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Pakistan Today Editorial – 13th February 2016

Friendly opposition

Mutual interests?

PTI’s muk muka charge received a shot in the arm by none other than the interior minister the other day; when he initiated the small war with Khurshid Shah over receiving benefits from the government. Yet just like his famous quarrel with Aitzaz Ahson in the House – at the height of the dharna – the puffing and shouting was followed by nothing at all. Once the bigger leaders of the parties got involved, it was back to business soon enough. It’s this trend that leads to repeated muk muka accusations. Both parties are fond of criticising the other, but they are hardly ever a really potent opposition, and never really big on holding the other accountable since the Charter of Democracy.

There have been signs of late, though, that the ‘arrangement’ might be under more stress than usual. The Karachi Operation put off the PPP to no end ever since Rangers expanded it from MQM to Dr Asim. At some times the ruling party has simply been unable to lend a hand in this matter – everybody knows who is really holding the remote control. But at others it has not seemed to willing to go out of its way to help PPP. The PIA privatisation disaster did not help the relationship much either.

Yet despite the obvious discontent it is still not completely clear if the romance has really ended. The two are definitely not as close as they were during the dharna – when PPP sided with the government to ‘save democracy’ – but more will become clear when the operation inevitably moves to Punjab. If, like PPP in Sindh, elements of Punjab’s ruling party are also caught in the net, will PML-N once again resort to the ‘democracy in danger’ slogan, as always? If so, which is very likely, will it not miss PPP’s political support if the two have really drifted as far as sections of the media like to portray? So far mutual interests have allegedly kept the two watching each other’s back. And as much as one might be cross with the other for the moment, it is likely that they will come together once again, especially when it’s a matter of survival.

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A highly controversial decision

So much for cheap fuel

The government tends to transfer the financial costs caused by its own inefficiency or questionable policies to the general public. In December last the government’s failure to check attacks on gas pipelines by terrorists combined with the gas companies’ incompetence to stop gas theft led to the hiking of the system losses in gas tariff by 2.5 to 7 percent. The additional revenue impact of over Rs15 billion was then discreetly passed on to the consumers. This time, after collecting over Rs160 billion as Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) from consumers in the name of laying gas infrastructure, the finance ministry reportedly utilised the funds instead for balancing the budget to remain in the good books of the IMF. Now it is hectoring a reluctant OGRA to allow the government to recover Rs101 billion more from gas consumers once again for LNG pipeline.

The decision taken in the ECC is highly unjust for a number of reasons and is likely to give birth to a nationwide controversy. What is the moral or legal justification for taxing the consumers twice for the same thing? Was it legal on the part of the government to divert funds collected earlier for building gas infrastructure to other heads? Why doesn’t the government collect taxes from tax dodgers among the trading community, instead of providing them incentives to whiten their black money? The move is obviously politically motivated as the government is reluctant to lose the votes of an important section of its constituency. The government thinks the consumers who do not have a voice in this country can be forced to pay more.

Since the LNG will be used for power generation in Punjab, the cost will also be recovered from electricity consumers, which will push up the electricity tariffs. The increase in prices of all goods where LNG is used for production including fertiliser will also go up. And all this when the country was being promised the cheapest fuel.

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Middle East madness

Another disaster in the making

 

Finally, after years of bloodshed – hundreds of thousands dead, millions upon millions hopelessly displaced – the Syrian civil war is just beginning to move towards some sort of clarity. Government forces have kept supply lines from the Lebanese border in check for the better part of a year. And with Russian airpower helping their advance in key sectors, they have all but encircled Aleppo and nearly cut off crucial rebel (including ISIS) supply lines from Turkey. Once Aleppo falls, it will not be long before Raqqa – the de facto seat of the so-called caliphate – also collapses. It will no longer have the necessary logistical life-support.

Naturally this development has not been taken well in capitals that have invested the last half-decade in trying to dislodge the Assad regime in Damascus. Riyadh, Ankara, Doha, etc, are troubled, to say the least. It’s not just that Damascus will survive. It is also that the west is leaning more and more towards the other group, especially Iran, at a time when the outcome of the present nightmare will define the course of the region for decades. That explains calls from Saudi Arabia and Turkey regarding a possible land invasion of Syria.

Pakistan needs to tread very carefully at this point. Only recently we confirmed, a number of times, about being on board the strange Saudi coalition against terrorism. It is strange because our leadership is still unsure about the alliance’s agenda, yet is a committed part of it. How will we posture, for example, if the Saudis – along with the Turks – really cross the border and initiate a far wider war? Deeply engaged in a war of our own, it is better if Pakistan adopts a strictly neutral stance for the remainder of this conflict. If anything, KSA and Turkey should learn from Pakistan’s example, and avoid stoking conflicts across their borders.

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