Dawn Editorial 14 August 2019

The road ahead

AS flags flutter and the melody of patriotic songs pervades the air on Independence Day, Pakistan faces colossal challenges in the domestic and foreign policy realms. These challenges need a response commensurate with the gravity of the crisis.
The redeeming feature in the all-pervading gloom is the continuity of the democratic process — despite its fragility. The people responsible for this frailty are precisely those whose job it is to lend stability and respectability to the state and give hope to the people.
Regrettably, both the government and the opposition have shown a shocking proclivity for recklessness, as reflected in the political idiom they use in and out of parliament, without realising that this only adds to the electors’ contempt for the elected.
A year of rule by the government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan has seen intermittent additions to the number of advisers, besides a reshuffling of the cabinet, but one is hard put to find evidence of worthwhile progress towards implementing the countless promises the PTI chief made during the election campaign. Fiascos and U-turns have been many, the dam fund was a fiscal joke with the nation, the accountability process stands tainted, and the economy is in the doldrums.
The opposition, of course, has gloated over the governance chaos, but politically, it has proved itself equally dilettantish as seen recently in the Senate no-confidence vote. The reason is obvious: this motley group of leaders lacks a coherent strategy to make itself relevant because its fat cats have little in common, except for their hostility towards the government. Besides, the corruption mud has stuck. No wonder that with politics reduced to an epithet-laden theatre of the absurd, the chafing rise in prices and a steady decline in the quality of life have added to the people’s despondency. All this at a time when Indian perfidy in held Kashmir and the Afghan peace talks demand a stable Pakistan headed by a mature leadership that is capable of navigating the nation’s ship.
It is, of course, a ritual on Aug 14 to call for unity, but the latter is an abstract concept unless it is translated into a national asset as a cohesive force. This element of power can be actualised only when our leaders show an unswerving commitment to the rule of law.
Pakistan was achieved through a constitutional struggle, and that was one reason why the Quaid repeatedly exhorted the nation in the little time he had to uphold democratic values. Also, Jinnah never stooped low while criticising his detractors. The nation thus expects its representatives to stop being hecklers, and, instead, conduct themselves with a sangfroid that evokes the voters’ admiration and lends sanctity to parliament.
As flags flutter and melodies fill the air, let those who claim to be our leaders rededicate themselves to the values Jinnah bequeathed to his people.


Media in IHK

THERE could not be two more starkly opposed media environments. Indian news outlets that parrot the government line on India-held Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370 that stripped the territory of its special status a few days ago are in full cry. On the other hand, the media in IHK has been gagged in a manner taken straight out of a fascist’s playbook with a total communication blackout in force since Aug 4. Media persons are smuggling out information and images on flash drives to be hand-carried by people travelling out of the area. Photojournalists, given the nature of their work and the overwhelming security presence on the streets, are quite literally first in the line of fire. A report on the situation by the Committee to Protect Journalists quotes the one editor it could reach on the ground as saying that a group of journalists were thrashed by Indian police when one of them took a photograph of a security barricade in Srinagar. For the rest of the accounts in its report, the CPJ has had to rely on journalists who have travelled out of IHK. The snippets of information paint a dire picture of a media unable to do its job, except by resorting to subterfuge akin to an underground resistance. For instance, the few papers still publishing, which have cut down their pages drastically, are being circulated mostly at night. Reporters are gathering information surreptitiously; moving around without a press card is easier than with one, which instantly restricts mobility and carries the risk of physical violence.
A sham democracy is never more exposed for what it is than when it treats journalists as the ‘enemy’. Preventing the voices of the Kashmiris from reaching the wider public is evidence that India knows its actions in the territory are immoral and illegal, and will be judged so by the world. Depriving the local population of their right to information, that too at such a catastrophic turn of events, is equally reprehensible. Compounding the injustice is that the narrative, as detailed in a report in this paper recently, is being hijacked by a deluge of misinformation and half-truths on social media. There is no on-the-ground reporting from Kashmir or sources of information available for fact-checking websites to debunk fake news. The result is a vicious free-for-all between the two sides of the divide where the truth is the biggest casualty.


Tax returns

THE fact that more than 2.5m people have filed tax returns for the last fiscal year is indeed a good sign that the FBR wants to project. Especially considering that in the previous tax year, this figure was just under 1.5m. So there is an increase and an appreciable one. But the fact that it took eight extensions of the deadline, and that the filing season of the last fiscal year has continued into the present one, takes some of the shine off the claim. Getting people to file their returns is an important exercise, and whenever the number of individuals stepping up to fulfil this crucial responsibility goes up, it is a marker of success. But further questions must still be asked because simply filing paperwork is not an end in itself.
The most crucial question is, of course, how much incremental revenue has been earned as a result. This data is still awaited and the FBR should make it a point to release it too. If it turns out that a large number of the incremental returns are from nil filers, meaning those who declare no taxable income, but are only fulfilling a formality to get their name on the Active Taxpayer List, then it clearly indicates that the real uphill task of broadening the base and getting recalcitrant parties to declare their incomes remains to be done. And if an appreciably large number of the incremental returns is from those who are salaried people whose taxes were already being deducted and deposited, but were simply negligent in their duty to file their returns, then once again the amount collected as incremental revenue through the exercise will not show as appreciable an increase as needed. The ultimate test for the FBR in these trying times is to realise actual material revenue, without resorting to gimmicks, and by spreading the burden of the incremental revenue effort to other parties. That test remains to be passed.

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