Dawn Editorial 2 August 2019

Kashmir mediation

THE Kashmir issue has been a source of acrimony between Pakistan and India for over seven decades, yet Indian obduracy and refusal to recognise it as the core issue and adopt out-of-the-box solutions has left this wound festering.
While New Delhi keeps harping on about militancy in South Asia, it turns a blind eye to the appalling human rights situation in the held valley, which in many ways provides impetus to armed groups.
Moreover, its frequent ceasefire violations along the Line of Control have resulted in unacceptable losses of human life in Pakistan — both civilian and military — while adding to the risks of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
On Wednesday, a minor boy was killed in Indian shelling in Azad Kashmir, while a day before two persons lost their lives in the Neelum Valley.
The Foreign Office has summoned the Indian deputy high commissioner and protested the unprovoked ceasefire violations by his country.
Also, there are reports that India is moving an additional 10,000 troops into occupied Kashmir.
The fact is that unless the Kashmir issue is addressed, peace in the subcontinent will be a distant dream.
And it is also a fact that bilateral attempts to address the Kashmir question and restart dialogue have hit a brick wall, thanks mainly to Indian arrogance and intransigence.
Therefore, perhaps the time is right to take up US President Donald Trump’s offer of mediation between Pakistan and India, specifically focusing on Kashmir.
In comments that grabbed global headlines, Mr Trump had said — in a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan during the latter’s US visit last month — that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to help mediate the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.
While the comments raised a storm in India, with furious denials emanating from the BJP-led government, a Trump staffer remarked that the American president “doesn’t make things up”.
As bilateralism has failed to bring peace to the subcontinent, perhaps Imran Khan should launch a diplomatic push and approach Mr Trump to deliver on his offer to mediate.
The US is the world’s sole superpower, and despite appearing tough and pretending to pursue an independent foreign policy course, India cannot afford to annoy America.
That is why if the Trump administration gave a ‘push’ to the peace process, it would be very difficult for India to ignore such ‘friendly advice’ from Washington.
The US itself claims to be leading the global charge against militancy; if Washington succeeds in facilitating a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir dispute, it would take the wind out of the sails of terrorist groups in South Asia.
Indeed, it is only Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris that can reach a lasting settlement.
But facilitation by foreign powers and multilateral bodies can certainly help all three parties achieve this goal — if India were to shed its arrogance and rigidity.

Taxing doctors

THE latest move by the Federal Board of Revenue to demand more information from hospitals about the private practice of doctors and surgeons to cross-check against their returns is a welcome development. The action should be broadened to include other professions as well, such as law, consultancy and accountancy. Doubtless many of those who are impacted by this move will express puzzlement since they are long accustomed to taking their tax obligations for granted. But most doctors and other medical practitioners maintain a private practice in addition to their formal assignment at the institution where they work. It is common practice to pay the doctor’s bills in cash after each consultation, and these incomes are underreported to the tax authorities on a large scale. Tax evasion and underreporting are rampant in most professions where the self-assessment regime has been abused to the hilt. The comfort level that all practitioners in these fields have developed with tax evasion must end, and a culture of declaring one’s income truthfully must be ushered in.
There are good reasons to believe that the FBR can succeed in this effort today whereas it would have looked like a long shot even a decade ago. The amount of information that is available to the authorities about the spending habits of individuals provides the clearest signal of whether or not they are declaring their incomes honestly. This is what the FBR is using to its advantage in the current drive, asking 30 hospitals in Karachi to provide details about the doctors who work there, with the intention to expand the effort to other hospitals and other cities too. Professional service providers are important because they may be liable to pay tax on two counts, first on their incomes and second on the sale of a private service. The first has to be paid to the federal government and the second to the provincial authorities. It is true that many such professionals will protest this double imposition, but there should be little doubt that compliance is necessary. In time, this drive needs to be broadened, not only for revenue purposes, but also to create a culture of compliance among citizens, especially those who habitually evade taxes or mis-declare their incomes. For his part, the FBR chairman should fast-track credible reforms in the tax machinery to restore trust in the system and simplify the rules of compliance.

A dam misstep

EVEN for a polarised society such as ours, the Kalabagh dam project is particularly divisive. Indeed, the very definition of patriotism and treachery can hinge upon which side of the divide one is on. Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda has stepped into this minefield with all the finesse of the proverbial bull in a china shop. On Wednesday, at a press conference held to highlight yet more alleged misdeeds by Shahbaz Sharif and his family, Mr Vawda — as reported by several media outlets — hinted at revisiting the project. Resorting to a flamboyant metaphor to drive home the point, he said the matter “has been declared dead in the ICU but now that I am the doctor in charge, I have asked that preparations be made for me to re-examine it. I haven’t asked that it be buried”. Yesterday, the government issued a rebuttal, saying that Mr Vawda had been quoted out of context.
It is not surprising the government has moved swiftly to deny any suggestion it may be looking to revive the highly controversial project. Contrary to Mr Vawda’s assertion that the project had been targeted by ‘enemies of Pakistan’, the Kalabagh dam proposal has been comprehensively rejected over the years by the KP, Balochistan and Sindh assemblies. It should be considered well and truly put to rest, unless there is some dramatic change in circumstances. While KP’s objections are largely on account of the displacement of the local population that building the dam would cause, the other provinces’ reservations are those of lower riparian consumers who are more susceptible to water shortages. Sindh has already lost millions of acres of farmland on account of seawater intrusion into its parched peripheries. The water crisis in Pakistan is real, but it needs creative thinking and modern solutions, instead of being mired in the Kalabagh stalemate. Any suggestion of reviving the project understandably stirs nationalist sentiments and causes the smaller provinces to rise in protest against what they perceive as yet another instance of high-handedness by the country’s most populous province.

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