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Tax amnesty on offshore assets

Never in the history of Pakistan tax amnesty on black money has produced the desired results in terms of expanding the tax base to generate substantial amount of revenue from direct taxes and eliminate the scourge of tax evasion. The experiment of so called ‘whitener bonds’ recipe of former visionary finance minister Dr. Mahbubul Haq ended in fiasco during the government og Ziaul Haq. The tax amnesty schemes have inherent weaknesses and are specifically designed to benefit the wealthy politicians and businessmen at the expense of national exchequer and poor people of the country.
Addressing the Pakistan Economic forum, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that one -time tax amnesty will be given on offshore assets but he did not give the timeframe to implement the scheme. He said that at the initial stage Federal Bureau of Revenue will not ask any question from the citizens who reveal their hidden assets. The Pakistan Banking Council has been pushing the demand for the amnesty scheme due to a tightening noose around tax evaders by Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. The global campaign against the tax evasion will make it difficult to retain untaxed money abroad for long. This will be the fourth tax amnesty scheme during the current PML-N tenure. Earlier three schemes turned out exercises in futility. This time it aims at saving the skin of all billionaire politicians and business executives, who are facing problems due to tightening global fiscal laws. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 of the United Kingdom, Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds Regulations of the United States and Anti Money Laundering laws of European Union are of great concern for the Pakistani politicians and businessmen. Hence they want a certification at abysmally low cost to regularize their ill-gotten wealth. The present government did not make serious efforts to persuade all the registered companies, and unregistered big partnership firms to file income tax and corporate tax returns, about 43 percent registered companies have not filed their tax returns.
The Chartered Accountancy firm AF Ferguson has given a very pessimistic assessment about the repatriation of illegal offshore assets and levying a rationalized rate of tax thereon. Pakistanis have parked about $150 billion abroad. Of the total, $40 billion are parked in foreign real estate either through offshore entities or directly. Another $40 billion are deposited in foreign banks; $20 billion are in the shape of shares in Pakistani Companies and $ 50 billion are in the shape of other assets, including manufacturing concerns. Hence at best $ 3 billion to $ 4.5 billion will be repatriated to Pakistan.
The Prime Minister also gave a vague picture of the economy in his speech and claimed that energy crisis has been resolved and a roadmap has been given for the next twelve years. He admitted that exports were still stagnant at $20 billion, terming recent growth in exports marginal and not sufficient to meet the country needs. He said that Pakistan has to increase its exports to $50 billion. This is a clear rebuttal of the commerce secretary Younas Dagha claim of appreciable surge in exports which he made in a consultative session of the next trade policy 2019-23. The summer of 2018 will be a litmus test as to whether energy crisis has been resolved or not. The rural areas do not have electricity supply for 23 hours; gas load shedding and low pressure is a daily feature, creating problem for domestic and commercial consumers.
The Prime Minister wishes to achieve exports target of $ 50 billion, but on the contrary the commerce secretary proposes a growth up to $ 36 billion. The widening current account deficit has increased pressure on foreign exchange reserves. The data released by the central bank last week reveal that foreign currency reserves have further decreased by 2.03 percent and the reserves now stand at $ 13.742 billion. The foreign currency reserves have been falling continuously for the last five weeks. On January 12, foreign currency reserves held by the central bank were recorded at $ 13. 699 billion compared to $ 13.982 billion in the previous week. The desire for boosting exports to $ 50 billion is worth appreciation, but even the target of $ 36 billion can not be achieved due to prevailing negative economic environment created by highly inflated energy tariff and regressive fiscal policy as compared with the energy prices in India and Bangladesh and their fiscal and monetary incentives for exporters. Founder of the Classical economics Adam Smith has rightly said, “If wishes were horses beggars might have ridden on them all the time.”

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Refugees’ repatriation plan

This time around the federal government has shown a bit of seriousness to repatriate millions of Afghan Refugees to their homeland.  The incumbent federal minister for SAFRON, Abdul Qadir Baloch has all along remained unwilling to send them back to Afghanistan. Mahmud Khan Achakzai, Chief of Pk MAP, who is the ideological buddy of Nawaz Sharif, is totally averse to their repatriation. But at last voices of sanity in the federal government prevailed which raises hope for solving the refugee issue without further delay.

A senior official of the Ministry of SAFRON told a private TV Channel that the deadline set for the stay of Afghan Refugees will not be extended beyond 31st January and they have to return to the country of their origin, Afghanistan. Chief Commissioner Afghan Refugees, Saleem Khan told that an emergency repatriation plan will be prepared for implementation with the assistance of all stakeholders.  It is pertinent to mention that Ministry of SAFRON recommended an extension of one year in the stay of registered Afghan Refugees but the National Security Committee decided that one year extension can not be granted.

The Afghan government has also given a positive signal to welcome back its national who has been living in Pakistan for over 40 years. Addressing a Jirga of Afghan Refugees, Afghanistan Ambassador, Umer Zakhelwal urged them to make preparations for return to their original abode. This is a pleasant development rather surprise because in the past Mr. Zakhelwal used to request the government of Pakistan not to send the refugees back as the situation in Afghanistan is not conducive for their return. In a sarcastic vein, he said if the Afghans could bring greenery and prosperity to the barren lands in Pakistan then there seems no reason that they can not reconstruct their motherland and Afghanistan is the identity of all citizens. However, he lambasted the Afghanistan government for not providing humanitarian relief and assistance to the returning refugees.

The process of Afghan Refugees repatriation plan always hit snags because of multiple factors. Initially, Afghan Refugees strongly resisted this process in 2003 but the then federal minister Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind convinced their elders that guests have to ultimately go back home and their home journey process started. However, most of the Afghan families managed to re-enter into Pakistan taking advantage of the porous Pak-Afghan border. The previous PPP government never showed firm resolve of refugee repatriation. The incumbent PML-N government was also not that enthusiastic in this matter even after the gig human tragedy of Army Public School Peshawar. Even the demands of the KP government for either expulsion or registration of non-registered refugees were not considered favorably. The provincial government was instructed to stop the arrest of unregistered refugees and assured their early registration which did not materialize. The UNHCR faced financial stringency because of donors’ fatigue. Now that the federal government is not extending the period of stay of Afghan Refugees, the international community should be persuaded to give liberal donations to the UNHCR for the smooth and speedy repatriation of Afghan refugees. The early it is done the better it will be. Point number 19 of the National Action Plan emphasizes this issue to avert the incidents of terrorism.

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National narrative

At last the federal government has announced a National Narrative, ” Paigham-e-Pakistan” to seriously address the most burning issue of terrorism and eventually eradicate this scourge which has claimed 80 thousand lives. It is based on 22 points Fatwa inked by 1800 hundred religious scholars of all schools of thoughts hailing from across the country. It rejects extremism, sectarian hatred and use of force to impose Shariah as rebellion against the state. It declares Jihad as the prerogative of state and calls suicide attack “haram”in the light of Holy Quran and Sunnah. It also states that core objective of all educational institutions in Pakistan is enlightenment, schooling and character building. These institutions must not impart hostile military education, training, hatered, extremism and violence. It also points out that sectarian hatred, armed sectarian conflict and imposing one ideology on others by force is a clear violation of the injunctions of Shariah and are a “disorder “on the earth.

The legacy of intolerance and extremism dates back to mid 70s but the government and the state did not bother to nip the evil in the bud. The religious polemics and difference of opinion between various schools of thought was hitherto confined to intellectual debates and enlightened discussions. The successive governments turned a deaf year and blind eye to the use of loud speakers in places of worship and at religious gatherings for delivering hate speeches. Likewise, strict action was not taken against the publication of material spreading sectarian hatred between the different sects and followers of different schools of thoughts. The violent clash between the Deobandisand and Barelvis during Eid Milad-u-Nabi (Sm) celebration procession in Jani Burira village of Sindhs’Khairpur distri on 30 th November, 2017 is clear manifestation of deep rooted intolerance and extremism in our society. At least three people died and nine injured in that clash. The proxy war between two Muslim countries on the soil of Pakistan has also contributed to sectarian strife in which a large number of innocent people perished.

The private Jihad culture is the spill over effect of occupation of Afghanistan first by Soviet forces and then by American forces. Again the successive governments did not realize that banned outfits are establishing safe heavens in FATA and sleepers cells in Southern Punjab and interior Sindh. The present PML-N government was not supportive of launching “Operation Zarb-e-Azab”and was insisting on negations with the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and other domestic and foreign militant groups.  After the terrorist attack on Army Public School Peshawar, 20 points National Action Plan (NAP) was approved, but only three points were half heartedly implemented. The National Narrative envisaged in NAP is the most important point and this narrative has been prepared after a lapse of three years. The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has not been made fully functional because of political expediencies.  Apart from paucity of funds its capacity for intelligence gathering is also limited. These issues which hamper the performance of this important organization are not sincerely addressed. Comprehensive legislations for the much needed law reforms are deliberately ignored. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has drawn the attention of the government to lacunae in the CRPC, PPC and other laws of justice system. It remains to be seen how far our civilian leadership shows seriousness and determination to promote and implement the National Narrative, “Paigham-e-Haq”to steer the country out of the deep quagmire of intolerance, extremism and root out the scourge of terrorism.

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PIA privatization

At the tail end of its constitutional tenure, the PML-N government has decided a hasty privatization of Pakistan International Airline. As the National Airline is incurring heavy losses and has a debit liability over Rs. 200 billion, therefore potential buyers are not interested to buy stakes in this white elephant. The government is keen to sell out the air transport business within three months which has been categorized a core function of this corporation. The huge legacy loans, non-core assets and other liabilities will be put into another company which is estimated worth Rs.325 billion.

This announcement was made by Privatization Minister, Daniyal Aziz in a hurriedly called press conference on Monday. He said that Pakistan Airline Corporation Act 2016 empowers Privatization Commission to sell the National Airline. The Minister elucidated that that under this Act of the parliament the separation process of the core and non core functions has to be completed within two years of the enactment of the law and this deadline is going to end in April this year. Government of Pakistan agreed to the privatization of profitable and non-profitable state enterprises conditionality of International Monetary Fund loan program, the Extended Fund Facility of $ 6.6 billion. But could not do so because of the stiff resistance from opposition particularly Pakistan Peoples Party.

The successive civilian governments ruined the public sector organization by imposing inefficient and corrupt managements on them. Moreover, these corporations were overstaffed by political appointments. The budget deficit is Rs.14, 1 trillion, the bulk of which is caused by losses in PIA, Pakistan Steel Mill and Pakistan Petroleum Limited. Steel mill was making profit till 2007but in the first year of PPP third tenure it started incurring huge losses. The profit earning public sector entities are deliberately pushed into losses to prepare a ground for their sell out at throw away prices. It is a matter of record that former banker Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz attempted to sell the billions dollars worth Pakistan Steel Mill at $ 270 million, when it was making substantial amount of profits. However, on 23rd June, 2006, the Supreme Court Bench headed bench headed by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry struck down the privatization of Pakistan Steel Mill. This family silver was converted into loss incurring state enterprise in 2008. The cumulative losses of Pakistan Steel Mill have now reached well over Rs. 400 billion. Pakistan international Airline was one world’s reputed airlines. Its fast degeneration started in the PPP government 1988-90. The process of its degeneration got momentum in the first PML-N governments and its losses snowballed in the past 10 years. The major factors that contributed to the huge losses of the National Airline are appointments of corrupt and inefficient management, overstaffing and non-induction of new airplanes in its fleet. Expenditures on fuel, repairs and salaries went up enormously. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) imposed a ban on PIA flights on international routes because of its obsolete aircrafts and likely travel risks. The private Pakistani Airlines like Air Blue, Shaheen Airline Bhoja Airline took away the passengers who used to avail PIA service. The colossal amount of losses and legacy loans justifies the privatization of its dwindled air business. It remains to be seen how the government succeeds in this sell out for paltry amount.

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Incompetence of executive

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisartaken has taken cognizance of the issues pertaining to public welfare because the incompetent executive has failed to solve the basic problems of the people. In an unprecedented move the bench headed by the Chief Justice heard the constitutional petition at Karachi Registry on Sunday filled against Sindh government failure to provide potable water, better sanitation, and environment and associated issues.

The executive branch of the state is not performing its duty to take notice of basic problems of the people and their elected representative in the legislature and local governments do not take interest to address the problems of common man. Despite the availability of funds dilapidated water supply system is not improved, sanitation systems is not restored and upgraded to cater to increase in population. Law abiding citizen are deliberately left at the mercy of water tankers mafia. The supply of domestic water becomes scarce in almost all catties of the country but the local government departments turns a deaf ear and blind eye to this basic necessity of the people. New tube wells are not installed to overcome the pressure problem and augment water supply.

Adulteration in food commodities is rampant and the executive magistracy is a silent spectator. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has also taken Suo motu notice of bad quality of milk and supplementing milk production of cartels by oxytocin injections . The top court ordered to confiscate the stock of these injections. The court also ordered the seizure of the full stock of the companies producing harmful packaged milk. The companies filed their reply in Sunday’s hearing. The Chief Justice directed to conduct a laboratory test of the packed milk and submit a report within two weeks. The milk producing companies have cartelized the market  because their owners are politically well connected and the district administration is always reluctant to take action against them. Hence the consumers are at their mercy to buy low quality milk.

Another basic problem of the people is tremendous increase in the price of life saving medicines over the past nine years. There are also complaints of spurious drugs. A cough syrup ‘Tyno’ caused a number of deaths in Punjab in 2016. The prices of almost all medicines have gone up manifold. The medicines for the treatment of Diabetes, Asthma and Hepatitis have become so costly that patients belonging to middle class can hardly afford their purchase. The federal government is not inclined to persuade the national and multinational pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices in peoples’ interest. Hopefully, the executive will realize its responsibility of public welfare and will not overburden the judiciary with the matters that fall within the ambit of executive.

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India’s war hysteria

Civilian leadership gave a sharp response to the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s  statement on ‘calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.’ Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that both Indian Army Chief’s and US President Trump’s statements indicate that international forces are trying to pressurize Pakistan. He said India has directly threatened us and this careless statement shows its leadership mindset. He urged all nuclear power states to exercise caution .and control. The minister raised questions over the possibility of India’s inclusion in the nuclear suppliers Group in the light of such like irresponsible statements.

In his response, Foreign Minister Kkwaja Asif said that General Rawat’s threat amounted to an invitation for nuclear encounter. “If that is what they desire, they are welcome to test our resolve, the General’s doubt will swiftly be removed “The military leadership gave a measured response and described Indian Army Chief, s statement “unwarranted, irrational and bluff itself”

There is a degeneration of leadership qualities in the rank and file of Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) with the ascendency of Narendra Modi to the saddle of power. His predecessors never gave a freehand to military leadership to issue threat of nuclear war to another nuclear power in the neighborhood. The incumbent Indian Prime Minister lacks the wisdom and sagacity of his predecessor BJP Prime Ministers like Morarjee Desai and Attal Bihari Vajpai. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was quite optimistic that Pak India relations will improve in the present BJP government and earnestly participated in the oath taking ceremony of Narendra Modi but instead of reciprocating goodwill he charge sheeted his Pakistani counterpart in one-one meeting. The same charge sheet, blaming Pakistan for exporting terrorism, was highlighted by the then Indian Foreign Secretary Ms Sujata Singh in a press conference when t Nawaz Sharif was still present in New Delhi. But a befitting response was not given to repudiate the Indian allegations. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister always preferred to play a second fiddle role while interacting with his Indian counterpart. In a Joint Communiqué of the meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi in Ufa in July 2015 mere reference to Kashmir dispute was omitted which invited criticism from the political analysts and retired career diplomats of our foreign service. The absence of Pakistani officials in the meeting between Narendra Modi a,ccompanied by the members of his entourage, and Nawaz Sharif along with his all family members at Jati Umra Raiwand was again criticized by political analysts. This demeanor of the ruling party leadership emboldened the Indians to take their Pakistani counterpart for granted, because the latter always avoided talking on equal footings and from the position of strength.

The ruling PML-N is on the path of open confrontation with state institutions and opposition parties whereas the volatile situation of this region and India’s hegemonic designs necessitates political stability and sagacity on the part of political leadership. The tradition of looking up to the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in decisions about national and international affairs must end now. The need of the hour is that leadership of all political parties should be on the same page in the conduct of international relations.



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Repercussion of enigmatic governance

The PML-N government persistently rejected and rather ridiculed the sane advices of independent economists, the World Bank (WB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to take corrective measures for addressing the macro economic imbalances including the fast widening current account deficit, reckless borrowing and extravagance in non-productive public expenditure. The insanity of the federal government has forced WB to put on hold the soft loan woth $250 million for risk management which is though a human issue. Hence poor people affected by natural calamities will pay the price for the ridiculing international lending agencies, which the Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal often does.

The World Bank was ready to give this policy loan for risk management but unwillingly decided to put it on hold because of non-serious attitude of the government to address the weakening macroeconomic situation. A review mission of the WB has not authorized preparation for the risk management loan to continue because Pakistan’s macroeconomic framework continues to face risks as the overall external account position has recently weakened further and foreign exchange reserves are under tremendous pressure. Even after acquiring fresh loans of $ 2.5 billion, foreign currency reserves have fallen below $ 14 billion. The Catastrophe Differed Drawdown Option (Cat-DDO) requires an adequate macroeconomic management to be approved, to which the present government is totally averse. The policy loan is a contingent credit line that provides immediate liquidity for the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the people affected by natural calamities like floods and earthquake.

The Washington-based lending agency drew the attention of the government in the first week of October 2017 towards the worsening macroeconomic conditions of Pakistan. But the Planning Minister after attending the joint meeting of WB and IMF lambasted the “South Asia Focus Fall Report “in a function held in Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington with his usual verbosity hollow denial and cover-up of the bad governance of the government. The WB renewed its warning on 7th November 2017 for policy reforms aimed at macroeconomic management but the government turned a deaf ear to it. This convinced the international lending agency that the aid provided for disaster management will certainly be misappropriated and its benefits will not reach the affected people. Hence putting it on hold is the best option to avoid the wastage of financial resources by a government plagued by inefficiency and enigmatic governance.

The WB had also pegged $ 400 million aid subject to condition of passing and enacting legislation for debt control because heavy reliance on high interest bearing short term loans can create a repayment issue for Pakistan.  But the government did not accept this useful conditionality. The Bank in its report titled “Pakistan Development Update” comprehensively covered socio-economic issues in Pakistan. The report stressed for creating an “able tax administration and fiscal reforms for expanding tax net through direct taxes. Budget deficit will shoot up to 6.1 percent of the GDP against target of 4.1 percent. The current account deficit will not come down merely by the statements of commerce secretary Youna Dagha released to the media. It can be reduced by viable exports facilitation measures for the exporters associations. Chambers of commerce of commerce and industries has already given comprehensive proposals and recommendations.  It is time that government seriously considers the warnings of independent economists and international lending agencies and addresses the urgent issu4e of macroeconomic imbalances. The time is running out for the much needed fiscal and monetary reforms.

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Painting a rosy picture

Talking to a delegation of Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), President Mamnoon Husain claimed that Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown significantly during the last few years which have strengthened the national economy. He said there was a need to further enhance national income and development through continuation of the existing policies and urged business community to play a pivotal role in putting the economy on a road to speedy progress.

The claim of substantial economic growth is debatable as non-productive expenditure led growth does not increase national income in real in real terms. It is then an illusion of words and fictitious numbers. That is why the lopsided policies of the present government has worsened the condition of common man because the economic growth portrayed  had no trickle down effect on the poor people and the response option for ameliorating their condition is not forthcoming. Because of the current policies 40 percent population is living below the poverty line and 50 percent is faced with the chronic problem of food insecurity. People drink contaminated water, health facilities in government hospitals are insufficient and prices of life saving medicines have gone up by 100 percent. The number of children out of schools is 80 million. In human resource development index Pakistan is much behind India, Bangladesh and Srilanka. The target of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has not been achieved. It was because of this deliberate failure of the government that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif skipped the UN meeting on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in 2016.

Macroeconomic indicators have deteriorated abnormally. Exports have declined by $ 5 billion and imports of more than 300 hundred essential goods are constantly rising despite highly punitive regulatory duty because imports substitution industry could not flourish due to unfavorable economic environment. There is no energy policy for cheap and environment friendly power generation from hydro, wind and solar sources and main focus is on expensive thermal power generation from fossil fuel which will also be a major cause of spreading fatal diseases like Asthma and Cancer. The deal for the import of LNG from Qatar is still shrouded in mystery because of its shady nature.  The price of the same LNG in India is $ 7 per mbtu whereas its price in Pakistan is $ 11 per mbtu. The sky high tariff of energy inputs and a barrage of regressive indirect taxes have increased the cost of doing business and have made exportable goods less competitive. Textile sector is plagued by shut downs and the entrepreneurs are shifting their units to Bangladesh, where the price of electricity is five times lower than Pakistan. Not a single cotton plant is grown in Bangladesh but it exports cotton cloth, yarn and ready made garments worth $ 27 billion whereas the total exports of Pakistan are stagnant at $23 billion. The business community can play its role in economic development only when the economic environment is conducive in terms of inexpensive energy prices, progressive tax structure and liberal monetary and fiscal incentives for exports. The present government is not facilitating the exporters to explore new markets and diversify the composition of exports. Despite the negative economic environment, a number of primary commodities and finshed goods have certain degree of comparative advantage for export but the trade policy is not helpful to boost their exports.

The contention that electricity production has been increased with reduced tariff is not correct as per unit price of both domestic and commercial consumption has not been reduced at all.  The relief, occasionally given to consumers through fuel price adjustment, is not a reduction in tariff. If the price of furnace oil and diesel goes up this relief will not be  given to the domestic and commercial consumers. Reality is that the economy is in shambles and no corrective measures have been taken to address the macro economic imbalances of falling imports, curtailing wasteful expenditures, checking the rampant corruption and abandoning reckless borrowing to avert the likely threat of debt trap and insolvency.

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Decreasing debt affordability

Despite the secretary commerce claim about the steady surge in exports, Pakistani currency is losing value against US dollar and other hard currencies due to constantly widening current account deficit. The credit ranking agency Moody has cautioned that further depreciation of Pakistani rupee (PKR) will decrease Pakistan’s credit affordability. The central bank will then face the difficult challenge of anchoring inflation at moderate level. The government’s debt affordability would also likely weaken further as the Pakistan’s one third debt is denominated in foreign currency, said Moody.

Public debt has increased enormously over the last 10 years whereas the size of GDP has shrunk in real terms. In 2007 debt to GDP ratio was less than 50 percent; it went up to 64 percent from 2008 -2013, and further gone up to 68 percent in 2017, bordering on the redline. The rising trend may continue if corrective measures are not taken. The existing ratio is higher than the t median estimate for B- rated sovereignty of 55 percent to GDP for 2017. In the fiscal year 2016-17 majority of debt indicators deteriorated because the government has constantly violated the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Management Act 2005. Pakistan urgently needs foreign loans for balance of payment support and debt servicing. The external sector has not performed well over the past three years. In the three years trade policy 2016-18 annual export target was set $ 35 billion but it could not be achieved and the exports remained stagnant at $ 23 billion. After failing to meet the goal in three years trade policy, the government will try to achieve the target in the new trade policy with a time frame of five years 2019-23.

A number of factors are at work that inhibits the growth in exports. Pakistan’s primary commodities and finished goods have lost the competitive edge because of their high price and low quality. The production cost is abnormally high due to sky high tariffs of electricity and gas.  The government gives export subsidy on sugar and wheat but is not willing to extend the same facility to the exporters of rice, sports goods, surgical goods, light engineering products and ready made garments. Secretary Commerce Division Younas Dagha is holding consultative sessions on the next trade policy with the business community. However, the input from the chambers of commerce and industry of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan is yet to be included in the strategic trade policy 2019-23. These provinces have a great potential of exports of a number of items which include fresh and dry fruits, gem stones and marble products. Pakistan has great potential to improve its marble industry by introducing modern technology in mining and cutting of marble. The global market of marble and granite is $ 62 billion but our share in the world market is less than one percent.  Pakistan’s share of marble products can be substantially increased by quality improvement and value addition for which proper incentive from the federal government are urgently needed.  Marble mining licenses should be given subject to the condition of using state-of-art technology by the mining contractors.  The ambitious target of $ 36 billion can be achieved only when number of exportable items is increased and new markets are explored. Besides this production cost is lowered by bringing down the electricity and gas tariffs. Quality of exportable goods also needs significant improvement.

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Quetta bleeds again!

In the unfortunate city of Quetta, at least seven persons were martyred and 16 injured in a suicide bomb attack on a bus carrying the personals Balochistan Constabulary who were returning from a security duty of Balochistan Assembly wherein a no confidence motion was to be tabled which was withdrawn after the Chief Minister Nawab Sana Ullah Zehri tendered his resignation. The vehicle was struck by a suicide bomber riding on motorcycle on Zarghon Road at general Post Office Chowk. The dead include five personals of Balochistan Constabulary and two civilian. Extraordinary securityarrangements were in place because of Provincial Assembly session but even then the suicide bomber managed to sneak into that area which is a big question to be pondered over.

Balochistan is the worst hit province by terrorist attacks and sectarian strife. Hazara Shia community has been most often targeted by the terrorists of Lashkar-e-Janghvi and other banned outfits that mostly infiltrate into the province from Southern Punjab and Interior Sindh and neighboring country Afghanistan. Security personals from police, Balochistan Constabulary and Frontier Crops are particularly vulnerable to such attacks. A group of terrorists stormed the police training institute, Quetta, killed 61 policemen and wounded 117 on 16th November, 2016. Deputy Inspector General of Police Hamid Shakeel was killed by a roadside bomb in Quetta on November 8, 2017 and on November 16 SP Muhammad Ilyas and his three family members lost their lives when their vehicle was ambushed by terrorists. In all 42 police personals including seven high ranking officials were killed in 2017. In addition to this, a number of personal of other security forces also fell prey to the terrorist attacks and lost and embrace martyrdom in the line of duty.

Gallant personal of security organizations and civilians are being killed in terrorist attacks but the ruling elite is least bothered about improving the inland security to provide protection to the people and even they have forgotten the sacrifice of the 150 young and small students who were martyred in terrorist attack on Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014. The federal and provincial governments did not implement the most the important points of the National Action Plan (NAP).The required amount of funds were not allocated to strengthen National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) and other security agencies. In a myopic vision and ridiculing mode, the former disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif blams the surge of terrorism on the Supreme Court verdict of 28th July, 2017. But on the contrary Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal used to claim that the back of terrorist has been broken and law and order has been restored in the country, blurring the fact that PML-N government was not in favor of launching “Operation Zarb-i- Azb” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas adjoining the province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh are averse to effective clean up operation against the sleeper cells of banned outfits in Southern Punjab and Interior Sindh for fear of losing vote bank in the next general elections. Politics is given preference over humanity. Peoples’ security should be considered a prime responsibility. It is time that government should wake up from the deep slumber and focus attention on the issues of inland security for which NAP provides a viable framework. Mere condemnations of terror attacks and hollow statements of bringing terrorists to justice will not change the grim situation on ground.