Shore up your girdles | By Zaheer Bhatti


Shore up your girdles

WITH over 50% devaluing of the Pakistani currency during just two years and a raise in power and gasoline tariff virtually every fortnight breaking the back, will and determination of the common man to fight adversity, IMF and therefore the US and the West, have effectively neutralized Pakistan’s achievement of strategic assets.

Whether it be the Kashmir cause, preferential tariffs, the Afghanistan imbroglio or regional peace and security, Pakistan in opting to repeatedly serve imperial interests at its own cost for crumbs in aid for bare survival, has always reaped a bitter harvest ending up being accused of insincerity, and still continuing its vain pursuit of wooing the serpent with whose currency it has tied its apron irretrievably.

Pakistan’s current Prime Minister vowing never to surrender to IMF diktats which he said amounted to committing the unforgivable crime of mortgaging national sovereignty, his government has done exactly that citing previous debt retirement as the reason for borrowing more; as if the PTI did not know it before assuming power.

Obviously he had no damage-control plans, nor any crash program to raise productivity and exports to defy the IMF.

The nation should have eaten grass and defied all sanctions as it once did in producing a nuclear deterrent to Indian belligerence; making it bite the dust on testing occasions.

The government has been raising power tariff and petrol prices at will without caring a damn for the plight of the down-trodden and their woes multiplied by continued hikes in prices of edibles.

Instead of rejecting the OGRA demand of tariff raise even temporarily to generate a relief sentiment among the masses; which every government does and then raises rates in a matter of days, the PTI government took the cake recently by doubling the hike rate of petrol which OGRA had recommended.

The government hedges behind continued rise in world oil prices as the reason for the resulting price hikes in gasoline for which it entirely depends on external sources.

But as prices of oil fell twice in the world market last week and resultant relief was immediately passed on to the consumer in the US and elsewhere in the world, the Pakistani government attempted to fool the public by declaring that it had brought its 17% sales duty down to zero but refused to lower petrol prices.

It capitulated to the blackmail of petrol dealers who suspended retail selling until their profit margin was raised; thereby patronizing the filthy rich distributors and passing the burden on to the hapless man in the street.

There is not a single area in which Pakistan has made any short-term effort to increase productivity for exports to at least start offsetting the debt burden by retiring some with generated income, while being unable to drastically reduce non-development expenditure and declare an economic emergency.

It instead raises salaries and perks of parliamentarians without any qualms of conscience, while Pakistan continues to import agricultural products of which it was once a leading exporter, which is a matter of grave concern.

How long will governments in Pakistan live on blaming the past!
While paying mere lip-service to ameliorate the lot of the common man, the government every now and then extends its begging bowl.

Although it manages temporary relief from friends, the government continues to surrender to IMF conditions because it not only fails to broaden its tax-net despite discovering ten million potential non-filers, but continues to helplessly or wilfully shield the rich.

To a lay man, there are a lot many ways in which a turn-around can be visibly accomplished if there is the will, and hurdles removed by enacting laws to ensure enforcement by an in-built mechanism as elsewhere in the developed world.

Pakistan’s major failings have been realization of direct taxes because of multiple taxation and irrational tax slabs, and lack of incentives for competitive productivity to boost exports to earn foreign exchange, besides corruption.

Make tax slabs enabling and raise basic exemption from 4 to at least 6 lacs, which was the tax-payer’s right after steep devaluation, document residential and commercial properties and levy fixed property tax after determining their face value and their standard rents and taxes; hold Local Bodies polls across the country and assign them the additional responsibility to enrol voluntary prospective filers in their respective constituencies.

In order to boost foreign exchange earnings, there is no alternate to competitive production of finished and unfinished goods with incentives besides developing Tourist resorts on a war footing. If Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can do it, why not Pakistan!

It dismays Imran Khan’s followers pinning hope in him in the face of Pakistan having suffered at the hands of civil and military rulers in the past, when they find him still recounting his achievements of a World Cup title, cancer hospital and establishment of a university, of which no parallel can be drawn with running the government of a country successfully.

The news of succeeding in an IMF deal is scary in the backdrop of the appalling terms of further swelling Pakistan’s debt burden despite recognition by the Prime Minister that rising foreign debt was a national security issue. Are we then wilfully mortgaging the nation?

Pakistan’s political landscape is such that far from having respect for adversaries, the politician in the conduct of its prime functions as a Parliamentarian, largely acts like a robot when dozens of bills are bulldozed in a matter of just one sitting, but no meaningful legislation takes place in years, while they trespasses into alien territory of the Local Bodies whenever any occasion arises to revive the essential system rendered dysfunctional, and foul-mouth against national institutions and then claim championing supremacy of Parliament.

Political opponents are kept in detention; virtually jailed for years under the mere pretext of alleged cases against them with the NAB which fails to prosecute and eventually releases them.

If it were a truly democratic country, such detainees would sue the law enforcers for character assassination and damages.

Why is there no deterrent libel law in the country despite the pressuring and blackmailing practices becoming increasingly common?

—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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