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DAWN Editorials – 27th February 2016

Nuclear restraint potential

THE National Command Authority, the apex nuclear body in the country, met on Wednesday and, among now-standard reiterations, “re-emphasised Pakistan’s desire for establishing the Strategic Restraint Regime in South Asia and the inescapable need of a meaningful and sustained comprehensive dialogue process for resolution of all outstanding disputes”.
In a week in which it was revealed that Pakistan and India are among the top 10 importers of arms globally, the NCA’s message was sensible and welcome.
The Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) was first mooted by Pakistan in the wake of the 1998 nuclear tests in South Asia and is based on nuclear restraint, conventional balance and dispute settlement. In theory, SRR would eliminate the possibility of an arms race and, via dispute settlement, rationalise the investments in their militaries that India and Pakistan have deemed necessary. In reality, India has never been interested in SRR. Why?
Security hawks in Pakistan would point to India’s unbridled ambitions and its desire to project military power over its neighbours. The massive investments that India has made and is continuing to make to transform its military capabilities do suggest that ambition more than pure threat perception is driving India’s defence strategy.
An economy that is still growing at more than seven per cent per annum has created the fiscal space for India’s policymakers to pursue fanciful projects. Yet, there is another side to the story. The SRR is a bilateral pact, whereas India is locked in a rivalry with China too.
The Chinese military budget, at an estimated $150bn, is three times the size of India’s. The cascading security effect between China, India and Pakistan — and the global ambitions of China and India — have made the SRR a non-starter. But it need not be.
The elements of SRR — nuclear restraint, conventional balance and dispute settlement — are interlocking. For example, it was India’s consideration of Cold Start, a next-generation conventional capability, that triggered Pakistan’s interest in tactical nuclear weapons.
Cold Start was Pakistan-specific and had little relevance to China, suggesting that if India had shown restraint in its public posturing, the Pak-India nuclear threshold would not have been altered.
There is also a third aspect, as the NCA statement made clear: “a meaningful and sustained comprehensive dialogue process”. For all the rhetoric and occasional bellicosity, Indian and Pakistani policymakers are ultimately rational actors.
As long as there are outstanding disputes of a serious nature, the threat of conflict is a real one — and defence strategies and spending will reflect that reality. Resolve those disputes, however, and a rationalisation will eventually and necessarily take place. To assert that is not woolly optimism.
Dialogue may not yield immediate or significant breakthroughs, but that is why it needs to be meaningful and sustained. The NCA statement suggests that the military is supportive of comprehensive dialogue. India should meet Pakistan half way.

Tax amnesty failure

WITH the deadline only two days away, the tax amnesty scheme launched with much fanfare by the government appears to have failed even more spectacularly than any similar schemes before.
The so-called Voluntary Tax Compliance Scheme was supposed to net one million new taxpayers from amongst the trader community, as per the optimistic announcements of the finance minister at the time.
As its deadline draws near, only 128 have reportedly taken advantage of the scheme.
This is a most dismal failure, and makes clear to all that the trader community is adamantly opposed to contributing anything to the tax base of the country, whether or not it is consulted or made part of the system.
In the past, the leadership of the trader community opposed tax measures that would make it incumbent upon them to file returns on income tax with arguments that they were “not consulted” when the tax measures were drawn up. They had no trust of the taxman, they would say, going on to point out that they were already paying taxes under other heads, like sales tax.
All these arguments are now washed away. The tax amnesty that has just failed to fetch the compliance of the trader community was drawn up by the leadership of the community themselves.
It went through an extensive process of consultation. And paying taxes under other heads is no excuse; everybody pays taxes under various heads but that does not absolve anyone of the obligation to file an income tax return.
The traders have proved themselves to be a stubborn lot, and have made fools out of the government. The scheme had ownership all the way up to the top levels of government, with the prime minister himself approving its final shape, while the finance minister was intimately involved in the negotiations.
The fact that the senior leadership of the trader community consented to the terms of the deal, then praised it publically, only to fail so spectacularly to obtain compliance with its terms, shows perhaps the limits of a negotiated path forward in broadening the tax base.
All eyes will now be on the government to see how it responds. Will it approve another extension in the deadline, in the vain hope that more time will yield more filers? Perhaps the time has come to tighten the screws, and resort to penal measures should now begin.

Novel protest

AS far as protests go, Alamgir Khan’s method was definitely unique. On Thursday, the activist hopped on to a tractor trolley loaded with malodorous garbage and tried to make his way to the Sindh Chief Minister’s House in Karachi, so that the rulers of the province could face what millions of city dwellers put up with every day.
The campaigner was arrested and reportedly granted bail on Friday.
The local chapter of the PTI staged a protest in support of Mr Khan, no doubt enjoying the bad PR the PPP-led provincial government was earning because of the episode.
Mr Khan has staged similar protests before, stencilling the words ‘fix it’, along with a picture of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, besides the city’s countless open manholes.
Though we may not necessarily agree with the method of protest, and despite the activist’s political links, the issues he has raised are entirely genuine and concern millions of citizens in Karachi and across urban Sindh.
The Sindh CM could try and escape censure by saying ‘this is not my problem’, as he has previously done. However, when confronted with dilapidated urban infrastructure and a collapse in civic services, where can the citizen turn? Karachi is touted as an Asian megacity.
However, wherever one goes in the metropolis, mounds of stinking garbage, crumbling roads and overflowing sewage are a ubiquitous sight, found in equal measure in posh localities, middle-class neighbourhoods and urban slums.
But the rulers — in their rarefied environs — are shielded from such ugliness. It is criminal that a city like Karachi has no proper solid waste disposal system. Whatever the criticism of the Musharraf-era local governments may have been, the set-up we have today has witnessed a considerable drop in service delivery.
Much of this is due to the fact that the Sindh government has clipped the wings of municipal authorities in the province. So, CM Sahib, can the people be blamed entirely if they end up knocking on your door for redress?
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