The apathetic elite class of Pakistan
In another round of leaks by the International Consortium of International Journalists, the names of 259 more Pakistanis with connection to offshore companies have surfaced. These new revelations are as unsurprising as the first leaks of the Panama Papers since it is no secret that the wealthy in Pakistan employ elaborate mechanisms to hide their wealth and circumvent the tax system. However, the buzz that was generated by the first leaks was because of the fact that names of the family members of the prime minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, were included in the list, and this naturally gave the prime minister’s political opponents a window of opportunity that they had been hoping for. For the general public, it wasn’t exactly news then and nor is it now. While some people have blamed the Pakistani nation of showing apathy towards this matter, the fact of the matter is that there is little they can do about it. They cannot be blamed for believing that street protests and demonstrations won’t change the ways of the wealthy of Pakistan. However, it must be understood that raising one’s voice and demanding accountability could create an environment in which the rich would feel compelled to give back to society and not evade taxes with such nonchalance.
Pakistan is a country that faces an acute shortage of funds. Among low saving rates and the absence of foreign investment, Pakistan’s economic future wholly relies on the success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Moreover, the abysmal state of the country’s taxation system has meant that the state has to increasingly rely on international lending institutions to meet its shortfall. This gloomy picture is startlingly at odds with the luxurious shopping malls, thriving offices, and elaborate road networks that dominate the landscape of Pakistan’s major cities. As spaces for the country’s economic elite are being transformed to complement their ostentatious lifestyle, consideration for the country’s poor is increasingly shrinking. It may not be so absurd to suggest that the Pakistani state is, in fact, a state that works only for the interests of the rich.
It indeed is a mystery as to why the wealthy in Pakistan are so greedy. Surely, paying their share of taxes would not really result in any substantial compromises in their lifestyles. It seems that the rich in Pakistan would put all their efforts in hiding poverty rather than alleviating it. As they make insular communities, which often lock poor neighbourhoods within walls effectively turning them into slums, the rich keep their gaze away from the harsh living conditions that the majority of the country’s population have to live in. The rich, it appears, do not want to offend their bourgeois sensibilities by keeping the ‘unpleasant’ poverty within their sight. However, it is time that the rich realise that it is their duty to give back to society. And the way to make them realise is by continuously questioning them about their wealth and prodding them to pay their taxes. While it may be true that in the aftermath of these new revelations of the Panama Papers more commissions would be formed and, if past experience is any indication, they will not amount to much, nevertheless one must not resign to this unfortunate state of affairs. Naturally, the country’s political and economic elite would indulge in accusations and counter accusations, safe in the knowledge that their interests are protected. However, the Pakistani public must fulfil its responsibility of being active citizens of Pakistan, and they must raise their voice over the injustices of the rich. Only by creating an atmosphere that shuns tax evasion can Pakistan embark on the path of a more equitable distribution of resources.
Is this the promised ‘roshan’ Pakistan?
There is no respite from power outages as citizens are braving prolonged hours of load-shedding across the country. Currently, there is 12-13 hour load-shedding in urban areas, while rural areas of South Punjab, Interior Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan are virtually living without electricity after the start of May. The energy crisis is the result of the increasing demand of electricity with the increase in population and industries but the production rate of electricity has not improved. The shortage of electricity is mainly caused by the gap created between the demand and supply. There are various reasons behind the less production of electricity in Pakistan, which include financial constraints, lack of new power projects, raising burden of circular debt, poor electricity production, power theft, unfair distribution of electricity and non-payment of electricity bills. All these problems have to be solved in order to overcome the severe energy crisis. Currently, the electricity generation is hovering around 12,000 MW against the demand of 18,000 MW, which is crippling not only the daily life but also business activities.
There seems no end in sight to the energy crisis, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been giving the lollypop of dates about resolution of the energy crisis. First, it was three months, then it was extended to six months, later one year and now it has been deferred till the end of their regime. Even if government lives up to its word regarding that, it will be a great achievement of the PML-N after it has made itself a laughing stock due to its leadership’s changing statements about the timeframe for ending the energy crisis.
The repeated power failures cannot simply be explained away by blaming the weather conditions and other lame excuses. The PML-N had contested the 2013 elections on the platform of ridding the country of the power crisis but after the passage of three years, it has miserably failed in fulfilling its commitment and all its claims have proved hollow. Moreover, government is only focusing on increasing power generation while it is making no investment to improve the decades-old, rusty national grid and related power infrastructure, which is vulnerable to collapse at any time.
Government must take concrete steps and adopt a serious approach for the rectification of the root causes to rid the country of this energy crisis already crippling our economy. Government should not fool the people through employing jugglery of words; rather it should be practical in its approach. Along with the announcement of projects, government should also rectify other faults in the power sector. There should be planning in sequence. Along with the announcement of new projects, government needs to overhaul the existing outdated national grid, which cannot sustain the increasing load of electricity. It is high time that government made some concerted efforts to end this crisis. Government needs to treat the cause, not symptoms. It should focus on upgrading the power infrastructure and make efforts for better recovery of power utility dues. Without tackling the energy crisis in a holistic and effective manner, Pakistan’s future looks literally gloomy.
The Taliban hangings
Afghanistan has hanged six Taliban inmates in the face of increasing violence in the country. The six hanged were found guilty of crimes against national security. These are the first hangings since the current government took office in 2014, as government officials during Hamid Karzai’s tenure had stopped executing imprisoned insurgents in hope of peace negotiations. But in the wake of a suicide bombing in Kabul last month that killed 64 people and left hundreds injured, President Ashraf Ghani said that he was no longer interested in negotiating with the Taliban leaders. The current executions come amid the increased violence in the country after the Taliban had announced the spring offensive at the time of poppy harvest, which is their primary source of financing. Moreover, in the past few days, 43 insurgents have been killed in clashes with the Afghan forces. After the executions, the Taliban leaders have responded with a severe threat of violence.
President Ghani had promised to deal harshly with the insurgents after the negotiations with the Taliban did not bear any fruit. During the recent Pakistan-brokered talks, Afghan officials and the Taliban were unable to reach any consensus. Moreover, the Afghan government was irked by the continued violence even during the peace negotiations. They were of the opinion that talks and violence cannot go ahead together. Among those executed were two Taliban members who were involved in the executions of senior Afghan officials. One of them facilitated a 2011 suicide attack on Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as country’s temporary president after the US forces helped topple the Taliban government. The other inmate was involved in 2009 assassination of the deputy chief of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, Abdullah Laghmani. The toughening of stance from the Afghan government is the right move, as it cannot afford to succumb in the wake of widespread violence in the country. Government should take a systematic approach to the issue rather than an all-out offensive on the battlefield. It should maintain a harsh stance on the violence but should try the criminals under due process of law.
Pakistan has been at the forefront of negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban representatives. Since taking office, the Afghan president has cooperated with the Pakistan government and taken measures to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Pakistan should maintain its stance for a peace process through negotiations and should not support any insurgency in the neighbouring country. Even in the past, fingers have been raised towards Pakistan for allegedly funding and supporting the Taliban. President Ghani had also expressed his reservations regarding the links of Taliban in Pakistan. A recent meeting of the Taliban representatives with Pakistan’s government officials had irked the Afghan government. Pakistan government should take the Afghan government on board before taking any step, and support the Afghan government in all its efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged country.