitalism is prone to crisis is a well-established fact. But the corporate media, educational establishment and culture industry have ensured, till now, that common people remain in the dark intensifying internal contradictions of the system. Now even Barack Obama with his considerable oratory skills is unable to deny that something is wrong. Yet if 2009 was the year in which it became clear just how shaky the house of cards really is, then it was also the year in which desperate attempts to maintain capitalist hegemony were initiated.

The problem, as ever, is that most people around the world are so stultified by the system that they find it difficult to imagine that there is an alternative. We need not look further than our own society to get a sense of just how acute the problem is. The year 2009 was a traumatic year for Pakistan, or at the very least for the innocents who were caught in the crossfire of a new Great Game that is unfolding in the region. For 40 years a complex political economy of war has developed in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the direct intervention of American forces has triggered a terrifying cycle of violence which has little do with ideology and much more to do with deeply vested material interests. Amidst the carnage the already weary people of this country have either become completely convinced of the futility of resistance or have become cannon fodder for the various exclusivist (violent) ideologies that run parallel to imperialist war.

If the expansion of imperialist war is the most obvious face of a system in terminal decline, then the structural violence of neo-liberalism is perhaps more insidious. Pakistan is locked in a downward spiral of debt and exploitation, and in the last year the situation has gone from bad to worse. The exponential increases in prices of basic commodities is just the tip of the iceberg; much more damaging in the long-run is the ruthless exploitation of our already depleted natural resource base and the fast growing pool of under and unemployed labour. Unfortunately, neither mainstream parties nor the intelligentsia appear equipped to understand the scale and nature of the situation, let alone develop an alternative vision.

As it turns out, this lack of vision is at least partially a function of the deepening contradiction between the political and administrative arms of the state. This longstanding tension has coloured our entire 62 years, and it appears that little has changed. The elected government remains convinced that conspiracies are underfoot to undermine it while the military establishment appears unwilling to relinquish any meaningful power. Needless to say, imperialist interventions in this messy internal conflict only exacerbates the underlying structural problem and thereby further marginalising people's power, which is the only genuine force that can guarantee a lasting social contract.

Towards the end of the year many pundits were arguing that the ruling party had played the 'Sindh card' in response to the perceived threats to democracy. Whether it did or not, the point is that the identity crisis of the state remains as acute as ever. It was hoped that the end of dictatorship would mark the beginning of a process of healing but Balochistan continues to burn while the Pakhtun nation is increasingly suspicious about the manner in which it is bearing the brunt of the so-called 'war on terror'. In short, 2009 proved just how difficult it will be to bring all of Pakistan's diverse nations together to take power away from the establishment and its cronies.

In the light of all of these unfolding problems, some observers have been harping on about the existential threat to Pakistan. But this is an old and tired theme. Pakistan will not just collapse. As I mentioned at the outset, the entire world system as we know it is facing a crisis and rather than invoking Armageddon scenarios, serious thinkers and doers must think of the current conjuncture as an opportunity to evolve fresh ideas about a new social order.

This is not just a question of invoking socialism or some other name. In fact, it is about understanding the current trajectory of the human race and recognising that we collectively face very serious challenges in the decades to come. The failure of climate change talks in Copenhagen makes clear that the powers-that-be are not interested in owning up to the problem, because they are implicated so deeply in creating it. But as I suggested earlier, capitalist hegemony survives because ordinary men and women are co-opted into reproducing an exploitative and unsustainable social order. Thus, we collectively must answer the following questions if we want to move beyond the doom and gloom that characterised 2009.

First, is it true, as Margaret Thatcher once infamously noted that there is no such thing as society? In other words, are we not part of collectivity and do we not have collective obligations? Capitalist hegemony is precisely the deeply ingrained belief that there is no expansive collective interest, that individual or parochial group interests are the only interests worth fighting for. Pakistanis are as badly stricken by this 'disease' as any other people in the world, and it is important that we move beyond tired nationalist slogans and engage in some introspection about our collective future.

Second, is human progress measured solely by the acquisition of material things? The well-known anti-colonial thinker, Aime Cesaire, once incisively noted that modern colonialism gave rise to 'thingification', that is, human beings cease to be human beings and instead simply become 'things' (Marx had a parallel argument about commodification and alienation within the capitalist social order). If everything in our world can be sold for a price, including ourselves, then why should we be surprised that we are heading towards implosion?

Third, it is imperative to ask what it means to be human. It is after thousands of years of human struggle that led to the onset of modernity and the tremendous material and social progress that has come with it. But capitalist modernity cannot possibly be the end of the road, because this would mean that we have learnt only how to create only as much as we know how to destroy, and that is surely not the legacy of the human race that we wish to leave behind.

 

firstperson

Missionary zeal

By Zaman Khan

Peter Jacob, a well known human rights activist, is the Executive Director of National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP). Born in 1961 in Khanewal, Peter has worked with many civil society organisations, including the Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD) in different capacities. He is the editor of the Human Rights Monitor, which is an annual report on the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan. He has written a number of articles for local and international publications and has several books to his credit on human rights including, Insani Haquq Ka Irtiqa, and Insani Haquq Ka Bainul Aqwami Nizam.

Besides a degree from Sindh Muslim Law College, Karachi, he also holds a masters degrees in Political Science and Rural Development. Having deep interest in poetry and music, some of his Urdu verses appeared in periodicals and have been composed. NCJP has recently produced a music album Geet Amn ke in six languages of Pakistan under his supervision. He has widely travelled and represented Pakistan at regional and international conferences. TNS sat with Peter Jacob for an interview. Excerpts follow:

 

The News on Sunday: Please tell us about your family, childhood memories, and education.

Peter Jacob: My great grandfather, Partab Singh, converted to Christianity in 1885 and settled in Khushpur in 1901. The village is famous for its Catholic population and is also termed as Vatican City of Pakistan. I was born and raised in Amrit Nagar, a village that is now district Khanewal. Thus, I owe my cultural being to Seraiki influences and take a lot of pride in my Seraiki identity. My paternal and maternal grandfathers were lamberdars, the village head and so were my uncles as their successors. My father, Dildar Jacob, was a farmer and a Catechist. One of my maternal uncles, Mr. G Jacob, represented Lyllapur on the Boundary Commission formed by Sir Zafarullah Khan, the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Contrary to my own stand on the Separate Electorate, two of my nephews, Clement John and Simon Jacob, made it to National Assembly and another nephew Patrick Jacob, who is some times mistaken for me, was member of the Punjab Assembly during the PML (Q) government. However, more than politics, teaching and preaching are family traits.

TNS: How did you become interested in social work?

PJ: During my College days I got involved in students Unions. I owe my learning of social activism partly to my involvement in National Students Federation in 1977. Resistance against the Ziaul Haq regime was quite a passion among students. The year 1978 was my first year in college at Walliat Hussain Degree College, Multan and then I went to Islamia Degree College, Khanewal. Besides public demonstrations and organisational activities, we used to bring out newsletter using cyclostyle machine and distribute in secret. We used to do wall-chalking against the Zia regime at night.

TNS: Who has inspired you?

PJ: Many people, from missionaries that I met and was taught by, my teachers in schools, and my family members. I must say I was lucky to have extremely good and compassionate human beings around me all along. However, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Bishop John Joseph are examples to look at.

TNS: Please tell us about The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), when and where was it established and what are its objectives?

PJ: The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) was established by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference in 1985 and Bishop John Joseph was the founder Chairperson. It was precisely one of the influences brought by the Vatican Council II (1962-65). The church found liberal interpretations of Christianity, scripture and rituals. Moreover, the Social Teachings of the church became more popular. Before NCJP, Idara-Aman-o-Insaf was established in Karachi in 1974, which continued to work until the assassination of six of our colleagues forced its closure in September 2002. They started working on labour rights and then extended its services to other areas. The NCJP involves itself in legal aid, advocacy of rights and human rights education. We are proud to have succeeded in galvanizing the nationwide campaigns for abolition of a column for religion in the National Identity Card (1992) and the separate electorate in (1999-2001). The advocacy for repeal of blasphemy laws is on as well.

TNS: You being a liberal, how and why did you opt for joining an organisation run by priests?

PJ: People tend to ignore that church in the Third World and in the 21st century is not a medieval-age entity. It has a different role and character. There is a part in the Catholic Church that accommodates new influences and ideologies. I get a lot of freedom in planning and implementing my activities. I was given this space in 1987, though relatively small, when I joined NCJP in Multan. Now already 22 years in this work, I would say that it has been a marvelous experience. Shortcomings apart, there is continuity and seriousness in work with Church bodies.

TNS: What is the situation of minorities in Pakistan, particularly Christians?

PJ: The good thing about the Christian community in Pakistan is that despite hard circumstances it is a struggling and politically alive community. This shows that people have not lost all hope. However, the laws and policies framed during the 1970s and 80s are highly discriminatory. Religious minorities have become socially and economically weaker as a result. Therefore, most Christians and Hindus belong to the poorest strata. They live in social isolation and political marginalisation due to various policies. The institutionalised discrimination in educational policy and institutions -- hospital, workplace and even in jail -- translates into widespread social discrimination. The hate speech against minorities in the print and electronic media, through publications and loudspeakers continues unchecked.

This year, for instance, several attacks on the Christian community and loss of life instilled a sense of insecurity among all religious minorities. Another big issue is assimilation of the minorities. They face gradual extinction, demographically and as a separate sub-culture. The hard social environment and conversions have brought Kalash, Buddhists, and Parsi communities to a point where they will hardly survive another twenty years perhaps.

TNS: How do you look at the Constitution of Pakistan?

PJ: Although the Constitution of Pakistan calls for ensuring equality of all citizens before law and participation in national life, however, the same Constitution barred members of minority community from holding the offices of President and Prime Minister. Laws and policies made on sectarian lines breed more intolerance in society, which needs to be amended to eliminate all degrees of discriminations and biases. In particular, law of evidence, hudood laws, and the blasphemy laws sanction discrimination against religious minorities. In November 2009, NCJP sent its recommendation to the Constitutional Reforms Committee, as the Committee has no representation from women and minorities. There are other issues relating to the identity of the state, parity among citizens, provincial autonomy, and gender equality that needs to be addressed before the Constitution can become a viable document. The constitution must certainly have a definition of discrimination while declaring the contradictory provisions as unlawful.

TNS: How do you look at blasphemy laws?

PJ: The five sections (295 B, C, 298, A, B and C) inducted in the Pakistan Penal Code undemocratically during the 1980s have made everyone insecure. These laws are open to abuse as shown in incidents in Shantinagar, Sangla Hill, Gojra, Korian, Kasur and Sialkot. The draft of these laws fails to meet standard safety procedures for justice, thus religious minorities were persecuted and victimised. The number of Muslim victims under these laws is also very high. These laws should be repealed as early as possible.

TNS: Some people say if you are a rich Christian you are acceptable. It is a class problem?

PJ: This is correct. Caste and class biases can be found in many societies. Nevertheless, societies make efforts and plans to eliminate such biases. There is no doubt that religion becomes a tool for manipulation by the state and politics, the scope for religious freedom, especially for smaller groups. The government needs to raise the economic status of marginalised groups through focused development initiatives.

TNS: How do you view the joint electorate? Some people say it is just on paper and that minorities are still discriminated against?

PJ: I have no doubt that joint electorate is a big leap forward in ending the religious apartheid in the political order. The discrimination at the level of electorate has ended. The Ahmadis are still discriminated against they have separate electoral lists. Discrimination in other areas should also be fought with matching response.

TNS: Some people say many Christians look towards the West and have some 'connection' with it.

PJ: I think the fact that relatives of some Christians study abroad does not make an issue nor is this specific to Christians. If you look at the contribution made by Christians in different fields, especially in health and education, it is evident that they love their motherland and own their local identity. I think being a nationalist does not require to be anti-West. Sharing religion with the West does not make people pro-West.

TNS: Christians played a very important role in the creation of Pakistan. Being Christian do you have hope in the future of Pakistan?

PJ: If democracy succeeds there is hope and there will be a future. The challenges are huge and so is the people's will. Informed participation in the business of the state can improve the situation. Pakistan must capitalise on the democratic process and international attention.

TNS: How should we fight against discrimination?

PJ: Pakistan needs a broad-based reforms package. Constitutional, legal, and policy reforms can set an agenda for social transformation. Discrimination of all kinds and manifestations are interconnected. An open and civilised society must fight them altogether. A good start can be made by taking out religious biases and discriminations in the syllabus and education policy. Unfortunately, the current draft of the policy does not pay attention to this. We are appealing to the government to review draft of the current education policy to remove religious discrimination.

TNS: How did you develop interest in music?

PJ: Yes, I love every aspect of a song -- poetry, instruments, vocals, everything. I write poems, and facilitate compositions and productions.

TNS: Why sometimes Christians behave like 'religious right' in Pakistan. They demanded a ban on the screening of Da Vinci Code.

PJ: Yes, there are all sorts of influences on minorities but such expressions are orchestrated at times. Take this film, Da Vinci Code. Pakistan is the only country in the world that banned the screening. There was no big movement or public demonstration by the Christian. Still, action was taken on one statement in a protest demonstration. On the other hand, there

are issues that affect minorities badly and there have been demands in all democratic ways made over the decades and the governments would not pay any attention to them. So, what happened was that some government functionaries and their allies in religio-political parties in Pakistan, who thought banning this film would be handy to strengthen their stand against the blasphemy issue, engineered this impression that Christians were asking for a ban. The establishment has always had their people and inroads among the minorities.

 

Democracy beyond voting

Growing awareness among the people has instilled in them the courage to hold elected representatives accountable

By Dr Noman Ahmed

After the Supreme Court's verdict that declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) void ab initio, various runners up of the previous elections have become hopeful again. Predictions abound that the nation will be dragged into mid-term elections as those affected by this verdict may not be able to hold the ground. In other words, playing elections appears to be the best pastime of a powerful group of influential, especially those who have earlier lost. They enthusiastically prepare for a fresh bout in any format or form. The local bodies elections, if conducted as per announcement of the Prime Minister, shall make another worth-participating tournament.

The polity in Pakistan appears to show great keenness in electoral process whenever it is unfolded for public participation. Whether it is the national elections or the franchise episode of a small-scale trade union, the participation of different cadres of stakeholders sometimes crosses limits of normalcy.

In important national events, such as national and provincial elections, bands of supporters of competing candidates resort to hooliganism, violence and quasi-terror tactics. Political leaders and other harbingers of democracy consider these happenings as usual norms of democratic culture. But a stronger set of counter arguments set forth the actual agenda to further this debate.

Does voting process represent the entire spread of democracy? If no, why avid participation and consequent enthusiasm of ordinary people does not move beyond rudimentary attributes of electioneering? And how the essential ingredients of democracy can be revived and linked up with the polity? These points can become the baseline for any regime that is genuinely interested in engaging the masses in promoting democracy in its true spirit. A test case thus emanates for the present regime in power.

The voting process and the entire sphere of electioneering is part of democracy, and not the whole democracy itself. The frenzy of the common folks around the elections process is often misconstrued by many stakeholders. The party wizards think that by instigating electioneering frenzy, they can get their clandestine designs executed. On the other hand, the 'establishment' seems to believe that the masses can be tricked into participating in any kind of voting process by trumping up voting games as democracy. These bluffs often fall apart.

The fašade of holding referendum by General Ziaul Haq and Musharraf became reasons of embarrassment for both the regimes. It is abundantly clear that the collective wisdom practised by the silent majority is wholesome in nature. They elect representatives with an expectation that their problems will be resolved through legislative input, political intervention, deliberation, and lobbying. Growing awareness among the people has instilled in them the courage to hold elected representatives accountable. For example, women in Talhar area in Badin district recently held demonstration to obtain gas connections in their taluka. The legislators had to agree to cooperate with them.

The understanding and fusion of democratic norms in various institutional frameworks and organisations is another benefit of a democratic culture. Statutory professional bodies, such as Pakistan Engineering Council, Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, and Bar Associations are a few examples. When elections are properly conducted and candidates contest on the basis of carefully prepared programmes of action, the performance and conduct of these bodies improves.

Worker unions and trade bodies are found shackled under the influence of main political parties. Due to this handicap, the agenda of real progress and policies of welfare are seldom pursued. Collective Bargaining Agents (CBA) elections in utilities and national organisations such as the airline and railways are overwhelmed by political interest groups. The dubious performance of these bodies constitutes a moot point for deliberation and research.

From working perspective, certain key parameters can be used to measure the existence and performance of a true democratic mechanism in a specified context. The existence of an up-to-date legal framework, institutionalised decision making process, operational transparency, financial accountability and open reporting are some cardinal variables. Unfortunately, our national and provincial administrations fall short on key counts. For instance, no major party -- with very few exceptions -- has a credible process of party elections. At best, these parties are family fiefdoms which do not promote open-ended leadership development.

Decision-making in these parties is entirely whimsical and controlled by party chiefs. No research organisations or think-tanks inform the leadership about policy options and strategic measures. Not much change has been experienced on other counts of national performance. Barring a few outfits, the NGOs and other bodies are tightly controlled by individuals or groups.

Elections to the governing body of arts council in Karachi is a case in point where the second generation of groups traditionally contest against each other. In respect to transparency and accountability, the less said the better. A milestone will be achieved when at least the audited accounts of all political parties, institutions with publicly elected representatives or public organisations are made accessible.

 

governance

Taxes and democracy

The reason why we have failed to establish social democracy is the unwillingness of the rich to pay taxes

By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq

Our oppressive tax system that taxes the poor and exempts the rich is playing havoc with the socio-economic fabric of society. Behind the present chaotic socio-economic and political situation in Pakistan, amongst other factors, is an increasing gulf between the rich and the poor. It is shocking that with every passing day more and more people are being pushed below the poverty line -- their total number is now not less that 45 million in a country where rulers unashamedly waste billions of rupees on their personal security and comfort.

The greatest weakness of governance in Pakistan is denying the poor of their fundamental rights and socio-economic justice. During the last many months, due to persistent high inflation, the poor have lost whatever little purchasing power they used to have. Adding insult to injury, the government, instead of giving them any relief, has been resorting to unprecedented indirect taxes leading to further increase in their miseries. The worsening plight of the poor is not because of shortage in revenues or available state resources -- as propagated by the rulers to shift blame on others -- but is largely due to wasteful expenses on the part of the rulers and their hand-picked bureaucracy.

The reasons why we have failed to establish social democracy in Pakistan is the unwillingness of the rich -- controlling the state and its resources -- to pay taxes. A sustainable democracy and responsible government is not possible in a state where the politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and the rich openly defy tax laws and contribute negligibly for the poorer segments of society. For example, those who matter in the land -- grab state lands in the name of rewards and what not -- have colossal wealth and incomes, but pay little income tax to the extent of salaried income and on retirement nothing, as pension is tax free.

Let somebody in the national parliament amass courage to ask for declaration of assets of all the serving and retired generals so that the nation knows how they get enormous wealth and how much tax do they pay. But before doing this the parliamentarians will have to start with themselves. First of all they should make public their declarations of taxes paid during the last ten years. Also, law should be passed requiring public disclosure of assets and liabilities of judges and high-ranking civil officials amongst others. Political parties -- as in India -- should be required to file tax returns otherwise would become liable to taxation. These acts, if taken, will be the first streaks of dawn of good governance, rule of law and transparency in Pakistan.

Annual declarations of assets and liabilities filed by the elected representatives before the Election Commission of Pakistan, drawing nothing more than ridicule in the print and electronic media, show how callous our elected representatives (sic) are towards fulfilling their tax obligations. What makes the situation more painful is unwillingness of tax authorities to issue them notices. By declaring meagre resources, the parliamentarians have admitted that they are enjoying extraordinary lavish living either at the expense of taxpayers' money or from ill-gotten wealth -- in both cases a state of shamelessness prevails. How ironic that the people who are elected and paid to enact laws and enforce rule of law are the worst tax offenders.

The absentee landlords, who dominate Pakistani parliaments -- not numerically but due to political clout -- collectively earn billions of rupees without any personal efforts. They thrive economically and politically on the tough labour of millions of landless tillers, who in some cases are their followers (murids) as well. These feudal lords, functioning under various names (pirs, sardars, waderas, khans, jagirdars, etc) individually earn millions of rupees by just leasing out their orchards. Interestingly, they pay no income tax on this income, which for their benefit is declared exempt under the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 as "agricultural income" (sic).

The parliament can amend the definition of "agricultural income" to tax such receipts. But, the strong lobby in parliament frustrates any such move under the pretext that it falls outside the competence of the Centre. It is a farce. Nowhere in the world income of orchards is classified as agricultural income as it does not arise from basic cultivation operations. Interestingly, the pirs get nazranas (gifts) from their poor murids as tax free receipts. But, the employees pay tax even on notional income if they get interest-free or concessional loans from their employers. Even a widow, earning below taxable income of Rs. 99,999 as profit from government saving scheme, is paying Rs. 9,999 as tax.

Will the top notches of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) ever tax the wealthy classes? The rich and mighty sell lands periodically and huge profits are claimed as tax-free capital gains arising out of disposal of immovable property, which cannot be taxed under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. This is merely an eyewash and blatantly wrong interpretation of law.

These profits are "adventure in the nature of trade" under section 2(9) read with section 18 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 and, therefore, taxable. But the FBR officials are not inclined to tax them -- though it is their legal obligation -- perhaps from fear of prosecution or connivance in minting money for them. The big stock exchange mafia, managing funds of the mighty, every year easily gets exemption on capital gains. FBR lost tax of over Rs. 500 billion on this account alone in the last three years. In our society, the poor are forced to pay 16 percent sales tax on almost all items they consume, including branded salt, but the rich and mighty avoid and evade personal taxes with impunity.

Taxes play a vital role for the establishment of an egalitarian society, a true fruit of social democracy. In developed countries the rich are taxed at a high rate so that social services can be provided to all, especially to less privileged sectors of the society. In Pakistan, on the contrary, the poor have been burdened with more and more taxes. What makes the situation more painful is the fact that taxes collected are squandered by the rulers on their personal comforts and luxuries while the masses get nothing in return for what they pay to the state.

The state has miserably failed to discharge its basic obligation of protecting life and property of its people, what to talk of extending social services free of cost. Taxes collected are largely being used to provide for debt serving, defence, for the security and foreign tours of the rulers; besides regressive taxation the government resorts to borrowing money from wherever available to run day to day affairs.

Rulers of the day are not inclined to live like a common man and surrender all the perks and privileges they are enjoying at the cost of taxpayers' money. Rather, they are heavily burdening the masses with more and more indirect taxes. Incidence on the poor has increased by 32 percent during the last five years whereas on the rich it has decreased by 19 percent. The existing ill-directed, illogical, regressive and unfair tax system is widening the existing divide between the rich and the poor. The sole stress on indirect taxation (even under the garb of income taxation through presumptive tax regime on goods and services) without evaluating its impact on the economy and the life of poor people is a lamentable policy.

In the name of higher growth in tax collection, the economic and social fabric of society is being destroyed. Can democracy flourish in these circumstances? Democracy and taxes are interconnected as the concept of modern egalitarian state emerges from the sovereign right of the parliament to levy taxes and spend them for public welfare.

 

The writers, authors of many books and tax advisers, are members of Visiting Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

 

Austerity begins at home

A substantial reduction of the current expenditure requires cuts in the size of the government

By Hussain H Zaidi

The federal government has recently approved several austerity measures with a view to containing public expenditure, especially on the non-developmental side. Given the country's economic situation, the decision is a step in the right direction. However, its enforcement will be a real challenge for the government.

Governments generally resort to austerity measures when fiscal deficit becomes substantial. Such measures entail cuts in developmental or current expenditure or both. Under which heads public spending is reduced is determined by both political and economic considerations. In case of a developing economy, there is a dire need to speed up economic growth. Hence, a substantial reduction of developmental on expenditure is not desirable. If any curbs are to be made on the government purse, the same have to be either on subsidies or on current spending.

However, political considerations may dictate otherwise. A substantial reduction of the current expenditure may require cuts in the size of the government, which politically may be a difficult proposition. Moreover, certain vested interest -- such as armed forces in Pakistan -- may be politically too powerful to allow their share of the pie go down. Cuts in subsidies may push up inflation, which may dent the popularity of the government, in addition to having adverse economic effects. This makes cuts in developmental expenditure an easier option.

Coming to Pakistan, stabilising macro-economic indicators has remained a priority of the present government. At the top of these indicators is the fiscal balance. In 2007-08, the country's fiscal deficit jumped to Rs 777.2 billion, which constituted 7.6 percent of GDP. Under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sponsored macro-economic stabilisation programme, the government set out to reduce the fiscal deficit in the range of 4-4.5 percent.

In 2008-09, fiscal deficit target was set at Rs 562.2 billion. However, the actual fiscal deficit at the close of the year was Rs 680.4 billion, which constituted 5.2 percent of the GDP. The reduction in fiscal deficit was commendable. However, this 'feat' was accomplished not by improving revenue-GDP ratio, which in fact went down in FY09 to 14.1 percent from 14.6 percent in the preceding fiscal year, but by sharp reduction of the developmental expenditure. Against the budgetary allocation of Rs 516.6 billion in FY09, the actual developmental expenditure for that year was Rs 455.7 billion.

For the current fiscal year, i.e., FY10, the fiscal deficit target is Rs 722.1 billion, which is based on projected revenue of Rs 2.15 trillion and estimated expenditure of Rs 2.87 trillion, including developmental spending of Rs 733.6 billion. The revenue target for FY10 is 15.59 percent higher than the actual receipts of Rs 1.86 trillion in FY09. Given the current economic situation and the increased cost of doing business caused by the precarious security situation, the revenue target may be difficult to achieve. In such a situation, drastic reduction of public spending will be the only way to achieve the fiscal balance target.

While the government was making efforts to slash fiscal deficit, the size of the cabinet was increased and seven new ministries were added to the number. The purpose was to reward the government's political allies as well as members of the ruling party. The increase in the size of the cabinet and the creation of new ministries was a mockery of the government's claims of enforcing fiscal discipline.

Coming back to the recently announced austerity measures, these include 40 percent decrease in foreign visits by the president and the prime minister and 25 percent cut in utilities expenses of their official residences, reduction of the number of federal ministries to 30 from 42 and divisions to 37 from 52. Public sector entities, such as Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco), Railways, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Pakistan Steel Mills, whom collectively the government is providing an annual subsidy of Rs 252 billion -- 37 percent of the fiscal deficit -- will be restructured and privatised. Already, Ministries of Investment and Planning Commission have been abolished as separate ministries and made part of the Prime Minister's Secretariat. The Ministries of Law and Justice and Parliamentary Affairs have been merged.

A few words about the proposed reduction of the number of federal ministries and divisions seem in order. In case the Concurrent List of the constitution, as promised by the PPP government, is scrapped, a number of federal government organisations will not be required as their subjects will fall exclusively in the sphere of provinces.

The abolition of the Concurrent List, which requires an amendment to the constitution, is one of many things easier said than done. Probably, it will be easier for the government to reduce the number of ministries/divisions by merging them. Here are some suggestions.

The Ministry of Special Initiatives and Ministry of Livestock can conveniently be brought back to the Ministry of Industries and Production and Ministry of Food and Agriculture respectively. Ministries of Sports, Culture and Tourism can be merged; in the past these constituted a single ministry. There should be a single ministry comprising what are now the three ministries of religious affairs, zakat and ushr and minorities. The postal services ministry should return to the Ministry of Communications.

The decision to carve out a new ministry ought to be based on a cost and benefit analysis. There is a misconception that just by creating a new ministry a subject can be given proper attention. Already, every ministry has several wings, which can perform the same function as a full ministry without constituting a burden on the public expenditure.

There is a case for creating a new ministry only when its subject is too vast or too specialised to be handled by the existing ministry. In fact, in case of the present government, most of the new ministries were carved out not for reasons of efficiency or better results but as an instrument of rewarding political associates. All over the world the general practice is that ministers are appointed in charge of existing ministries. But in our case, a ministry is created only to accommodate a minister-in-waiting.

The reduction in the number of ministries should be accompanied by reduction in the number of ministers. Presently, several ministries have both federal ministers and ministers of state (MoS). For reasons of austerity, if for nothing else, the number of MoS should be reduced to the bare minimum. As a rule, an MoS should be appointed in a ministry where either the minister in charge is the prime minister himself or where a minister has been given the charge of two or more ministries.

 

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Making windows into men's souls

By Beena Sarwar

Writing this on December 25, 2009, two words come to mind -- 'morality' and 'terrorism'. Flashback to the first Al Qaeda arrest, February, 1995: Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) picks up Ramzi Yousaf, the Kuwaiti-Pakistani behind the 1993 World Trade Center car bomb that killed six people (the target was thousands). His arrest is credited among others to then FIA additional director Rehman Malik (current Minister for the Interior).

June 1997: Then opposition leader Benazir Bhutto mentions Malik in her diary series for Slate, writing about a prison visit to Wajid Shamsul Hasan (currently Pakistan's High Commissioner in London):

"Three of (Wajid's) arteries are blocked. He suffers from diabetes and kidney trouble. On June 3 he nearly passed away. His prison cellmate, the former additional director FIA Malik tended him all night. Miraculously Wajid survived... Months have passed and no formal charges have been pressed."

"I am surprised the Americans have not raised a hue and cry over the arrest of Malik. Malik was part of the team that responded to the US request for Pakistan to extradite the notorious terrorist Ramzi Yousaf wanted in the New York World Trade Center bombing. The American negligence of Malik will hardly embolden others to risk their lives for global values in the future."

"Malik has been charged with stealing a car. He has the receipt for it. But, 'justice delayed is justice denied'." (www.slate.com)

December 2009: The Supreme Court strikes down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), introduced in 2007 by then President Gen. Musharraf that waived charges against Bhutto and others. Malik and Hasan are again in the dock.

The NRO can only be defended if you accept it as essential to set aside charges that were mala fide and politically motivated in order to allow the transition from military rule to electoral politics. Bhutto chose this path rather than allowing Musharraf to pardon her in his capacity as President, and gained immunity for others. Most NRO beneficiaries are bureaucrats (not politicians), and most are from Sindh.

Nearly two years later, the apex court was required merely to strike down the NRO as a bad law in conflict with the Constitution. The bench did so, but went beyond this, invoking Islamic injunctions and religious morality. Its short order "sanctified the constitutional provisions of a dictator that placed a sword over the heads of the parliamentarians," as advocate Asma Jahangir commented. "Moreover, it has used the principle of 'closed and past transactions' selectively."

The ruling stressed Article 2A (the controversial Objectives Resolution of 1948 which enshrined Islam as the 'state religion'), and struck down a law that countered Article 62(f) which requires parliamentarians to be, "sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and amen" (pious), standards introduced by the notorious Zia regime, considered "undemocratic and a tool to keep (parliamentarians) insecure", as Asma Jahangir put it.

Corruption cannot be condoned. But neither can self-righteous morality or terrorism. There are other important battles being fought, like the elected government's attempt to gain supremacy over the armed forces. This is also the first time a Pakistani government has sought to not only halt the jihadi train set in motion during the Afghan war of 1979 (or earlier), but to steer it away from its traditional anti-India focus. These attempts are different from Musharraf's famous 'U-turn' after 9/11, when under American pressure he ditched the Afghan Taliban but ignored the 'home grown militants' indispensable to needling India, primarily in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Alas, a jihadi is a jihadi is a jihadi. Banning one set of jihadis while allowing others to function doesn't work. They share the same ideology; imposing their morality and dress codes on society, bullying women into seclusion, attacking any form of fun, girls' education, and those they consider non-Muslim -- criminal actions that have gone unpunished. After the Soviets withdrew the jihadis (trained and equipped by America, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia) turned to Shi'ite individuals, gatherings, and places of worship. Between 1989-2000, over 1,500 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan claimed about a thousand lives, and injured and maimed over 2,500 (figures extrapolated from the South Asia Terrorism Portal).

It was a wise Queen who refused to judge the morality and religious intentions of others: Elisabeth I declared she would not "make windows into men's souls". Making such windows opens a can of worms that is difficult to contain.

Note: The loss of lives caused by the bomb attack in Karachi on December 28 and the organised looting and arson that followed, just three days after the above lines were written, only reinforces the need to move away from 'moral policing' to focusing on the criminal deeds of those acting in the name of religion.

The writer is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker -- www.beenasarwar.wordpress.com

 

 

industry

Right click

IT businesses suffer in the presence of high tariffs and import of discarded computer hardware

 

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Just like in the past many years, the government of Pakistan kept on expressing its resolve this year to give a boost to the IT industry. On different occasions the policymakers had termed the sector an engine of growth for the whole economy.

They talked about the introduction of computer education at the basic level, provision of Internet access to more and more people, promotion of e-governance, tapping of software export potential and patronisation of local computer hardware industry as the main goals of their policy.

There were some commendable steps taken at the federal and provincial level like the launch of IT labs project by the Punjab government. Similarly, the Internet penetration also increased at a satisfactory level, thanks mainly to the growth of the telecom sector and laying of Wimax networks in the country. The software industry also showed some signs of recovery as some Pakistani companies got fresh orders despite the deteriorating security situation in the country. Though the progress was not remarkable, the sector had shown resilience in one of the worst times in the country's history.

In this whole scenario, a point worth noting is that local assemblers of new computers, laptops, and related equipment suffered a lot. This seems strange as this industry was supposed to grow exponentially due to the huge surge in demand of computers over the year. The local assemblers and importers of computer components say their business is suffering due to unfavourable tariff structure imposed by the government, the import of used and outdated PCs, non-patronisation of the sector by the government and non-availability of consumer finance to people to buy computers.

According to the figures available with Pakistan Computers Association (PCA), demand for locally assembled computers has diminished by 65 percent as many people go for the used imported computers which cost less. The assemblers say that the buyers who think they have saved money by buying used computers are, in fact, at the loser's end in the long run. "These computers have completed their life and the amount spent on their maintenance, repair and power consumption is much higher than what had been saved," they believe.

Azhar Husain, a sales representative with a local assembler firm tells TNS the government step to impose 15 percent general sales tax on the import of laptops, computers and related equipment served a deadly blow to the industry. "This was something totally different from what the federal government did in 1999," he says.

Azhar says at that time the government had allowed import of computer hardware at zero rate customs duty. Unfortunately, this facility was withdrawn in the federal budget of 2005 and 15 percent general sales tax was imposed on the import of these products, he adds. Since then the demand for locally assembled computers has decreased and the number of people opting for used import computers has increased, he says. Azhar says the government will have to remove GST on computer imports if it wants to see the sector boom and create jobs for the country's IT workforce.

Ashar H Zaidi, Country Director Intel Corporation, tells TNS that the perception among people that cheap used imported computers are a feasible option is totally unfounded. He says people have a feeling that they save money by buying cheap computers, but if they calculate the costs incurred on keeping them running, they will never go for them.

He says people buy computers that sell for around a half of a new computer, but they do not realise that new computer is five to six times faster, has four times more memory, ten times bigger hard drive and a long-term warranty. New computers run the latest operating systems, come with all the software and manuals and save a lot on energy consumption.

Ashar questions that if the government can impose a ban on import of reconditioned cars then why not on used computers which are an environmental hazard as well as a strain on the consumer's pocket? He tells TNS that the prices of new computers have come down very fast due to increase in competition, transfer of technology and innovation. Therefore, it seems totally irrational to waste money on buying used computers.

He wonders how sensible it is to buy a used computer for Rs 8,000, which can crash anytime, instead of a new one for Rs 13,000.

He says there is a complete ban on such imports in the developed countries that recycle these computers once they have completed their life. Everyone can imagine how harmful they are, but even then their import is continuing, he adds.

Ashar says if the government thinks banning this import outright is not feasible then it must at least put some conditions on it. For example, he says, the government should allow import of only one-year-old computers. Ashar says his company has developed products that are energy-efficient and consume power only when it's needed. This aspect should be kept in mind keeping in view the cost of electricity and its shortage in the country. Finally, he says the survival of this industry is vital as local companies play a great role in the growth of economy and creation of jobs. Intel has trained thousands of school teachers in IT as part of its efforts to promote the sector in the country, he adds.

Another suggestion from the local assemblers is that consumer financing should be made available to people at low interest rate to buy new computers. This, they believe, will increase the purchasing capacity of people and give the sector a boost just like the one got by the auto industry due to this facility.

 

Wrong reflection

Over 40 percent Swiss people opposed the ban on minarets, which means they have no problems living together with the people of other faiths

By Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

There is a topic of sociological and political importance in the context of Christians and Muslims residing in Europe -- Islamophobia; does it really exist? One may come across divergent views while trying to understand the issue. While some would deny it, others would attribute it to the September 11 attacks; some would even associate it with the increased presence of Muslims in the Western world. Whatever may be the causes of this phenomena, one thing is for sure that the gulf of differences between the two sides has swelled rather out of proportions during the past few years, the root cause of which turns out to be the widening communication gap and futility of Muslims and Christians' bodies that have failed to live up to the expectations.

After the infamous cartoon row, originating from Denmark when a Danish newspaper published blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the November 29 decision of the Swiss people, voting for a ban on new minarets of mosques, has given birth to a new debate. Or for some, the controversy has already taken its course pitching Muslims and non Muslims against each others. This particular incident comes at a moment when efforts are already underway for bridging differences between the East and the West, or at least there is a sincere sense of realisation on the part of both divides that some damage control steps should be taken in order achieve objective of a peaceful co-existence.

Soon after the 9/11 incidents relations between the Muslims and the West became estranged. The Afghan invasion, under the aegis of world's policeman Nato, gave further rise to hostilities. Since then relations between the two have constantly been moving towards a precipice. Muslim population of this area believes, the US and its cronies are fighting in Afghanistan with a view to strengthening their foothold in the region and in order to maintain a close watch on various Islamic groups that, according to them, might pose any future threats to them. Maybe when they first came to Afghanistan the real purpose would be to hunt for the Al-Qaeda leadership but this is for sure their existing policy does not merely revolve around Al Qaeda. They certainly have a hidden agenda to accomplish.

Before the Nato forces gate-crashed into this region, perception of Muslims, especially in the Western countries was of a tolerant; peaceful law abiding community that strongly believed in peaceful co-existence with the natives. Even the natives used to exercise a greater level of tolerance and capacity to live together with immigrants in those good times.

When it comes to expressing anti-Muslim sentiments, apart from Switzerland, one may find countries like France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and to some extent Norway in the dock as well. However, while jumping on to conclusions one important aspect needs to be kept in mind that still, there is no dearth of people across the European belt that believe in peaceful co-existence with the immigrants, especially Muslims. Over 40 percent of Swiss people opposed ban on minarets, which means they have no problems in living together with peoples of other nationalities, and with Muslims in this particular case.

Though the Swiss People's Party (SVP), a dominant group in the parliament, championed for the said ban, yet we cannot say it in any way should reflect the government policy. The composition of the Swiss government is extremely eccentric and unique as it is neither a presidential nor a parliamentary form of government. It is in fact a mix of both. So it is not necessary those in the Federal Council, should also dominate in the parliament.

Equally important is to have a clear understanding of the Swiss Peoples Party's mindset that not only has anti-Muslim posture but it does not like the European Union as well. Opposition to the EU by this party is one of the core reasons that Switzerland, despite being situated in the heart of Europe, is still out of the European Union. SVP claims to have a considered opinion about the 27-member bloc that it basically represents a bunch of self-interested powers that want to establish their authority by rendering irrelevant the parliaments of member countries. Becoming an EU member, the party believes, would be tantamount to mortgaging the Swiss sovereignty and neutrality and vesting too much authority in Brussels.

However, this should not absolve the government and other political parties of Switzerland from their responsibilities whose prime duty is to create an environment in which all communities could live peacefully.

This task should not be a difficult one by all means for political will is already there so what the politicians should do is to translate this will into reality. A majority of other European countries earnestly want an early reversal of this decision, and this factor should be a source of encouragement for the Swiss government. Here the Irish model maybe emulated. In 2007, the Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty because the euro-skeptic parties propagated to their people that if the treaty comes into force, sovereignty and basic human rights might be compromised. However, after one year same parties approved of the same treaty only because the propaganda drive this time was in favour the treaty.

In 2005, the French and Dutch voters rejected the then European Constitution because their leaders asked them for that. A majority of voters that said no to the draft of the Constitution had not actually gone through the text. Same was the case with the Dutch voters who rejected the draft Constitution because the French had done so. We can draw a conclusion that referendums might not necessarily reflect opinions of the general public.

When I asked Lord Pearson, head of UK's Independence Party (UKIP), how he viewed ban on minarets, he replied, "That is a matter for the Swiss people as is the question of Christian churches for the peoples of Saudi Arabia. When in Rome do as the Romans do."

Lord Pearson and his party want Britain to pull out of the European Union sooner rather than later and he would heavily be banking on this slogan in the upcoming general elections to be held next year 2010. Apart from Mr. Pearson there are other individuals like Dutch MP Geert Wilders who perceive Islam as a threat. Wilders' film 'Fitna' speaks volumes of his inbuilt prejudice against Islam. Agreed, the Dutch government chose to dissociate itself from the film, yet it did not do enough to avoid the spillover effects of that incident. Nor did it do anything to allay the fears of Muslims living in the Netherlands that their freedoms shall not be forfeited by introducing a ban on burqa. Geert Wilders is the man who first suggested the idea of this ban.

Norway ranks atop among those countries where peoples of other faiths are allowed to freely exercise their religious freedoms. Immigrants as well as the natives here have ideal conditions for a peaceful co-existence. But during the last general election campaign, some candidates raised objections that the respective governments had allowed 'sneak-Islamisation' of the Norwegian society.

Siv Jensen, leader of the opposition Progress Party, objected to the moves to introduce special measures in order to accommodate Muslims' religious sensitivities, traditions and rules. A few years ago when I met Ms. Jensen and asked her, why she was against immigrants, especially the Muslims, she said, "It is not true that I am against any particular faith, however, I think the immigrants must try to integrate into the system they have chosen to be part of. Majority of them does not do this therefore problems arise". On its part, the OIC must play a role.

The writer is a freelance columnist and has special interest in EU affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

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