Saturday, June 22, 2013
http://www.egyptindependent.com/Dozens of Anti-Morsy protesters, including members of the Alliance of Revolutionary Youth, announced that a sit-in in front of the Defense Ministry building would begin Saturday morning.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araqchi has condemned the recent terrorist attacks in the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Peshawar that left dozens of people killed or wounded. In a Saturday statement, Araqchi expressed condolences to the Pakistani government and people, including the families of the victims. “Undoubtedly, it is the enemies of the people and the government of Pakistan that are fanning the flames of sectarian and religious conflicts in the country in an attempt to fulfill the sinister objectives of the enemies of the Islamic Ummah,” Araqchi said. At least 15 people were killed and over two dozen severely injured in a bomb attack on a Shia mosque and religious seminary in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday. Local security officials said the attack occurred when people were performing Friday prayers on the outskirts of the city. Elsewhere in the southern port city of Karachi, at least four people were killed and four others wounded on Friday after a number of unidentified militants exchanged fire with each other and hurled hand grenades at a group of police officers that arrived at the scene. Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shias were killed in Pakistan in 2012, which was the deadliest year on record for the Shia Muslim community. Reports say the anti-Shia terrorist group of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) was behind most of the attacks on Shia Muslims in Pakistan. The killing of Shias has caused international outrage, with rights groups and regional countries expressing concern over the ongoing deadly violence.
Activists have held a mass protest in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, shortly after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s prime minister, gathered his supporters in a seaside resort, media reported Saturday. Thousands who gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square were dispersed by riot police who used water cannon, the BBC reported. According to the British broadcaster, Erdogan told some 15,000 of his supporters that an international conspiracy led the protests, which had eased since last Saturday, when police cleared the main point of unrest - Istanbul's Gezi Park. He did not elaborate on the issue.
A note to Turkey’s prime minister, among others: winning elections is not enough“BUT I’ve won three elections!” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s embattled prime minister, growls at his critics. On the face of it, his case is compelling: surely, many people in Turkey and beyond would agree, popularly elected leaders can govern as they please? That’s what democracy means.Well, no. Majoritarianism—the credo of an expanding group of elected but autocratic rulers around the world, which holds that electoral might always makes you right—is not true democracy, even if, on the face of it, the two things look alike. It is worth explaining why.To begin with, democratic legitimacy isn’t merely a correlative of a ruler’s share of the vote. Few candidates in the West nowadays win more than half of the votes, still less a majority of the electorate. Most are obliged to govern with slim electoral mandates. That doesn’t, of itself, make them illegitimate. Indeed, huge landslides of the kind “won” by, say, Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus are often undemocratic. They tend to be achieved fraudulently; even when they are not, they can be precursors to persecution by the regal “victor” of opponents or to triumphal overreach, as in the case of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister. Mr Erdogan’s party took almost 50% of the vote at Turkey’s 2011 election: impressive, but not absolute proof of democratic virtue. If broad support does not automatically qualify a leader as a democrat, nor does strong opposition disqualify him. Margaret Thatcher’s reforms were contentious, to say the least. The heat and vitriol of politics have intensified in the Fox News, shock-jock, bile-blogging era: Barack Obama is often lambasted as tyrannical or traitorous. Tough decisions, such as spending cuts or tax rises, can provoke widespread anger, as the past few years have demonstrated. Bold reforms, which The Economist applauds, often do the same. That doesn’t make the leaders who impose them undemocratic, either. The issue is how the relationship between supporters and opponents is managed. In part this is a matter of rules and institutions to constrain a leader’s power and to allow the aggrieved to find redress. These should include a robust account of citizens’ basic rights, independent courts to enforce them and free media to monitor them. From a democratic perspective, these are the areas where Mr Erdogan has most seriously erred: not in introducing controversial or wrong-headed policies (that is his prerogative), but in capturing the courts, silencing media critics and attacking peaceful protesters. His talk of tinkering with the constitution to perpetuate his own rule, as both Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Russia’s Vladimir Putin did, is another warning sign. Beyond documents and institutions, the difference between crass majoritarianism and democracy resides in the heads of the mighty. Democrats have a bedrock understanding that the minority (or often majority) who did not vote for them are as much citizens of their country as those who did, and are entitled to a respectful hearing; and that a leader’s job is to deliberate and act in the national interests, not just those of his supporters. Turkey’s protesters took to the streets because they believed Mr Erdogan was not just hostile to their interests but deaf to their complaints. By demonising them as terrorists and foreign agents, and pulverising them with tear gas and water cannon, he has vindicated this belief. The contrast with Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff has insisted that demonstrators have a right to protest, is striking (see article). Heartless The basic idea of a democracy is that the voters should pick a government, which rules as it chooses until they see fit to chuck it out. But although voting is an important democratic right, it is not the only one. And winning an election does not entitle a leader to disregard all checks on his power. The majoritarian world view espoused by Mr Erdogan and leaders of his ilk is a kind of zombie democracy. It has the outward shape of the real thing, but it lacks the heart.
Pakistan: Human Trafficking Report:Govt officials complicit in human trafficking: Boys, girls forced into slavery, sex trade
In Pakistan, boys and girls as young as five are bought, sold, rented or kidnapped and placed in organised begging rings, domestic servitude, small shops and factories, and prostitution, says a US report. The US State Department’s 2013 report on human trafficking notes that boys are more vulnerable to sex trafficking, particularly around hotels, truck stops, bus stations and shrines. The report describes a structured system for forcing women and girls into prostitution, including the presence of physical markets in which victims are offered for sale. Women and girls are also sold into forced marriages; in some cases their new ‘husbands’ move them across land borders and force them into prostitution in Iran or Afghanistan, and in other cases, sometimes organised by extra-judicial courts, the transaction is used to settle debts or disputes. The report points out that the country’s largest human trafficking problem is bonded labour, in which traffickers or recruiters exploit an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment, which sometimes persist through generations. Bonded labour is concentrated in Sindh and Punjab, and also takes place in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in agriculture and brick-making and to a lesser extent in the mining, carpet-making, and fishing industries. The report notes that in some cases, when bonded labourers attempt to escape or seek legal redress, police return them to the landowners and brick kiln owners who then hold labourers and their families, including children, in chains in private jails. Illegal labour agents charge high recruitment fees to parents for giving work to their children, who are subsequently subjected to forced labour and sometimes forced into prostitution. Non-state militant groups kidnap children or coerce parents into giving away children as young as nine with fraudulent promises or threats and then force the children to spy, fight, or die as suicide bombers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These militants often sexually and physically abuse the children and use psychological coercion to convince the children that the acts the children commit are justified. Many Pakistani women and men migrate voluntarily to the Gulf states, Iran, Turkey, South Africa, Uganda, Maldives, Greece, and other European countries for low-skilled employment such as domestic work, driving, or construction work; once abroad, some become victims of labour trafficking. False job offers and high recruitment fees charged by illegal labour agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters increase Pakistani labourers’ vulnerabilities to debt bondage. Pakistani workers abroad face restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical and sexual abuse. Traffickers use violence, psychological coercion and isolation, often seizing travel and identification documents as a means to coerce Pakistani women and girls into prostitution. There are reports of child sex trafficking between Iran and Pakistan, and of Pakistani children and adults with disabilities who are forced to beg in Iran. Pakistan is a destination for men, women, and children from Afghanistan, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh, who are subjected to forced labour and prostitution. Afghan refugees and religious and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. In 2012, six Pakistani victims were subjected to human trafficking in Malawi. The report claims that the government of Pakistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government still showed insufficient political will and capacity to address trafficking fully, as evidenced by ineffective law enforcement measures, the punishment of trafficking victims, and limited efforts in trafficking prevention. Government officials’ complicity in human trafficking was a persistent, serious problem.
Thirty-one people have been arrested over the Gezi Park protests in Ankara and Istanbul, bringing the total of those arrested during the three-week-long Gezi Park protests to 55. An Ankara court ordered the arrest of 22 protesters upon the prosecutors' request in the early hours of June 22 for organizing the demonstrations and provoking violence during clashes with the police. Another three suspects who had been sent to court with a request for arrest were released on probation. During the hearing, a small group assembled outside the court to protest the prosecution of those who had participated in the demonstrations. In Istanbul, where 67 demonstrators face charges of provoking violence, nine out of a total of 17 people sent to the court were arrested on charges of damaging public property and being a member of a terrorist organization. The other eight suspects were released on probatory conditions. 24 people had been arrested since the start of the Gezi Park protests, although the arrests against two members of Beşiktaş's Çarşı supporter group were not directly related to their activities during the demonstrations but had been issued for carrying guns. Police clash with protesters in Ankara Clashes broke out again late on June 21 near the U.S. Embassy on Kennedy Avenue, which has become the center of clashes in the last week. Police used tear gas and water cannons against a group of protesters who were making barricades on the road. The protesters dispersed to side streets after the police intervention. One protester reportedly passed out as a result of the tear gas. Ankara has witnessed violent police crackdowns during the demonstrations over the last three weeks with frequent clashes late at night between security forces and protesters.
AGENCIESSaudi regime forces have killed a teenage boy during a raid on the houses of anti-regime activists in the restive Eastern Province. The incident took place in al-Tubi village of Qatif region on Friday when the Saudi troops shot the 19-year-old boy in the head and shoulder. Ali Hassan al-Mahroos is the 17th victim of the Saudi regime’s crackdown on protesters in Qatif since 2011. Another person was injured in the attack. Saudi regime forces also arrested an unspecified number of activists. On the same day, human rights activists told Press TV that more than 120 prisoners in Saudi Arabia have gone on hunger strike to express their anger at inhumane prison conditions. The hunger strikers are also objecting to their detention without charge or trial, the activists said. More than 70 inmates stopped eating last week in a bid to draw international attention to their plight. Recently, around 50 more have joined the campaign. The strike will continue for at least five weeks, according to the human rights activists. Saudi activists say there are more than 40,000 political prisoners, mostly prisoners of conscience, in jails across the kingdom. Families and relatives of political prisoners have held several public gatherings in major cities, including Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Buraidah. However, their protests have failed to bear any results. In Saudi Arabia, protests and political gatherings of any kind are prohibited. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Qatif region and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination. However, the demonstrations turned into protests against the repressive Al Saud regime, especially after November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province. According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi regime “routinely represses expression critical of the government.”
The Baloch HalWith a rich and colourful history stretching back over some 2000 years the Baloch people have become accustomed to struggling against the overtures of outside powers and would-be rulers. Their resistance is a sad, unending tale of suffering, the latest chapter of which started in 1947 with the creation of Pakistan. Even today the Baloch continue to resist through whatever means are at their disposal including constitutional dialogue and armed struggle, as they strive for autonomy and recognition of their inalienable rights. The current impasse between the Pakistani state and Balochistan is the result of a series of broken promises, unsuccessful military operations carried out to subdue the Baloch and a failure to absorb the Baloch identity into a larger, more comprehensive, Pakistani identity. Set this against a backdrop of exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources and an apparent failure by Islamabad to invest and develop the biggest province of Pakistan and it is not then surprising to find the current situation is still so fluid and volatile. Right from the outset the relationship between Balochistan and Pakistan has been strained to breaking point. Prior to the creation of Pakistan the Baloch, however, had enjoyed many years of settled independence and relative peace. In fact, before the dissolution of the British Raj the Khanate of Kalat had enjoyed sovereignty since 1666. The British, at the height of their empire, with the agreement of the Khan of Kalat, annexed an area of land adjacent to Afghanistan dubbed “British Balochistan” and created a military base in Quetta to give them a strategic foothold in the region. The British did not involve themselves in the affairs of the Kalat state with the proviso that the Baloch would allow the British army unfettered access to Afghanistan. This agreement was honoured by both parties until it was rendered obsolete with the end of the British Raj in 1947. Shortly after the Mari and Bugti tribal regions were once again brought under the control of Kalat thereby ensuring that the whole of Balochistan was under the control of Kalat just as it had been under Nasir Khan I. During the final years of the British Raj the Baloch lobbied and campaigned vigorously for their continued independence, but ultimately this would be undone with one tragic act. Six days before the partition of Pakistan, on the 8th of August 1947, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, the then Khan of Kalat, declared that the Kalat State was an independent entity and would remain so. Subsequently a series of talks took place in order that an agreement could be reached to the satisfaction of all parties involved in the region. Amongst the attendees were Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, the Quaid-i-Azam M.A. Jinnah and the Khan of Kalat. A final agreement was reached on the 11th of August 1947 which stated that: a. The Government of Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British Government, having a status different from that of the Indian States. b. Legal opinion will be sought as to whether or not agreements of leases will be inherited by the Pakistan Government. c. Meanwhile, a Standstill Agreement has been made between Pakistan and Kalat. d. Discussions will take place in the near future between Pakistan and Kalat in Karachi with a view to reaching decisions on defence, foreign affairs and communications. Clearly the initial agreement between Kalat and Pakistan was based on an agreement that Kalat would remain an autonomous entity with control over its own land, resources and politics. This position was widely reported and commented upon across the globe. The New York Times reported the news under the heading of “New Status For Kalat” as follows: “George C. Marshall the United States Secretary of State announced in the assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 that; “ Kalat, Moslem State in Baluchistan, has reached an agreement with Pakistan for the free flow of communi cation and commerce, and would negotiate further for decisions on defence, external affairs and communications. Under the agreement Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state with a status different from that of the Indian States”.” In addition, ‘The Statesman Calcutta’ published on the 12th of August 1947 that: “The Government of Pakistan recognises Kalat as an independent sovereign state in treaty relations with the British Government with a status different from that of Indian States. It has been agreed that further meetings will take place between the representatives of Pakistan and the Khan of Kalat at Karachi. Meanwhile a standstill agreement has been made between Pakistan and Kalat. Discussion will take place between Pakistan and Kalat in Karachi at an early date, with a view to reaching decision on defence, external affairs and communication.” However, from the outset the government of Pakistan sought control of the region and began setting in motion the means to achieve this end. On August 15th 1947 the Kalat government made a formal declaration of independence and dispatched a delegation to Karachi to take part in discussions relating to the Standstill Agreement and other outstanding matters. On arrival, however, the Khan of Kalat was told in no uncertain terms to expediate the accession of Kalat to Pakistan. The Khan explained that he did not have the authority nor did he have the permission of the Baloch people to agree to such a demand and would present the proposal to the Kalat Houses of Parliament on his return. The proposal was unanimously rejected and immediately the Pakistani government set about breaking up Balochistan surreptitiously. Eventually they granted Lasbela and Kharan equal status to Kalat and formalised their individual mergers into Pakistan. The pressure on Kalat to follow suit further intensified and tensions rose markedly. On the 12th of December 1947 the inaugural session of the Kalat State Parliament took place and famously Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo gave a rousing and fatidic speech in which he argued that accession to Pakistan on the basis of religion (a main reason cited for merging) was not only illogical but fundamentally flawed. He stated clearly that: “We have a distinct culture like Afghanistan and Iran and if the mere fact that we are Muslims require us to amalgamate with Pakistan, then, Iran and Afghanistan should also be made to amalgamate with Pakistan”. Furthermore, he warned that should Pakistan not respect the decision of the Baloch people to reject the accession then: “Every Baloch will fight for freedom”. Despite this warning the government of Pakistan continued upon its course of breaking up and weakening Balochistan further. Makran was given independence from Kalat on March the 17th 1948 and subsequently joined Pakistan. Under immense duress from Pakistan combined with opposing pressure from tribal leaders the Khan eventually capitulated. Without the consent of the Baloch people and with no mandate whatsoever he signed the accession of Kalat to Pakistan, in his own personal capacity, on the 27th of March 1948. By this one stroke the Khan of Kalat put the final nail in the coffin of Balochistan’s dream of independence alongside Pakistan. Subsequently the Pakistan army entered Kalat on the 14th of April 1948 and the following day the Kalat Parliament was dissolved with many of its members being imprisoned or exiled. The Khan’s younger brother, Prince Abdul Karim declared and fought a brief revolt but was soon crushed by the Pakistan army and imprisoned. Thus began the ongoing conflict between Balochistan and Pakistan. Since 1948, four more revolts have taken place: 1958 – Nawab Nauroz Khan fought in protest against the declaration of One Unit (a plan to merge the four provinces of West Pakistan). 1962 – Sher Mohammad Khan Marri (also known as General Sherof due to his Soviet ties) introduced modern guerrilla warfare tactics to the fighters of Balochistan in an armed struggle against the Pakistan army. 1973-1977 – In response to the dissolution of the elected provincial government of Balochistan by President Bhutto some 50,000 Baloch fighters engaged the Pakistan army resulting in mass casualties especially within the civilian population of Balochistan. 2002-2006 – Nawabzada Ballach Khan Marri, leader of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), in conjunction with Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti led a revolt in response to the appropriation of Balochistan’s resources by the Pakistan government without adequate development in the region. The Nawab was brutaly murdered in 2006 in one of the caves of Bhambhore Hills near Kohlu and Nawabzada Ballach Khan Marri was later murdered in Afghanistan in 2007. Even today the flame of resistance sparked by Mir Ghous Baksh Bezinjo’s speech burns brightly and refuses to be quelled despite the repeated attempts of the Pakistan army to extinguish it. Thousands of men, women and children have been murdered, hanged and dumped in the numerous struggles which erupt like a raging volcano intermittently between the Baloch nation and the Pakistan army. Even today the armed struggle continues as does the exploitation of Balochistan’s vast resources. With some of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world, vast deposits of gold and other minerals, Balochistan remains the poorest and least developed of Pakistan’s four provinces and there are no signs of this changing anytime soon. How long before we hear the roar of the Baloch Tigers once more?
http://www.dw.de/All NATO-led combat troops are to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Out of fear of the Taliban, many educated Afghans are leaving their homeland in search of a better future abroad. For 32 years Afghanistan has held the world record for the highest number of refugees. According to data compiled by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on average, one out of every four refugees worldwide is an Afghan. The organization recently published a report stating that there were 2.6 million Afghan refugees in 2012 alone. Around 95 percent of them are said to be living in the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Most of the remaining five percent are believed to have enough money to pay traffickers to take them to Europe or the United States. Others try to leave the country by getting scholarships or enrolling in education programs abroad. Heading west Sharmila Hashimi's life was recently turned upside down. Just a few months ago, the emancipated woman led a stable life in Afghanistan, working as a spokesperson for the governor of Herat province. She and her husband even co-directed a center for training, representing, and protecting Afghan journalists. But the center turned out to be a thorn in the Taliban's side and she and her husband started to feel threatened: "We were under constant surveillance, so we decided to shut down the center and leave the country." The family got in touch with human traffickers and, before they knew it, they were on their way to Germany, where her husband was separated from Sharmila and their young boy. The 26-year-old said she was in a state of shock throughout the journey. "We didn't know where we were headed or how we were going to get there - until we finally arrived." It's been a month now since the young Afghan journalist and law student arrived in Germany. She lives with her son in a home for refugees in Berlin. She hopes to see her husband again soon, so that her family can start a new life in Germany. A sense of insecurity Sharmila is disappointed in the Afghan government, which she claims failed to protect her family from the Taliban. This sense of insecurity is what has been driving so many skilled Afghans to leave their homeland, particularly after the announcement that NATO-led combat troops are to leave the country by the end of next year. Nonetheless, the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Repatriations considers the security concerns to be exaggerated. "We don't believe the situation will be that insecure," said Minister Jamaher Anwari. "We welcome the year 2014 and the withdrawal. The responsibility for security was transferred to Afghan forces. From our experience we can say that security has improved in those areas international troops have already left." But the rising number of refugees undermines the minister's statement. Authorities in Germany say that in the first half of 2013 alone there were more than 2,700 first-time asylum seekers from Afghanistan. That amounts to eight percent of all asylum applications. 'Like a car without a driver' Experts agree that the increasing number of educated workers, scholars and artists leaving Afghanistan poses a threat to the country's development. This brain drain is taking away much of the impulse needed to rebuild the country, says Pedram Tork, an Afghan asylum seeker in Sweden. "I find myself in a dilemma," says the former professor of Islamic studies, "You can compare the loss of a country's academic and cultural strength with a car that has no driver." Tork says he believes the Taliban are deliberately targeting educated people who are essential to the country's future. Sharmila, too, is convinced that the situation in Afghanistan is gradually becoming worse for "progressive" thinkers. "Educated people can't live in this country, only the mafia and warlords. You pay a high price when you are in constant fear for your life and that of your husband and children." The young woman says she would like to return to her country one day, but fears this will never happen. The current living and working conditions for asylum seekers in host countries don't allow most of them to live up to their full potential. Despite this, most of the skilled Afghans who leave their homeland never return.
On the 60th birth anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto on Friday, President Asif Ali Zardari donated blood to commemorate the sacrifices of the deceased leader. The blood donation was a gesture to pay tribute to the sacrifices of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto - the second chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party, the twice-elected prime minister of Pakistan and the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister.
The Express TribuneThe prices of locally-manufactured writing instruments will increase by up to a fifth even before they reach factory gates, as the government has indirectly slapped a 17% sales tax on the industry’s raw material, making manufacturing unviable. The government’s decision to tax unregistered companies is likely to increase the retail market prices of all types of pencils, pens, colour pencils, rulers and sharpeners by more than 20%, according to industry insiders. The writing instruments manufacturing industry had earlier been granted the zero-rating facility on imported or locally-purchased raw material in 2007, which now seems to have been withdrawn through some neat legal acrobatics. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has actually taken away the zero-rating from the writing instruments manufacturing industry and granted it an ‘exempted sector’ status. But tax experts call this a tax anomaly, as it has resulted in a 17% levy on import of raw materials, which are mainly chemical. This will make the local industry, which currently has a turnover in the billions of rupees, unviable; as the price structure for imported finished products has remained the same, industry officials told The Express Tribune. Earlier, under the zero-rating facility, the industry used to pay sales tax at the import stage, but later claim refunds on its output. Since the industry has been granted ‘exempted status’, it will no longer be entitled to claim refunds, a tax expert explained. Since inputs make up about 80% of the cost of production, while the rest of the 20% is incurred on labour and other expenses, prices are expected to go up by at least 14%, on average, immediately. The price of an HB pencil is currently Rs5 per piece, which will now increase to Rs6 after the levy – an increase of 20%. Similarly, the cost of a dozen colour pencils will increase from Rs70 to Rs80, an increase of 14.3%. The prices of a dozen crayons, on the other hand, will increase to Rs90 from Rs80, up by 12.5%. A sharpener that was available for Rs5 will now cost Rs6, after a 20% increase in prices. A six-inch ruler’s price will also increase by 20% to Rs6, while a ballpoint pen will now cost 16.7% higher. Pakistan is home to some good brands in this sector, like Gold Fish, Piano and Dollar, but these have been threatened in the past by an influx of competing imports. The government’s decision to tax the sector will increase the import bill and make the industry’s exports uncompetitive, industry insiders complained. Local manufacturers also claim that importers of writing instruments easily evade taxes through under-invoicing and undervaluation of products, which they say is done in connivance with corrupt FBR officials. This latest development will now place them at an even more advantageous position. FBR officials seem to be aware of the industry’s reservations. They say that the industry has demanded the reinstatement of the pre-budget status quo, but no decision has been taken in this regard so far. This is the second decision taken by the government which has a direct impact on Pakistan’s beleaguered educational sector. It has also reportedly withdrawn an income tax relief granted to educators who teach full-time. A 75% relief in tax incidence had earlier been granted to teachers in the Musharraf era to attract highly-qualified Pakistanis who had been teaching abroad.
Farooq SumarIt is clear that all solutions to our grave problems cannot flow from the new government’s first budget and neither did we expect that to happen. However, we expected the first budget to draw a clear road map that would first of all give the people the confidence that the government is fully cognizant of all the issues, and secondly, it is taking the initial steps needed to address them. These are the toughest times this country has ever faced. Economic failure stares us in the face; energy shortages cripple our present and future; hardly anybody pays taxes; crime and violence and breakdown of rule of law threatens us with anarchy; the complete failure of the education system has created generations of ignorance; a group of fundamentalist militants openly want to annihilate our constitution through terror. I am sorry to say this is not the time for a traditional, insipid and unimaginative budget that is purely figure work making minor adjustments with one percent increase here or two percent decrease there. Besides addressing the allocation to the energy sector there is nothing else to meet the situation we face. Without a ruthless policy of zero tolerance on crime and violence of all kinds, without urgently addressing the need for a new education policy to upgrade quality and provide education to all, without meeting the energy shortages and without the relentless pursuit of tax evaders, there is no possibility of a sustainable economic recovery. Unfortunately, other than measures to alleviate energy shortages, the other three major issues have either been totally neglected or treated cosmetically. Can any number of steps to fix the economy succeed without the elimination of crime and violence and the breakdown of law and order? The bodies and bombs and their perpetrators must go before the economy can really revive. Do you not know that the police and Rangers particularly, and some other security agencies are greatly compromised and corrupt, and therefore have to be completely revamped? Instead of going for highways at present, funds should have been allocated to begin the revamping of these agencies under a proper plan. There cannot be meaningful investment, both foreign or domestic, without peace in the country, and let it be known that Punjab cannot be the only wheel of the economy and make it run. Half the problem of our economic malaise is the very poor standard of education and the large number of illiterate youth. Graduates are not capable of doing more than clerical work. How can the sophisticated requirements of the modern world be met? How long can corporations and industries run with uneducated or semi-educated staff? Inefficiency, poor quality, high wastages, and damage to equipment are common woes. Foreign investment bypasses Pakistan so often because it lacks an educated workforce. Until our educational system does not come at par with most Asian countries and the majority is not educated, economic prosperity will only remain a dream. What our finance minister has done is he has put a few more morsels in the lap of the HEC. The HEC is part of the old failed system of education; it has delivered nothing meaningful and practical. Our standards are the same and our quality of education has not improved; why waste money here? We need to create a whole new structure from top to bottom and to start work on that, funds needed to be earmarked and plans drawn up. The people expect the federal government to take the lead, and regardless of education being a provincial subject, some legislation and changes are an absolute must in order to create a new structure for the whole country. Quality education for all is the country’s lifeline and no stone can remain unturned in order to achieve it. Change the laws, amend the constitution if you have to, and use the stick and carrot with the provinces to implement a national education policy; after all, they receive huge amounts from the divisible pool from the federal government. The same should also be done for law and order. The tax-to-GDP ratio has fallen to the precarious level of nine percent when Sri Lanka is at 17 percent, India at 19 and China at 21! Agricultural tax is a mere Rs one billion! Imagine this paltry contribution from the sector that constitutes 22 percent of the GDP. The whole retail sector of the country pays Rs 15 crores! There is no capital gains tax on real estate due to powerful lobbies. The services sector is around 50 percent of the economy but pays only 18 percent tax. Instead of taking effective steps to plug these leakages and go for stringent measures while using the existing data bases to document and increase the tax net, the finance minister has made shy attempts to fight a monster with kid gloves. This timid approach is contrary to the PML-N manifesto. Some measures that could have been taken are that all transactions over Rs 10,000 be by crossed cheques; all electronic transfers should require NTN numbers of the sender and the recipient; electronic transfers without NTN numbers be taxed five percent at source; evolve a formula with each province on agritax collection in accordance with its proportion and deduct any shortfalls from their share of receipts; and impose a small capital gains tax of five percent on real estate. Over 600,000 holders of NTN numbers do not file returns (according to NADRA); many of them we know are parliamentarians and were ministers of the outgoing cabinet. Also, what is stopping the finance minister from initiating action against these 600,000? The tax collection system as a whole is full of potholes, and some serious attention needs to be paid to it. If taxation is not just and equitable there will always be justification for evasion. If this government really means to serve the national interest above all else then there cannot be any sacred cows or valued constituents to protect. If the government is not steadfast on this principle, it has only to look back at the dismal failure of the Zardari set-up. The finance minister has informed us that there are only 3,114 persons with an income of over Rs seven million. Surely nobody including himself believes this; the figure is much larger and it is his job to find it. When the declared income of a company or an individual is just the tip of the iceberg, do you think the reduction of tax by one percent or its increase by five percent will have any impact? Besides multinationals, banks and a very few local companies, everybody else evades tax; we know that our undocumented economy is much larger. Instead of such decorative measures, go for the real thing, Sir! Like all previous governments we have again gone for indirect taxation by tinkering with the Sales Tax, thereby increasing the burden on the poor, which is already too heavy. Our focus should be direct taxation, particularly plugging the loopholes and improving the collection system. This, unfortunately, has not been pursued wholeheartedly. Former Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen was discussing subsidies and pointed out that these should be targeted subsidies for the lowest strata. What he means is that at present some part of the subsidy is also available to higher levels of consumers of electricity, etc. This subsidy should be removed and all of it be given to the lowest strata in order to really help those who need it most. I wonder why this is not being initiated. This is certainly not the time to invest Rs 75 billion on highways as we have seen there are other priorities of a much more urgent nature that require these funds. The Metro Bus scheme or the circular railway for Karachi or some other transport scheme can wait for a couple of years. We need to fix the fundamentals first: become a more law abiding society with security for our people, start the process of gradually wiping out illiteracy, improve our tax regime and provide consistent policies; this will lead to both foreign and domestic investment.