The last of the hopes

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Zaheer Bhatti

NOTWITHSTANDING defeat of Siraj-ul-Haq, Ameer Jamat-e-Islami, in the national polls, who the Chief Justice of Pakistan singled out as perhaps the only political leader in the country fitting the description of ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’, which underscores fast degenerating moral scruples in Pakistan, Imran Khan’s offer of probe into results of any questionable constituencies had perhaps somewhat foreclosed possibilities of any organized agitation similar to the PNA Movement over the outcome of the general election, but for many opinionated circles question how some political pundits both among the media and pre-poll surveys could so accurately predict a split mandate at the Centre as well as in the king-making province of Punjab.
Allegations of an engineered election which have not been uncommon in the past and this time symbolized by the ‘JEEP’, have been largely blunted with defeat of Ch Nisar Ali and the complete rout of the PSP both of whom have been touted to have the backing and support of the dreaded Military Establishment. There have though been some very close contests which at least merit a poll-recount, but what cuts across any tangible outcome even after opening up the now re-sealed polling bags, is the fact that if any of the allegations about removal of Polling Agents and counting conducted in their absence is proved, there will be no way left to prove credibility of the results. The outcome of the polls nonetheless calls for deep introspection by the losing Parties about their narratives and performance, both of which this time have come under incisive scrutiny by the voter whose traveling woes may have been partly addressed by roads, overheads and bypasses but who have frontally questioned what the contenders had actually delivered to the people except grinding price-hikes, and burying each Pakistani under a colossal debt burden.
Notwithstanding the olive branch held out by Imran Khan in his victory speech from Bani Gala with an intelligent, soft but clear message to his fellow-Pakistanis as well as the international community, the foremost challenge facing the incumbent to the thorny throne is not going to be but already is, the country’s sagging economy which cannot be addressed by continuing to blame the past leadership nor by rhetoric of promises to raise funds or vowing to bring back looted sums, but through an economic emergency and a pragmatic economic plan not affecting the common man.
Imran will post-haste need to translate his basic victory speech promising to lift the common man out of poverty by undertaking the do-able, such as radically slashing non-development expenditure including motorcade protocols, wasteful and lavish perks, privileges, on-the-house tours and travels by public servants, and meaningless social get-togethers and parties. You will need to immediately ban luxury imports including automobiles, cosmetics and canned foodstuffs besides tea, beetle leaf and nuts and a host of other items without which this country can survive and which consume and squander the nation’s dwindling precious dollar reserves. Attracting foreign investment through incentives and urging remittances by Overseas Pakistanis has to be simultaneously on the cards.
One can go on and on, but the long and short of it is that each step you take must ensure that it does not further squeeze the common man’s purchasing power which has been reduced to nothing with the national currency being devalued by over 25% in a span of a couple of months, and reducing the value of his hard earned savings by 50% over the last ten years. This is the largest Rupee devaluation after the one post-East Pakistan debacle. The Tax Amnesty Scheme should be used to lure those with amassed undeclared assets through a one-time moratorium, while also making the slashed Income Tax slabs and raised basic exemption amount from four to twelve lac Rupees applicable with retrospective effect upon returns for tax-year 2017-18 and not w.e.f. 1st of July 2018, so as to yield immediate results in the context of broadening of the tax-net. Clarity must also be made that up to 5% payment to legitimize one’s assets is not applicable upon properties purchased over 5 to 7 years ago which are exempt.
But the main thrust of the incumbent Government; the last of the hopes, has to be netting the big fish with ill-gotten wealth accumulated through various means operating in tandem with Government officials and Agencies. Netting these countless evaders alone will yield dramatic results as their numbers run into hundreds of thousands leave alone their assets. Levying a reasonable fixed tax commensurate with their trading merchandise and potential income, upon shopkeepers, eateries, hotels and trading outlets, besides instilling confidence of the people in the Government through deliverance so that they start to pay Zakat into the Government kitty, is also worth trying. Building water reservoirs on war footing besides harnessing CPEC has become priority number one among the Nation’s developmental goals for irrigation and cheap energy in order to make Industrial production.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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