Dawn Editorial 15th November 2023

‘Hell on earth’

DO Palestinian lives matter? Clearly, in the eyes of the global elite —both in the East and the West — they do not, with the Palestinian body count rising as Israel continues its savage assault on Gaza. A UN official aptly described the forsaken Palestinian region as “hell on earth”.

With the Israeli onslaught entering its sixth week, there are no signs that the plight of Gaza’s people will ease anytime soon. In particular, the Israeli war on Gaza’s hospitals is despicable, as the world over, medical facilities are considered off limits during hostilities.

When health centres are attacked, such as the 2020 terrorist strike on a maternity home in Kabul’s Dasht-i-Barchi area, there is universal revulsion. In slaughtering children, the elderly and infirm, Israel is employing the same tactics that some of the world’s worst perpetrators of terrorist violence do.

Last month when the Al Ahli Hospital was hit, there was global condemnation of this repulsive act, even though Israel tried to deflect criticism by claiming that an errant Palestinian missile had hit the facility, despite compelling evidence that this was the handiwork of the Israeli Defence Forces. The war on Gazan hospitals continues, as reports indicate that the Al Shifa and Al Quds medical facilities have ceased operations.

At least six premature babies have apparently died due to power shortages at Al Shifa. In total, the UN asserts, half of Gaza’s hospitals and a third of its primary health centres have become dysfunctional. The WHO chief has described the situation as “dire and perilous”.

This grotesque bloodbath is being carried out in full view of the world. Where are the champions of human rights in Western capitals who never tire of hectoring others on doing the right thing?

Where are the great supporters of the ummah who say that the world’s Muslims are one body, and suffering in one part, means suffering for all? Where are the standard-bearers of Arab nationalism, who loudly proclaim that from the Atlantic shores of the Maghreb to the warm waters of the Gulf they are one nation?

The Gazan massacre is a shameful example of the indifference of the global elite, and the impunity of a well-armed bully — supported by the world’s greatest economic and military powers — that slaughters the innocent without compunction in the name of vengeance.

Students of history have read about how Attila, Genghis Khan and Hitler committed unspeakable massacres. Israel’s bloodthirsty leadership — the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ in the eyes of its Western cheerleaders — should be added to this grim list for what it has done to the Palestinian people over the last six weeks.

History will never forget the screams of dying Palestinian children, and should never forgive those who perpetrated and aided this monstrous crime.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023

Low tax collection

FOR whatever it is worth, FBR’s plan to add 1.5m new taxpayers — or tax filers — by the end of this fiscal year is not realistic. Even if it pulls it off, it is unlikely to significantly increase collection or raise the abysmal tax-to-GDP ratio of less than 9pc. Last year, the number of tax filers rose from 3.3m to 4.8m. However, most did not show taxable income; they filed their returns only to avoid punitive taxation on non-filers. In fact, some reports suggest that less than half actually paid any tax. So much for FBR’s claims of broadening the tax net by adding tax filers. This extremely low tax collection is at the heart of Pakistan’s deepening fiscal woes, with the already massive debt accumulating further with each passing year. We have been hearing FBR’s claims of broadening the tax base to bring the undertaxed and untaxed segments into the net to boost the tax-to-GDP ratio to 15pc to 20pc for many decades. Yet no government, civil or military, has managed to accomplish this feat, while other comparable economies like Bangladesh have successfully raised their tax collections.

The lack of real progress on broadening the tax base has prompted the authorities to impose additional taxation on captive taxpayers — the salaried classes and organised businesses — for meeting budget targets year after year. It also has led to the emergence of a complex withholding tax regime to recover taxes from those who do not pay their due share, and is a major reason for the high tax burden on compliant taxpayers along with multiple other levies. Needless to say, it has proved to be a major incentive for non-compliant individuals to remain out of the tax net. Earlier, during talks with the IMF mission, FBR had submitted a ‘backup plan’ to levy a fixed tax on the retail sector from January in case of a potential shortfall in the tax collection target of Rs9.4tr. A bigger gap would trigger more taxation on real estate transactions. This implies that FBR itself realises that it cannot boost tax revenues without netting the untaxed and undertaxed segments of the economy. While the plan to increase the number of tax filers must be supported, there is little hope of boosting the tax-to-GDP ratio without taxing retailers, real estate transactions and agriculture.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023

‘Little’ tragedies

SOMETIMES, it is the small stories — those that, at first glance, seem almost inconsequential in the larger scheme of things — that end up completely unsettling one’s conscience. There was one such story in this paper yesterday about a Rawalpindi father who returned home from work on Saturday evening looking forward to being greeted by his three children — two girls and a boy, aged from seven to two — but who found their lifeless bodies in a trunk instead. It appears that the little ones had climbed inside during one of their games and inadvertently locked themselves in. The mother was at work when this ghastly accident happened. One shudders to contemplate what suffering the little souls must have endured as they waited for help.

Can one blame the parents for this tragedy? It hardly seems fair. It has become impossible for the vast majority of households in this country to survive on a single wage. The father was a bike rider — most bike riders struggle even for minimum wage. It is not difficult to imagine why the children’s mother decided to chip in. Not everyone has access to a family support network to ask for help babysitting their children. Our politicians and policymakers love to talk about increasing women’s participation in the workforce, but what about creating the conditions that will enable them to do so without putting their children’s lives and well-being at stake? With more women entering the workforce due to economic compulsions, it is incumbent upon policymakers and civil society to recognise the risks they are undertaking and suggest solutions to alleviate them. For example, large organisations may be incentivised with tax benefits for providing monitored childcare services, while government schools can offer extended hours to keep children under their supervision for longer. It should be unacceptable for us as a nation that working parents have to entrust their children to fate because there are few other choices available.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023

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