The Quetta attack and politicians’ vulgar point-scoring

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The attack on the police academy at Quetta has claimed at least 61 lives, and injured many more. In the aftermath
of such a devastating tragedy in which young cadets ready to serve their country were mercilessly killed, a period of collective mourning and a show of solidarity was expected from all political quarters. Unfortunately, however, even on this moment, influential persons of Pakistan’s leading political parties did not let go of their characteristic political point-scoring, distastefully indulging in putting each other down.
It is confounding as to what Federal Minister for Defence Khawaja Muhammad Asif was trying to achieve by using the latest Quetta tragedy to take a jab at Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In his tweet Asif said: “India attacks LOC & working boundary. Quetta & Peshawar attacked frm [from] Afghanistan. IK preparing to attack Islamabad..Accidental coordination?” Conflating a terrorist attack with Imran Khan’s Islamabad lockdown, regardless of the questionable merits of doing so, and trying to make political capital out of it is reflective of the low standard that the discourse on politics has taken in Pakistan. In response to Asif’s tweet, co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted, “Delete your tweet. Delete your account. Delete your ministry. Delete you government. Shameful to play politics now! Ignore clowns. Do ur job!” Despite the harsh tone and questionable use of certain terms, Bilawal has a point: playing politics at this moment is outright disrespectful to both the families of those who lost their lives, and the entire nation.
As far as PTI is concerned, its response on national tragedies is for the most past more focused on its own self rather than the event. In his latest statement, chairman of PTI Imran Khan alluded to the possibility that the Quetta attack was the result of Indian machinations to derail his ‘reform’ movement. Again repeating what PTI has been severely criticised for before, Khan also wondered why such events happen whenever PTI has a movement going on. Not only does PTI sound absurd while making these claims, it also shows that PTI is under the impression that its work is so important that government and even foreign powers would go to such extremes to undermine it. Sounding more like Hollywood plots than actual reality, such claims by PTI indicate its level of immaturity and its inability to articulate a reasonable response and line of action on important and sensitive occasions.
However, all of this is not to say that government should be given a free hand and not be questioned. Pakistan is in a highly securitised state right now in which in order to fight terrorism, the state’s security apparatus have been given far reaching powers. While it is true that Pakistan’s security forces tirelessly work in order to foil such attempts, and they are successful in doing for the most part, but attacks such as the one in police academy must be used to identify flaws and work on them. More particularly, it is government that has to lay down a concrete plan of action, which contains farsighted measures to tackle terrorism in its entirety. Simply blaming RAW and Afghanistan would not do. If that problem exists, then a workable solution needs to be provided so that such attacks do not happen in the future.
Far too many Pakistani lives have been lost due to the scourge of terrorism. Using patriotic slogans to ease the pain is not enough. Pakistanis long to see terrorism eliminated, and for that the entire political leadership has to work together. The very least that the political leadership can do is respect the irreparable loss and not use the tragic moment as an opportunity to indulge in political point-scoring.
IMF’s call for tax reforms
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, in a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Monday, maintained that Pakistan is out of an economic crisis, but to sustain the progress, the country would need to widen its tax net among implementation of other reforms as soon as possible. Lagarde lauded the government on successfully completing the IMF programme worth $6.4 billion and achieving macroeconomic stability during a short period. The IMF MD also said that economic growth has gradually increased, and the fiscal deficit has reduced while inflation has continuously declined in Pakistan. She also appreciated Pakistan’s strengthened social safety nets, tax policy and administration reforms that have been undertaken.
The visiting IMF managing director, while speaking at a seminar later in the day, said: “Despite the marked improvements over the IMF-supported programme, Pakistan still only collects little more than half of what is estimated as a feasible amount in taxes. This means continued efforts are needed to bring more people into the tax net and ensure that all pay their fair share.” She also added: “Currently, these losses amount to more than two-thirds of what is spent on the Benazir Income Support Programme. Imagine what you could do with that amount of extra resources.”
Since the initiation of the assistance programme, the IMF has urged Pakistan to take certain measure to improve the budget deficit by improving exports and privatising loss-making public enterprises. Although the government has made some efforts, so far, the results are not appreciable. The loss-making entities like the Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills, power distribution companies and other state-owned companies have been running in losses for years. Despite giving certain dates for privatisation, the government has not been able to finish the process.
As far as the tax net is concerned, the number of registered taxpayers hovers around one million, an alarmingly low number in a country with a population of more than 180 million. Instead of widening the tax base, the government has resorted to indirect taxation measures, which have resulted in an increased burden on the salaried class. But the government has not been able to bring business class in the tax net. The tax amnesty scheme that was introduced to add a million taxpayers in the net could only woo 10,000 people, and was widely criticised by the business community.
Although the progress of the economy hinges a great deal on increased exports and foreign direct investment in the country, an increase in the tax net is the utmost necessity to self-sustain the economy. In just the past three years, Pakistan has new foreign loans of $25 billion, along with approximately $30 billion from local banks for the purpose of budget financing. This is a dangerous trend that could result in a potential crisis if Pakistan does not take measures to improve its income-generation through taxes and other reforms.