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DAWN Editorials – 5th July 2015

Forced Charity

KARACHI’S business community and its citizens in general have long complained of being shaken down by criminals as well as elements associated with political parties and religious groups in the name of ‘donations’ and ‘charity’. In fact, eliminating extortion in the metropolis has been one of the key aims of the law-enforcement operation currently under way in the city. While extortion is a year-round menace, during religious occasions such as the month of Ramazan or Eidul Azha, citizens are under additional pressure to forcibly cough up dues such as zakat and fitra to decidedly undeserving elements, or to hand over sacrificial hides. This year, the Rangers seem to be displaying extra zeal in order to stop the forced collection of religious dues. On Thursday, members of the paramilitary force picked up several MQM workers from Karachi’s Rizvia neighbourhood for ‘forcible’ collection of fitra. An official told this paper that “the Rangers will not allow any political or religious party to collect Fitrana from residents forcibly”. The MQM, meanwhile, has protested the Rangers’ action, claiming that the paramilitary force is preventing the party from carrying out “welfare activities”.

Forcible collection of charity by any party or organisation cannot be condoned. The very idea behind charity is that it should be a voluntary act. Hence efforts by the state to crack down on forcible collection of funds are positive. However, the campaign must be across the boardand should not be directed at a single party. The state should also keep a close watch on extremist outfits that use the mosque and madressah to collect funds in the name of religion. There is very little accountability of these funds, which can very easily end up in the hands of hate groups or outfits that promote violence and militancy. Pakistanis are known for their philanthropy as it is, and people should be free to decide who they want to give charity or religious dues to, without any sort of duress or coercion.

Trauma in Nigeria

A NEW president who vowed to crush terrorism doesn’t seem to have made much difference to Nigeria’s fortunes, for on Friday, the militant group Boko Haram once again demonstrated its chilling power to spread death and destruction in the land. By a rough estimate it has murdered some 200 people during the last few days, targeting among other places a mosque where a 15-year-old girl blew herself up to kill and maim the faithful at afternoon prayers. That the government is helpless became evident when 50 terrorists on motorcycles made the Mussa village a target for the fourth time, shooting innocent people, burning houses and dragging women from their homes to kill them. Evidently, Boko Haram has stepped up its killing spree, slaughtering more than 450 people since May when President Muhammadu Buhari took over. The overall casualty toll since Boko Haram began its murderous campaign has now reached 15,000, and the Nigerian government seems unable to respond forcefully to the militant group’s reprehensible tactics.

The trauma in Nigeria must be seen in the global context, for the last week of June saw an extraordinary rise in acts of terror across the Middle East, Africa and Europe, following incitement to violence by the so-called Islamic State, which asked its supporters to increase attacks in this month of fasting. In Tunisia, a gunman spewed death on a beach, killing 37 tourists; in Kuwait a Saudi suicide bomber caused havoc in a Shia mosque leaving almost 30 people dead, and in the Somali village of Lego, Shabab militants raided an African Union base, massacring 50 people and beheading many. Three agonising facts hit us with force: one, the terrorists are in a position to strike whenever and wherever they wish; two, the international community — the Muslim world especially — has failed to degrade much less crush the monster that is international terrorism; three, the silent majority in the Muslim world seems cowed by a microscopic minority of bloodthirsty extremists, who insist on imposing their concept of Islam through brute terror. The challenge, thus, is not merely the state’s military response; the greater task involves countering the extremists through other means. In Kuwait, we see an example that deserves to be emulated by the entire Muslim world, for last Friday saw Shias and Sunnis praying together. The task before Muslim intellectuals is to work for a tolerant, pluralistic polity that accepts and embraces all human beings irrespective of their beliefs.

IMF Review

 

THE latest review of progress under the Extended Fund Facility Pakistan signed in 2013 tells us more about the International Monetary Fund than it does about Pakistan. Despite serious weaknesses in the economy, the Fund is content to pronounce that progress is “encouraging, thanks to strong performance under the programme”. Performance has indeed been strong — but only when viewed with one eye. Reserves have gone up, and the fiscal deficit is being brought down to manageable proportions. At this point, though, the good news ends, even if the Fund has found plenty to spin out of this. Macroeconomic indicators are only the headline items in a country’s economic performance; the real story lies in how these have been achieved, at what cost, and how things are faring beneath the headlines. Falling exports, industry shutting down, collapsing investment, spiralling consumer spending, rising bank profitability even as advances to the private sector shrivel up, are all unhealthy signs for the real stakeholders in Pakistan’s economic health. But for external creditors, the only points of interest are the country’s creditworthiness and its capacity to meet debt-service obligations. And that is the only area in which the Fund has given the government’s economic performance a clean bill of health, because that is the only area that the Fund really cares about.

Pakistan’s case illustrates the dangers of an economic management philosophy whose number one priority is to keep foreign creditors satisfied. Governments, when guided by such a philosophy, will produce absurd actions, such as basking in the approval of international credit rating agencies and multilateral lenders while gnashing their teeth at international NGOs and being suspicious of their motives. The former are pampered stakeholders for our economic managers, and the government serves to please them, while the latter serve only the poor and vulnerable segments of the population who have little voice in policy circles. Pakistan deserves better economic management than this, but looking to the IMF for support in bringing about any meaningful reform is increasingly appearing as an exercise in futility.

There is little evidence that the government has successfully increased recoveries in the power sector or broadened the base of taxation, but the fiscal house can be declared to be in order simply because the deficit is marginally within control. Likewise with the quality of the growth, which is centred heavily on fly-by-night industries such as services and construction, while employment-generating industries continue to languish. But the real challenge — an economy increasingly geared to serve the rich and offload the costs onto the poor — is the product of Pakistan’s own political leadership over the years. The present government is no exception. The Fund review makes clear what to expect in the forthcoming fiscal year: more tariff increases to pay for the inefficiencies of the power sector, heavier taxation on those already within the net, and an anaemic attempt to expand the tax base.

DAWN Editorials – 5th July 2015

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