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Archive for March, 1997

Calculated Risk

After crucial discussions last week between the Finance Minister Senator Sartaj Aziz and the Head of the Fund Mission Muhammad Al-Eryan, the IMF official went back to Washington and made a presentation to the IMF Executive Board that in essence stated that Pakistan’s radical proposals for the revival of the economy was a “risk worth taking”. The major element of the calculated risk is based on the proposed size of reduction in taxes. As such the IMF team has recommended that talks be started with Pakistan to switch-over from the costly Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) to the low-interest Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF). In effect while expressing concern over the proposed massive tax reforms IMF seems to have bought the argument of the Pakistan side that SBA would add to the debt and in effect we would be running in place without any forward movement whereas once the “ball and chain” of high taxes was removed from our legs, our progress would be slow but sure. The logic of the Finance Minister’s arguments, buttressed by the position papers of 11 Task Forces composed of businessmen and senior government officials set up by the PM, impressed IMF that this time Pakistan meant business. We must recognize that the future lies in facing the obvious and determinedly tackling it, not in “fudging” statistics to fool others. In the end not only did we manage to fool ourselves but we had a date with economic disaster that only Presidential action, and subsequently the Herculean efforts of Shahid Javed Burki, managed to avoid.

The reduction in taxes means that there will be a commensurate shortfall of revenues. Senator Sartaj Aziz has taken Pakistan down this road of a calculated risk in the logic of “Supply Side Economics”, made famous in the 80s by President Reagan. In effect this strategy is based on the premise that lowering of taxes will in turn stimulate production and the resultant increased production will mean additional taxes, which being lower, will encourage all concerned to pay. This is an excellent logic because higher taxes meant increasing the cost of the product, putting it beyond of the reach of the consumer to purchase and thus making production stagnant as stocks remained unsold. This lack of demand resulted in most of our industries coming to a dead stop, there was immediate need to revive them by taking pragmatic measures which would increase demand and lead to increased production. The business community must now respond by paying its due taxes.


The indispensable man

The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) on March 20, 1996 nominated Senator Waseem Sajjad, to continue as the Chairman of the Senate. Since the President and the PM are both from the Punjab one would expect more sensitivity to the fact of giving the smaller Provinces needed balance in the upper reaches of hierarchy. Ilahi Baksh Soomro provides this for Sindh as Speaker of the National Assembly. While Balochistan has been somewhat accommodated with the election of the Deputy Chairman Senate, NWFP does not have any representation in the upper reaches of governance. In contrast, Senator Sartaj Aziz, who one would surmise is the most qualified candidate from the PML side, has once again been “superseded” in the “larger interests” of the country and the Party. Others may not articulate contrary opinion out of discretion (in fact this analysis, coming from one who is privileged to be his friend may embarrass him), the fact remains that the choosing of Waseem Sajjad over Sartaj Aziz is grossly unfair to the man, to the PML as a Party and to the country. Senate Chairman Waseem Sajjad may be a fine, upstanding man, the sum total of his services to the Party, especially when he was Acting President in 1993 and he let the elections be manipulated under his very nose, is zero. Can anyone recall anything that he has gone out of his way to do for anyone?


Neglecting the better half

According to the generally accurate 1981 population census, there is a slight majority of females over males in Pakistan. However according to the roll of registered voters in 1993 there are more males than females among them. Whatever the actual count the fact remains that the two sexes are more or less almost in equal numbers. That is where the parity comes to a dead stop, thereafter there is enormous disparity in the social and political disciplines, a disparity that has translated into not only severe pressures on the economy but also on the fine socio-political balance. In the National Assembly (NA) there are a handful of females MNAs, the Senate does not have a single female. While there is plenty of rhetoric about evening out the imbalances but religious, cultural and psychological reservations among our mostly conservative population emasculate any real commitment towards the goal of ensuring equal opportunities to women. We have seen in our lifetime that disparity of any kind can have unfortunate consequences.


Humanizing the Police Station

Crime control and maintenance of peace is primarily the responsibility of the State, at the very basic level the Police Station (Thana) fulfils this requirement. An ordinary citizen seeking redress of a grievances of a criminal, quasi-criminal or even civil nature has to go to this basic unit of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Traditionally the personnel of the PS uphold the rule of law in their area of jurisdiction by patrolling the area and inquiring into alleged misdemeanours. Information about those living in the area is extremely necessary, criminal records of known or likely criminals are maintained in the PS. The knowledge of radical groups, ethnic, religious, student activists, etc, is of vital importance.


Absorbing defeat, analysing victory

Defeat is always a bitter pill to swallow whatever the nature of the competition. As much as a child may weep in anguish and frustration at losing at sports, a politician may find tears very near the surface when beaten at the polls. Those who have character can shrug off defeat with a wry smile, the famous quote “it hurts too much to laugh and I am too old to cry”, being apt. Those with character and resilience immediately take to heart the lessons learnt and get back on the trail for next time around, whenever it may be. Raised by media-hype and star quality to great expectations in public perception, both Imran Khan and Ghinwa Bhutto took a severe psychological mauling at the hands of voters but took their loss with much more grace than the big loser of the day “born-to-rule” Ms Bhutto, who took-off on histrionics bordering on the ridiculous. The latest pet object of “hate” being President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, Benazir seems oblivious of the fact that every time she opens her mouth to make an outrageous accusation, her credibility takes a further tumble into the depths. As for calling the President, Farooq “ul Haq”, has she bothered to take a closer look to see whom her husband has taken to resembling lately? Imran and Ghinwa went back to some selected constituencies respectively and thanked them for their consideration, if not their vote. Veteran politicians like Mustafa Khar, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, etc kept their cool mostly, Maulana Fazlur Rahman must have thanked his stars that he was beaten by the PML candidate rather than Ms Musarrat Shaheen.