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Hoodwinking public opinion

Instead of accepting the responsibility of their deliberate failure to construct water reservoirs that pushed the country into acute water shortages, the political elite is now bent upon hoodwinking the public opinion which is building up and gaining momentum in the support of Kalabagh dam.. After the stereotype and devoid of substance recent statements of ANP leadership against this most feasible and willingly fundable hydropower project by international donor agencies, former leader of opposition in the National Assembly Khursid Shah has also jumped on the bandwagon of anti-Kalabagh dam lobby. He said that the Council of Common Interest (CCI) should have a final call on this mega project.

Referring to a two years old petition being heard at the Supreme Court regarding this project, Shah said the apex court should allow the council to look into the issue since three provincial legislatures, the Sindh. Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa had passed resolutions against this project. In April, the top court sought a reply from the federal government over the measures taken for the construction of water reservoirs after it began hearing a petition on depletion of existing water reservoirs by 2025.

The construction of Kalabagh dam was not a controversial issue before the decade of 1980s. Its launching was very much in the pipeline in mid 70s. Land had already acquired and the construction of residential colonies for WAPDA officials had to be started. At that time none to political parties and provincial governments raised objections to this project. Even the coalition government of National Awami Party and Jamiate-e -Ulema Islam (1972-73) in KP did not say a single word against Kalbagh dakm.

A Sindhi Prime Minster Mohammad Khan Junejo had almost succeeded to achieve the consensus of federating units for the construction of Kalabagh dam but Chairman WAPDA did not agree to the proposal of KP government that was aimed at resolving a few minor technical issues in the cabinet meeting held in Governor’s House Peshawar in 1985. It gave a golden opportunity to ANP leadership to make Kalabagh dam project politically controversial. PPP and Sindhi nationalist parties joined the anti-Kalbagh dam chorus much later. The leaderships of these political parties have failed to support their stance against this multidimensional project of supreme national interest by technical data. Merely hollow political statements are issued and anti-Kalabagh dam resolutions are passed in the provincial legislatures in compliance with one man say is the order of day for deriving political capital at the expense of national interest. The outcome is nothing but the looming water crisis.

 

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Fractured economy

The PML-N government has left the economy in an extremely fractured state, with worrying features of alarming current account deficit, unsustainable debt burden, mounting fiscal deficit, massive circular debt and power outages of longer durations. The caretaker cabinet has emphasized the need for taking immediate measures to stop the economy from further deterioration but has sought some clarifications from the finance ministry before taking steps as short term strategy.

The interim finance minister Dr. Shamshad Akhtar gave an overview of the economy to cabinet, which underscored the need for taking immediate measures to address certain issues related to the balance of payment, fiscal and debt sustainability and better management of public sector enterprises. In view of the precarious economic situation the finance ministry has presented a synopsis of Pakistan’s fractured economy to the caretaker Prime Minister Justice (R) Nasirul Mulk and has given him two comprehensive briefings within three days. Finance Secretary Arif Ahmad Khan has told the prime Minster about the need for getting International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout. However, entering into IMF programme may be left to next elected government to negotiate and decide about its parameters and conditionalities. The care taker Prime Minister has directed the finance division to formulate a comprehensive strategy containing immediate measures as well as blue prints of long term structural reforms for consideration of the incoming government.

Pakistan external account is in precarious situation as gross foreign currency reserves have slipped to $ 10 billion. The reserves may deplet4e further to mounting debt payment and a higher current account deficit. Meanwhile the World Bank has predicted a slowdown of Pakistan’s economy with economic growth rate of 5 percent in the next fiscal year.

The current economic mess is the cumulative effect of both PPP and PML-N government financial mismanagement, rampant corruption and extravagance in government expenditures. The PML-N government accentuated the melt down of the economy. Just after the expiry of IMF Extended Fund Facility programme in September, 2016 the decline of foreign currency reserves started and the global lending agencies repeatedly emphasized for corrective measures to address the emerging macroeconomic imbalances but their warnings were ignored. The World Bank in its Report South Asia Focus Fall2017 again cautioned against the fast widening trade gap, massive commercial borrowings and budget deficit. But the report was ridiculed by the Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal.

Main reason of the current account deficit is the free trade agreement (FTA) with China, granting a concession of zero duty on 35 percent import tariff lines and not obtaining reciprocal concession for exports to china which are subject to tariff and no- tariff barriers. Likewise, national interest was ignored in the preferential trade agreements (PTAs) with Turkey and Indonesia. Pakistan’s exports composition tilted towards the export of primary commodities and quantum of value added products is less. The industry is not competitive as it is still stuck in the second generation technology. Consequently, the exports can not compete with the identical products of India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and even Cambodia in terms of price and quality. These countries have switched over to fourth and fifth generation technologies during the past 10 to 15 years. The stumbling block in technological advancement is the ill conceived and implemented fiscal policies which has enormously increased the cost of doing business with highest in the world electricity and gas tariffs and cumbersome tax structure of 50 plus direct and indirect taxes.

The problem of load shedding of longer duration has not been resolved and circular debt of power sector will remain to hit the economy because of capacity clause of agreements made with private sector power producers in the second Benazir Bhutto government and ones made by the previous PML-N government with Chinese Companies for the establishment of coal fired power plants. About 40 percent of circular debt is caused by the capacity charges of private sector power plants because the government has to pay for the electricity which is neither neither produced nor purchased from the private power producers.

There is no escape from the IMF bailout but for it the concerns of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) about Pakistan weak antimony laundering and counter terrorism laws have to be addressed. The United States enjoy 70 percent voting rights in the IMF and Pak-US relations are at the lowest ebb. Time will tell how the incoming government steers the country out of the prevailing quagmire both on economic and foreign policy fronts.

 

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Affidavit with nomination forms

The Supreme Court while hearing a case regarding nomination forms on Wednesday made it mandatory for all candidates contesting in the upcoming elections to submit an affidavit that would require them disclose the information omitted in the new nomination forms prepared after the changes in the pools law by act of parliament last year. The changes were against the articles of the constitution that provide a touch stone about the honesty, integrity and moral conduct of peoples’ representatives.

Earlier Lahore High Court in its judgment had noted that the new forms did not contain the information and clarifications that were part of the nomination forms of 2013 polls. The information included: educational qualification of candidate; current occupation/job/profession; business of the candidate; dual nationality of the candidate (if any); national tax number and income tax payment; agriculture tax return and payment of agriculture tax; criminal record (if any); assets and liabilities of dependents; declaration pertaining to election expenses; declaration to any default in loans and government dues by dependents; and declaration that the candidate will abide by the Election of Pakistan Code of Conduct.

Transparency, rule of law and respect for the Articles of the Constitution ensuring the honesty and integrity of elected representatives of the people are the important fundamentals of true democracy. The electorate must know that the candidates contesting the elections are honest, credible and bounded by a moral code of behavior as enshrined by the constitution. Democratic accountability means empowering citizens to reject corrupt and ineffective rulers and to be able to choose better representatives. That is why Justice Ayesha Malik of Lahore High Court declared in her judgment, “The lack of lack of disclosure and information in new nomination forms mean that the voters will not get the require information on which an informed decision can be made.”Denial of fundamental rights will make the electorate unable to arrive at an informed assessment of the aspiring law makers. It raised questions about the transparency of the up-coming elections. The submission of affidavit, containing the relevant information about a candidate, will ensure the transparency aspect.

It was very selfish on the part of political leaders of all the political parties to have made hue and cry about the judgment of Lahore High Court. The political elite raised the bogey of democracy under threat and floated conspiracy theories to cover up the questionable and undemocratic action by the parliament in electoral reforms act. It is inexcusable the way all political parties came together to defend the controversial changes that would have allowed people even with criminal record to stand in elections and become law makers. PTI Chairman Imran Khan gave 126 days long sit-in to spearhead the cause of transparency in elections but his party law makers supported the undemocratic changes in the election law. Is not a sheer hypocrisy in the garb of advocating transparency, honesty and good moral conduct?

The controversial amendment in the Election Act was passed by the parliament last year. By virtue of this law candidates were not obliged to provide information about the tax returns, dual nationality status, education and source of income. It makes them virtually above the law, further tarnishing the image of our civilian leadership. With this amendment in place, no judicial action could have been taken against those hide their assets and details about their source of income if the submission of requisite affidavit was not made mandatory by the Supreme Court. The amendment is aimed to remove the sword of disqualification hanging over the corrupt law makers other political leaders. The mandatory affidavit to be submitted with nomination forms by candidates will hopefully plug the lope hole provided by design in changes in the election law.

 

 

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World Bank’s support for India

The Indian lobby in Washington has succeeded and the World Bank (WB) has openly come out in the support of Indian stance on the construction of controversial storage dam projects. After lingering on the issue of Kishan Ganga Dam for two years the WB has asked Pakistan to withdraw its plea for setting up a court of arbitration and accept India’s proposal to appoint a neutral expert on the issues of Kishan Ganga on river Neelum and Ratel Hydropower project on the River Chenab.

The WB has informed the Attorney General of Pakistan office that it is ready to appoint a neutral expert to examine these issues if Pakistan gives up its demand for constituting the Court of Arbitration. India floated the proposal of appointing a neutral expert in 2016 which Pakistan did not accept. Last month the Attorney General of Pakistan, Ashtar Ausaf Ali led a delegation for two day meeting with WB officials to discuss Kishan Ganga and Ratel Hydropower projects under the Indus Water Treaty but could not convince the bank management on Pakistan’s stance. The Caretaker government may not be in a position to decide the World Bank’s discriminatory proposal and defer the matter to the next elected government.

The diplomatic inertia of the previous PML-N government has put Pakistan in catch 22 situation on India’s foreign policy option of water aggression against Pakistan. It would not be possible for Pakistan to accept the proposal of appointment of neutral expert on the current disputed water projects as it would become an established precedent for resolving other water disputes for which the courts of arbitrations would not be constituted. Those water disputes would be more significant for Pakistan than the present project. The legal experts, who are well aware of the whole issue, are convinced that the United States is fully backing the WB for supporting India because strategic partnership between them and Pakistan’s strained relations with the US. They said there is evidence to establish that the US halted the process of establishing the Court of Arbitration for favouring India so that it could easily complete the project.

India conceived the Kishan Ganga dam project in 1993 and Pakistan rejected its design. But the matter was not further vigorously pursed before the starting the construction work by India, neither by the PPP government 1993-96 and PML-N government 1997-99.  The Musharraf Government made the issues of controversial Indian dams including Tubul/Wullar, Baglihar and Kishan Ganga projects a vital component of Pak-India Composite Dialogue process during 2004-2006. India started construction work on Kishan Ganga dam in 2010 and complotted it in May 2018. Pakistan approached the World Bank against the project much later after the construction work on it had started, saying its design is in violation of Indus Water Treaty of 1960. However, the World Bank Tribunal observed that India can use the water of three western rivers but can not divert the water flow. The Kishan Ganga project diverts bulk of the water flow of river Neelum, badly impacting the hydro power potential of 969 megawatt Neelum Jhelum project.

On account of tribunal findings, India streamlined the construction work and Pakistan’s government approached WB in 2016. On this belated move India contended that it is not a case of arbitration by a tribunal and proposed the appointment of a neutral expert to examine the design of the project. The WB decided to weigh both the options proposed by India and Pakistan. The process of appointing the arbitrator was also started in November 2016.But in December 2016, Pakistan was astonished when it received a letter from the WB President, who said he had decided to “pause” the process regarding the appointment of tribunal and neutral experts till January 2017. It was a covert move to allow India to continue the construction work on the project. But Pakistan’s docile leadership did not direct the foreign office to counter this move and remained in diplomatic hibernation.

The WB president interpreted his decision as positive step in the interest of both countries to provide a window for resolving the matter amicably. Interestingly, the bank did not persuade India to halt work on this project. Several secretary level meetings were held between Pakistan and India to resolve the issue but in vain. In the meantime Pakistan reminded the WB several times with evidences that India is exploiting is exploiting the situation to complete the project but the bank did not pay attention. “The motive behind the WB president declaration of “pause” on the situation was to give favour to India.  On the contrary the ruling leadership of Pakistan did not initiate a proactive diplomacy to strengthen Pakistan’s position and compel India to make changes in the design of the project.

Pakistan is heading towards acute water crisis but once again the ANP president Asfandiyar Wali has made the rejection of Kalabagh dam an election issue to garner the support of the electorate against the construction of this multidimensional project of supreme national interest. To counter the politically motivated campaign of political leaders of myopic vision and vested interest, Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) welcomed the action of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on water issues and Kalabagh dam, calling it a ray of hope. In a statement LCCI President Tahir Javed Malim pointed out that Indian water aggression and Pakistan’s failure to build water reservoirs has thrown the country into the rank of water starved nations. Construction of Kalbagh dam and water reservoirs upstream Tarbrella dam should be started without further delay for which a PML (Q) senior leader Chaudhri Pervaiz Elahi has also raised a strong voice.

 

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Tax amnesty fiasco

Despite the stinging critique of eminent economists and tax experts the mercantile class led PML-N previous government announced its fourth tax amnesty scheme in a span of just five years, not learning a lesson from the failure of earlier three such schemes. The last amnesty schemes that gave irrational concessions to big money launderers, tax evaders, looters of national wealth to pile up their offshore bank accounts and build immoveable properties was made a part of finance bill at the time of passage of federal budget for the next fiscal year.

The black money holders were given an extremely attractive and lucrative offer to whiten their black money by just paying two percent of income tax with a view to give them protection against the tightening global fiscal laws against illegal offshore accounts and assets.. This injustice was done at the cost of honest tax payers. The departed government voiced the hope that tax amnesty will help collect additional financial resources in the short term and expand tax base in the long run. It was expected that in the short run the additional revenue will be used to finance the fiscal and current account deficits. However, the tax amnesty scheme proved non-starter and substantial revenue could not be generated.

As usual the mandarins of finance ministry are now considering securing a credit line of 1.3 billion dollars from China to avert financial crisis.  This is another example of classical mismanagement and reflects that “Darnomics” is still all pervading in the ministry of finances which has pushed the national economy to the brink of insolvency. Justifications given for fresh high interest bearing Chinese loans are nothing but old wine in a new bottle with eye-catching label of bad governance in tax collection system.

Past amnesty schemes only encouraged the tax dodgers, which resulted in shrinkage of tax base. The available figures reveal that the number of tax payers was 24 million in 2007 which came to 12 million in 2017 as 43 percent of registered companies and firms stopped filing tax returns and paying taxes what to speak of unregistered firms and partnerships. This is an unfortunate case that despite amnesty schemes the tax base continued to shrink. President Musharraf era provides a lesson to be learnt how to expand a tax base. In that era tax base started expanding, although his prudent move of documentation of economy was made unsuccessful by the corrupt tax collection machinery. They mishandled the tax survey campaign. However the fact remains that it was during that time the government surpassed the targets of revenue collection—a unique case in the country’s tax history. On the other hand the previous two governments did not bother to expand the tax base by using the available data of 3.8 million potential taxpayers that FBR had prepared.

The trend of expansion in tax base reversed after 2007. The newly elected feudal-cum- industrialist class dominated PPP government did not sustain the growth momentum and tax base started to narrow because of politically patronized culture of tax evasion, encouraging financial corruption and money laundering. The succeeding PML-N government further strengthened the culture of tax evasion, financial corruption and money laundering. It placed more reliance on ill-conceived tax amnesty scheme which utterly failed. This was nothing but bad governance.

The shrinking tax base has been the result of bad policies of successive governments. Every time the government announced tax amnesty scheme with a promise that it would be the last chance and strict measures would be taken after that. But in end the government caved in to the powerful tax evaders’ lobbies. The logic is very simple if one can get his ill-gotten wealth legalized after paying a ridiculously low two percent of tax, without coming into the tax net, then why others should opt for paying 15 to 17 percent of tax on regular basis and take the pain of filing tax returns. Frequently, the governments have witnessed the escape of existing taxpayers from the tax net and decline in the tax base. It has failed to register the unregistered business firms and persuade all registered companies and firms to file tax returns regularly. A successful campaign was launched in Musharraf government but no serious efforts were made after his departure.

The SRO culture is another hurdled introduced by the government that has badly dented the tax culture. The government obliges the big business entities by offering SROs of massive tax concessions, which negatively impacted the national economy and tax system. The trend discourages small businessmen and exporters, who always struggle to get rebates. Overall it diminishes the will of small businessmen to contribute to the national revenue. Apart from the financial and tax base loss at the domestic level, the current amnesty scheme has sever implications at the global level. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) considered it a lack of determination of Pakistan’s government to tighten financial management. In this regard the FATF issued a statement that the government of Pakistan did not consult it to seek permission for the tax amnesty scheme. This is a real warning as FATF is already considering putting Pakistan back on the grey list. The FATF looks at this matter from the perspective of money laundering, terror financing and weak financial management at the government level which is a bad signal. It will weaken Pakistan’s case for the much needed bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

 

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Violations of Indus water treaty

With the departure of PML-N government from office, which was hostage to its disqualified leader Nawaz Sharif directives of playing a second fiddle role versus India, affairs of the state are moving towards the better. After the inconclusive, rather failed talks of Pakistani delegation headed by the Attorney General Ashtar Ali Ausaf with the World Bank (WB) senior official over Kishan Ganga Dam last month, the Washington based lending agency has now sent a positive letter. A team of the bank is visiting Islamabad this month to discuss water issues. Pakistan is expecting a positive response from the WB over the Kishan Ganga hydropower project built by India to divert maximum water of River Neelum which will affect hydropower capacity of Neelum Jhelum power project by diverting flow of the river’s water.

New Delhi has completed the construction of this dam in violation of the provisions of Indus Water Treaty. Pakistan has objections to the height and water storage capacity of this dam and has demanded for the establishment of court of arbitration to settle this dispute. The WB letter envisages working with Pakistan in various areas including construction of dams, their feasibility, assistance in rehabilitation and construction of dams. Pakistan has to decide about the options to choose from them and it is likely that the interim Prime Minister Justice (R) Nasirul Mulk will have the final say.

Ever since 1975, the successive the elected governments showed animosity towards the construction of dam on the three westerly rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Kalabagh dam which was to be launched just after the completion of Tarbella Dam in the decade of 70s was shelved by Z.A a Bhutto government. The project was revived but it was made politically controversial by ANP leadership at the first instance in the decade of 80s and later as Sindh card it ws opposed by PPP and Sindhi Nationalist parties, Benazir Bhutto made the hostility towards the construction of this dam as a major election slogan. The province of Sindh is now bearing the brunt of water crisis for Kharif season more than Punjab and KP as every year water resources of Indus River worth $21 billion are thrown into the sea due lack of storage dams including Kalabagh and Diya Mir Basha dams.

This utter neglect and opposition to the construction of big dams is used as a strong argument by India in the International Court of Arbitration against Pakistan, while constructing dams in violation of Indus Water Treaty. The Kishan Ganga Project was started in 2007 but to the lawyers’ movement supported by political parties the unstable government of PML (Q) with few months tenure of left could not approach the WB for constitution of court of arbitration. The incoming PPP government woke from deep slumber to move the International Court of Arbitration in 2010 after completing more than two years of its mandated tenure for resolving the dispute over the construction of Kishan Ganga dam under the provision of Indus Water Treaty. The government of Pakistan did not engage professionally competent experts of international law and consequently lost the case in The Hague based Court of Arbitration in 2013. The arbitration court ruled in favour of India to continue the construction Kishan Ganga dam. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan had won its case in dispute over the demarcation in Runkutch area in President Ayub Khan Era because the legal team was headed by the outstanding leading expert Sharif-u- Din Pirzada who enjoyed marvelous command over international law.

In 2016, the WB placed a pause on the completion of the dam. India made a shrewd move and requested for the appointment of a neutral expert but in the meanwhile continued the construction work and completed it early this year. After the inauguration of the controversial Kishan ganga Dam by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the PML-N government, as a public relation exercise for domestic consumption, sent a delegation to WB headed by the Attorney General Ashtar  Ausaf Ali which held a meeting with Krishtalina Georgieva WB Chief Executive Officer and regional management for South Asia. But Pakistan and the WB had failed to reach an agreement on way forward to address the former concern over violation of Indus Water Treaty by India as strong Indian lobby in Washington based lending agency frustrated the latest push to stop New Delhi from violation of the treaty.

Pakistan and WB discussed several options for resolving the disagreement over the interpretation of Indus Basin Treaty’s provisions. But an agreement on the way forward was not reached at the conclusion of the meeting held May 21-22 between Pakistani delegation and the WB officials. India claims that the treaty allows it to use 20 percent of water share from the three westerly rivers as upper riparian country. World Bank is the custodian of Indus Basin Water Treaty and should fulfill its responsibility to bring out clear interpretation of the provision of this treaty binding on India and Pakistan.

 

 

 

 

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Impounding official vehicles

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Saturday directed concerned authorities to impound vehicles from government officials and departments which are in their possession without merit. Presiding a hearing of luxury vehicles at Supreme Court Lahore Registry, the Chief Justice also sought a report on vehicles under use by government officials by June 5 (Tuesday).

Using and retaining luxury official’s vehicles by the serving government officials, former ministers and their private staff, and formers law makers without merit has become an established norm. There are also instances that some former ministers of PML (Q) government and their private staff are still in the possessions of official vehicles for which fuel is provided by the respective government departments which amount to an invalid charge on the national exchequer and misuse of taxpayers money. The controlling officers of government departments are either quite helpless to retrieve the luxury vehicles from former ministers  because of fear of victimization in future or getting favours whenever they come to power again. In the general elections of 2013, the official vehicles were used in the election campaigns of former ministers and other high profile political leaders. Consequently, a large component of government departments financial allocations under the object head for fuel POL is misappropriated. This illegal practice must end now.

 

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Investment opportunities in FATA

The Business Panel (BMP) on Friday said that FATA merger with KhyberPukhtukhwa is a major development in the history of Pakistan. Chairman BMP, Mian Anjum Nisar said that there are a lot of opportunities waiting for the people of FATA, the benefits of which can be harvested if the challenges beyond the merger are handled carefully. It also opens an opportunity for investment in the region in the wake in the wake of CEPEC. He appreciated the ECC decision of May 31 to give tax holiday of five years to FATA and PATA.
Chairman BMP was of the view that the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) also need to work professionally in order to reap full benefits from this historical opportunity through comparative studies so that business communities and international trade bodies may get proper information about the investment potential of this region. He appreciated the one trillion ($8.64 billion) FATA development package of 10 years. However, he proposed the establishment of industrial zones with special incentive to attract investors from every part of the country, which will also create technical and managerial jobs. Linking these areas with CPEC will gain the attention of investors from China, other countries and regions such as Russia and Central Asia.
Announcement of tax holiday of five years for FATA is an adhoc fiscal incentive which could hardly improve the economic environment vitiated by highest in the world tariffs of electricity, gas and of and on increases in the price petroleum products besides a complex taxation structure comprising more than 50 indirect and direct taxes. The KP government in its industrial policy had announced 25 percent refund in the electricity bills but that incentive did not ataractic fresh investment and even the sick industries could not be revived in Gadoon and other industrial estates.
The problem of circular debt has further compounded and the ECC in its meeting of 25th May has approved the imposition of debt servicing surcharge in the range of Rs.1.15 to 1.75 to pay back power sector loans of Rs. 730 billions that have been parked in Power Holding Private Limited. Another addition of 55 paisa in the debt servicing surcharge is being imposed soon. Moreover, FATA is facing power outages of 20 hours because it is getting power supply of 220 megawatt against its demand of 700 megawatt. Joint Secretary Power division has told the senate standing committee on less developed areas that power transmission infrastructure in FATA has become obsolete and feeders in grid stations are over load.
The disastrous policy of nationalization of all private industries, big, medium and small, implemented by Z.A Bhutto government killed the initiative of entrepreneurial class for the introduction of new technologies and innovations in the industrial products. The successive governments from 1978 till date have neglected the formulation of incentives based industrial policy to encourage the entrepreneurs for moving from the second generation technologies of the decade of 1960s to the 21st century technology of fifth generation to make their industries competitive. But on the other hand Pakistani entrepreneurs, who relocate the textile industry to Bangladesh, use modern technology. The reason is that in Bangladesh power tariff is very low and there are few direct and indirect taxes on the corporate sector.
The free trade and preferential trade agreements with China, Turkey and Indonesia has made the survival of local industry very difficult. It has scared away fresh investment by the Pakistani entrepreneurs and China is no longer interested in joint ventures with Pakistani industrialist in the special economic Zones of CPEC because of technological gap between the industrial sectors of both countries. That is why China is pressing hard for zero duty on 75 percent import tariff lines in free trade agreement phase II. The previous government deferred the decision about the revised free trade agreement and in retaliation China refused digital data sharing on bilateral trade with Pakistan. The concessions demanded in the free trade agreement phase II, if granted, it will wipe out the entire industrial sector of Pakistan converting it into a trading nation. It will almost shut the chances of relocation of its dying industries to the special economic zones under CPEC framework.
FATA has a great potential of different high quality minerals and fresh fruits on which industries of mineral products and fruit processing can be established if long term fiscal and monetary incentive and smooth power supply at low tariff is provided, the measures which have not been made a top priority so far.

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Banning full-face veil

The wave of Islam-phobia that has emerged in Europe and Briton refuses to end and has now permeated in their political culture as well. The Danish Parliament on Thursday passed a law banning the Islamic full-face veil in public places, becoming the latest European country to pass an anti-Muslim legislation. Presented by the center-right government the legislation, which to take effect August 1, was also backed by Social Democrats and far-right Danish Party. The draft legislation was supported by 75 lawmakers whereas 30 opposed it.

Wearing ‘Burqa’ or ‘Niqab’has been made a cognizable offence liable to a fine of 1000 Kroner if wore once. But the repeated violations will be fined up to 10,000 Kroner. France was the first European country to ban wearing ‘Niqab’ in public places with a law that took effect in 2011. It is pertinent to mention that the European Court of Human Rights last year upheld a Belgian ban on wearing full face-veil in public. The political leadership of western countries apparently advocates human rights and non-interference in the religious beliefs, culture and traditions of different religious communities living there. But of late they have shown animosity towards the tenets of Islam that enjoins the Muslim women to cover parts of their body particularly the face and certain other parts for the sake modesty and piety. A number of verses of the Holy Quran strictly enjoin the observance of ‘Pardaha’ by women from men even in their homes who are not in their blood relation.

The far-right political parties and anti-Islam groups are quite active in the countries of Western Europe. A minor political group that billed itself as patriotic movement appeared on the scene in the UK in November last year. However, unlike certain countries of European Union, the political parries in Briton openly opposed the anti-Muslim tendencies. Two leaders of a far- right extremist group, Briton First, Pane Golding and Jayda Fransen have been jailed for anti-Muslim hate crimes in May. Judge Justin Barron said their words and actions “demonstrated hostility” against Muslims and Islam, adding I have no doubt it was their joint intentions to use the fact of the case for their own political ends.

As in the UK, the state and its laws are not discriminatory against Muslims therefore the communities strongly acted against “Punish Muslims Day” letter in April. However, the venom against Muslims largely rooted in racism has entered in the British society up to some extent. Hence, by and large the “Hate Muslims Day” passed peacefully barring a few incidents of stabbing.  But earlier in March a blood curdling incident did take place in Nottingham in which a teen- age Egyptian girl Mariam Moustafa was chased by a group of English girls and critically wounded her with sever blows of punches. She was released from hospital but then suffered a brain hemorrhage and died after being placed in medically induced coma. Her family believed it was a hate crime and the Egyptian government called fro full investigation into her death. Police alleged that Mariam Moustafa was followed by a group of girls, verbally abused her and punched her several times which critically wounded her. Ironically, the group of English girls was giving fatal blows to Mariam Moustafa near a shopping mall but nobody came to her aid to recue this innocent soul.

The United States and its Western allies used the rulers of Islamic countries and their people against the Soviet Union as ammunition during the cold war era. After dismantling Communism and disintegrating the Soviet Union they started targeting Islam, Islamic countries and Muslim communities living in Europe. Twice invasion of Iraq, occupation of Afghanistan, destruction of Libya, genocide of Palestinians and the Syrian conflict are its brute manifestations.

The medieval age history of Europe tells how the writers and intellectuals fought a long battle to break the yoke of Church’s Inquisitions and succeeded in establishing a tolerant, moderate and enlightened society with salient features of respect for human rights and love for humanity. But the laws that have been passed in some European countries remind to be the advent of returning to Inquisitions era of Catholic Church which wrecked havoc on the people of Europe in 1100 AD and onwards till the wave of democracies.

 

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Red alert in the sky

It is strange enough that the United States has shown a veiled concern about the transparency of upcoming general elections in Pakistan. Being a democracy it should have avoided poking nose in the internal politics of Pakistan, its sole super power status notwithstanding. The US state Department Spokesperson Heather Nauret has stated that the US supports free, fair, transparent and accountable elections in Pakistan. Do the United States administration officials have ever made any such sweeping statement about the elections in India? Does it mean that the US considers Pakistan its client state? Why the political elite of Pakistan are hesitant to show some spine and respond to it in a due manner?

The State department Spokesperson said during a press briefing on Tuesday, “I am not aware if we would send any observer on the ground. We tend to support international organizations that do participate as observers”. Ms Nauret added that Washington with other international partners fully supports Pakistan’s implementation of its 2017 electoral reforms law. “My understanding is that this is the first time that law will actually put into effect for the elections, “She said. Does this legislation in Pakistan would have any bearing on Pak-US relation in future that the US administration official is insisting on its fully putting into effect? She further stated that Washington is hopeful that the new comprehensive and transparent legal framework will facilitate the peaceful transfer of civilian power in Pakistan. Over the past 10 years, there have been peaceful transfers of power from one elected government to another after completion of its constitutionally mandated term of government of five years. This time too there will be a peaceful transfer of civilian power to the next democratically elected government.

It is no longer a secret that the US administrations of Democrats and Republicans had shown a soft corner for Nawaz Sharif. During the PTI sit-in in 2014, the US embassy in Islamabad issued a press release in support of PML-N government to which PTI leadership strongly reciprocated. Again in the backdrop of Panama Papers verdict by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the US administration top officials showed concerns about the democracy in Pakistan, what they called a “fledgling democracy.”But the democracy in Pakistan smoothly moved on and the incumbent government completed its tenure. There is a lot of political awareness among the people of Pakistan, particularly the educated youth, who are very conscious about the sovereignty of country in the domain of foreign policy. They love democracy in contrast to capitalism masked in the veil of so called democracy and will not make any compromise on the establishment of true democracy in the country based on the fundamentals of transparency, rule of law and across-the-board accountability.