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Journey of progress

While addressing the inauguration ceremony of liquefied gas plant at Kark, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi claimed that the PML-N government has put the country on the path of development according to the vision of Nawaz Sharif and added that it is up to the masses that they would give vote to those who are abusing or to those who believe in decent politics. He said that the people would decide in July in general elections and expressed the optimism that the electorate would decide in favor of PML-N.
Economic progress and prosperity mantra has all along been the favorite public relations theme of this mainstream political party but its leadership fails to ameliorate the condition of the masses. In the second tenure of PML-N government the campaign of “Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro”did not result in reducing the debt burden. On the contrary, the country reached to the verge of default with dropping of the foreign exchange reserves to the dangerous level of $ 600 million. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed a fine of $ 100 million on Pakistan on account of fudging the figures and economic indicators of the economy. The fine was then paid by the Government of President Musharraf and in the first three year of his government the country got freedom from loans liability of IMF.
In the current tenure the present government acquired $ 45 billion loans including the $ 6.6 billion Extended Fund Facility loan of the IMF. The total foreign debt now stands at $ 90 billion. In August, last year World Bank in its report “South Asia Focus Fall, 2017″highlighted macro economic imbalances of Pakistan’s economy including the alarming current account deficit because of falling exports and surging imports, fast rising debt burden and budget deficit. The IMF in its recent report has painted very gloomy picture of the economy and issued an ominous warning that risks pertaining to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook have increased and its debt repayment capacity in the mid term and long term has weakened. International Credit Rating Agencies Fitch and Moody have changed the financial outlook of Pakistan from stable to negative. The country has slipped down to 147th position on the World Bank Index of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ because of the extremely unfavorable economic environment which is evident from the stagnation in the textile sector. Pakistan is confronted with diplomatic isolation, even China and Saudi Arabia abandoned it in the FATF meeting and consequently the country has to be put back on the ‘grey list’ if it fails to improve its antimony laundering and counter terrorism regime.
The socio economic indicators do not support the claims of the government. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report reveals that human development index (HDI) is 0.5 percent which is abysmally low. In the current tenure of present government the number of people living below the poverty line has increased and now 60 percent of country’s population lives below the poverty line. In the previous PPP government 40 percent of the total population was living below the poverty line. There is colossal unemployment. The people are not getting clean drinking water, sanitation system is in dilapidated condition and health facilities are unsatisfactory. The dynamics of election depends on the clout of the candidates and support of government machinery in Punjab, Interior Sindh and Baluchistan and not on the economic performance of the political party that has remained in power before general elections.

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IMF warning

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its report has issued an ominous warning that risks pertaining to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook have increased and its mid term and long term debt repayment capacity has weakened urging Islamabad to take immediate corrective measures. IMF released this gloomy report just after the conclusion of its Board of Directors meeting that held the ‘first program monitoring discussion’ with Pakistan held in Islamabad. The report noted with concern the alarming current account deficit which is 4.8 percent of the GDP worth $ 16.6 billion and budget deficit which has reached to 70 percent of the GDP.

The IMF projections over the current account deficit and budget deficit are very gloomy. The international lending agency has also added to the warning of FATF corroborating the stance of this intergovernmental world body and has urged the government in Islamabad to improve its money laundering and counter terrorism financing regime. It has also asked the countries economic managers to devalue the currency although the recent depreciation of Rupee by 4.5 percent against the US dollar and loss of value in exchange with other major currencies has not reflected in enhancing exports and easing pressure on  foreign exchange reserves.  The foreign currency reserves have dropped to $ 12.1 billion despite the acquisition of $ 500 million Chinese loan and further quest for $ 1 billion. The imports are still surging and the pressure on the foreign currency reserves will intensify. The budget deficit has reached to 70 percent of the GDP but there are no signs that the government will abide by the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005. The World Bank pegged a loan of $ 400 million with the condition of enacting more comprehensive legislation, ensuring prudent fiscal and debt management. But the required legislation was not made by the present government which is fond of reckless borrowing irrespective of its consequences for the fragile economy.

The IMF has also emphasized prudent debt management and cautioned against phasing in new external liabilities. Seeking more Chinese loans indicate that government will tread the opposite path by ignoring the IMF sane advice. The multilateral donor agency has urged the government to tackle the rising fiscal risks stemming from the continuous losses in public sector enterprises. The cumulative losses of PIA are Rs. 320 billion and that of Pakistan Steel Mill have reached to Rs. 161 billion. These huge losses incurring government entities need privatization but the government has not succeeded to offload this heavy finical burden on the national exchequer. Another major contributor to the massive fiscal deficit is the piling up of circular debt which recurs because of the financial trap of Independent Power Plants laid against economy of a poor nation in the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto government. An amount of Rs. 480 billion was paid to the Independent Power Producers in 2013 and the circular debt liability has again reached Rs. 922 billion. However the government admits a liability of Rs. 525 billion and the Economic Coordination Committee has approved the payment of Rs. 80 billion.

The government will reject the recent IMF report like the findings of World Bank Report “South Asia Focus Fall 2017″released in August last year.The federal Minister for Interior, Planning and Economic Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal,State Minister for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal and De facto Finance Minister Miftah Ismael will swing into action, repudiating the IMF report and making once again tall claims of economic gains and imminent prosperity. The incumbent government will leave the heavy baggage of economic and financial mess to the caretaker government. It will never accept the suggestions of international financial organizations to address the current fiscal imbalances.


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Rescuing the alliance

Despite the periodical stresses and strains in bilateral relations, Pakistan and the United states can not be mutually exclusive in world and regional affairs. The fragile alliance between the two countries survived in the backdrop of President Trump undiplomatic tweet accusing Pakistan of ‘lies’ and ‘deceit’, suspension$ 2 billion security assistance and successful US move of putting it back on FATF grey list.

Foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua, in her weeklong stay in Washington, will hold talks with senior White House and State department officials to rescue the uncertain alliance between the United States and Pakistan in war on terror. The discussion will focus on the current conundrum in bilateral ties and how the two sides could come to a decisive ground on Afghanistan. Foreign secretary visits Washington just days after Lisa Curtis, a senior aide of President Trump, journey to Islamabad in search of common ground in the fight against terrorism and particularly bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

After the tough posturing of Pakistani leadership in response to the US pressure tactics, Washington swiftly moved towards damage control measures. A senor aid of the US president visited Islamabad in a  bid to bring down the rising temperature between the two allies. The conciliatory tone and tenor of US administration continues. The Central Command Chief, General Joseph Votel dispelled the impression that US and Pakistan are on a collision course, saying that they valued military-to-military relations with Pakistan. He told a Congressional Panel that the US has preserved military-to- military relationship with Pakistan and attempted to increase transparency and communication with military leaders. He said that achieving long term stability in Afghanistan and defeating insurgency will be difficult without Pakistan’s support. The US commander pointed out that the military had recently seen some positive indications from Pakistan which led to believe that Islamabad is becoming more responsive to US concerns about alleged militants safe heavens.

US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has released a report which states that Pakistan has made some success in counterinsurgency operation. However the report says that Islamabad is likely to proceed with its counterinsurgency and border management efforts along its western border while sustaining counterterrorism and paramilitary operation throughout the country. In an interview with Voice of America in Kabul, US Acting Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia, Alis Wells said that US was not thinking of cutting ties with Pakistan. She also assured Islamabad that US considered Pakistan essential to resolving the Afghan imbroglio.

The statements of the top Commander Joseph Votel and State department officials indicate that US wants the alliance with Pakistan intact. However, the phraseology of preserving military-to military relationship and sustaining counterterrorism and paramilitary operation throughout the country are noteworthy. The civilian leadership has not shown strong determination to carry out an effective clean up operation against the sleeper cells of militants’ outfits in the Southern Punjab and interior Sindh to which an oblique reference is made in DIA report. Ironically, for the leadership of both the main stream political parties the fluid situation of the region is not important. They give more preference to unnecessary confrontation with state institutions which reflect a myopic vision and self serving attitude.

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Urging attitudinal change

It is worth appreciation that educationists and religious scholars speak about bringing positive change in attitudes with modern education.  Speaking at seminar under the auspices English Department of Karak University, Chairman Islamic Ideology Council Professor Dr. Qibla Ayaz said if education did not bring positive change in attitudes then it is merely literacy. He said although Globalization has negatively affected our cultural values but it has some good elements too in the form of knowledge explosion.  “We have to pick up the beneficial aspects of Globalization and give importance to valuable heritage of our history, “Professor Qibla Ayaz emphasized. He struck the right note by saying that economically dependent nations can not formulate and run a foreign policy compatible with their national interests.

There is no denying the fact that administration and faculty of a University can perform a credible role in resolving the problems confronting the students and persuade them not to indulge in unhealthy activities but the fact remains that it is the political interference that vitiates the educative environment of the institutions of higher education. The students’ unions affiliated with different political parties promote violence on the campuses. The pitched battles fought twice in one year between the zealots of Islami Jamiate-u- Talba and Pukhtun Students Federation in Punjab University reminds how political interference has polluted the environment in Varsities. The politically connected drugs’ peddlers lure students towards the use of different brands of narcotics. This serious issue addicting students to a drug ‘Crystal Meth’ in schools and Universities echoed on the floor of Khyber Pukjhtunkhwa Assembly.

The mind set built up over the past four decades can not be changed over night. However, meaningful reforms in curricula can be instrumental t bring the desired changes in attitudes if there is a political will and moral spine. But who will introduce and implement these reforms is a million dollar question? Both the elected and non elected governments have failed in the implementation of the needed curricula reforms. The present PTI government has included Arabic as optional subject in schools which is a good beginning. However, learning of foreign languages like French, Deutch, Chinese Russian and Spanish will provide more opportunities of international grooming to students when they pursue Doctoral Programs of study abroad. The real challenge is the implementation of reforms.

The successive governments ruling the country since 1972 ran a foreign policy subservient to the United States which landed the country in the present quagmire. The devastating economic measures of Z.A Bhutto government, particularly, his policy of nationalization of private industrial enterprises and financial institutions increased Pakistan’s dependence on international lending agencies controlled by the United States. The economic policies pursued in the three terms of PPP and PML-N governments have made the country hostage to this sole superpower although a multi polarity has emerged in the realm of international relations. A cash strapped country like Pakistan can not venture to run an independent foreign policy. The visionary academicians and scholars like Professor Dr. Qibla Ayaz are the ray of hope to retrieve the nation particularly the youth from moral and intellectual degeneration.

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Whirlpool of circular debt

The circular debt has reached to alarming proportion of Rs. 922 billion till November last year and may further go up to the end of current fiscal year. It is almost double of the amount of circular debt accumulated during the five years rule of previous PPP government. The carry over liability of Rs. 480 billion on this account was paid by the incumbent government in 2013 to persuade the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to resume power generation activities which they had stopped because of non-payment from the previous government. To hoodwink the public opinion, the ministry of finance has put the figure of circular debt at Rs. 472. 678 billion, conveniently glossing over the amount of Rs. 450 billion separately parked with Power Holding Private Limited (PHPL).

The major factor of massive circular debt accumulation within few years is the adhoc policy of very expensive thermal power generation mainly with diesel and furnace oil-fired by private sector power plants. In the second government of Pakistan People Party, open-ended agreements were made with IPPs, completely compromising the national interest. The clauses of these agreements were loaded in favor of the private power producing companies and against the financial interests of the government and poor people of Pakistan. The claims of production cost are blindly accepted by the government without going for audit to verify their hefty claims. In September, 2017, the World Bank’s International Center for Investment Disputes (ICSID) awarded around $ 800 million compensation to Karkey Karandiniz Elektrik Uretim of Turkey in a Rental Power case. Weeks later in November 2017, the London Court of International Arbitration awarded to pay Rs. 14 billion ( $ 135 million) including mark-up to a group of nine local power producers for breaching contractual obligations. Paying $ 900 million for debt riddled country like Pakistan is a big financial jolt. Naturally, this burden was passed on to electricity consumers. Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had rightly said, “Democracy is the best revenge.”The revenge is taken from the poor people who pay ‘Debt Obligation Surcharge’ in the monthly electricity bills.

The present PML-N government converted the mega connectivity project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) largely into an expensive thermal power generation project by including 13 coal-based power plants entirely owned by Chinese power producing companies. A revolving fund has to be created in commercial banks to make advance payments for the purchase of expensive thermal power. Had the national interest been held supreme the priority would have been for hydropower and wind power plants generating very cheap electricity. The governments of both the mainstream political parties have been least bothered about the whirlpool of circular debt bringing miseries for the electricity consumers and adversely impacting the economy.

Presently the power mix comprises 70 percent highly expensive thermal and 30 percent cheap hydropower. The ratio needs reversal by adding hydropower which can be achieved by implementing small, medium and big hydro power projects. KP government had submitted small hydropower projects with a total generation capacity of 2100 megawatts in 2012 which need implementation on fast track basis. The remaining work on Nelum-Jhelam and Tarbela extension power projects is expedited. Consensus has to be achieved for the construction of Kalabagh Dam and financers for the construction of Diya Mir Basha Dam have to be searched out. The donaors who have agree to finance Monda and Kurram Tangi Dams may be persuaded to undertake the construction work as per schedule. The terms of agreements made with IPPs need re-negation as per the contractual obligation the government has to make payments to the local power produces whether it purchases power from them or not. Moreover, diesel and furnace oil fired power plants should be converted to gas to bring down the production cost.

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KP Varsities’ ranking

It is a matter of great concern for educationists, students and their parents that the ranking of Public Sector Universities in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa has declined over the past seven years. Not a single government University has been able to break into the top 10 institutions in the Higher Education Commission (HEC) list. It is pertinent to mention that University of Peshawar is the oldest institution of higher education in the province. It was ranked at fourth position in the HEC list in 2006 but in the following years it degenerated and now it is not included in the top 10 universities of the country although the incumbent Vice Chancellor Professor Dr. Muhammad Asif Khan has taken a number of measures to enhance the quality of education in this Alma-mater.

The issue of steep fall in the ranking of Public sector Universities was agitated by JUI (F) lawmaker in the Provincial legislature. He asked the Higher Education Minister Mushtaq Ghani about the causes accentuating the decline in the quality of education to which the minster gave a very short answer. Admitting the fact of low quality of higher education in the province, he said the government was planning to establish an independent Provincial Higher Education Commission to oversee the performance of government Universities. The problem is not that simple. In fact the PTI government has applied double standard to the promotion of education and its quality enhancement.

The young and dynamic minster of primary and secondary education Muhammad Atif Khan has drastically transformed the education system by curriculum reforms and ensuring transparency and merit in the selection procedure of teachers by giving greater weight-age to NTS score and academic quantifications. By adopting this procedure the government schools get the best of best teachers. Moreover, the monitors of Independent Monitoring Units keep a close watch on the performance of teachers. On the contrary, in government universities faculty and top administrative positions are filled in by political interference and personal interests of members of Syndicates. Before the enactment of 18th Amendment and devolution of higher education to provinces, HEC had a greater role in the appointment Assistant Professors and merit was fully ensured. Now the political preferences has made the selection criteria topsy-turvy. It is then but natural the quality of higher education will be adversely affected. The ghost of political appointments entrenched by the previous Awami National Party Government is still dominant in the appointments of faculty members in the institutions of higher education.

Currently, 22 Public sector Universities are functional in the province wherein the academic and research facilities are far from satisfactory. The Syndicates wields most of the powers and the position of Vice Chancellors becomes symbolic if he or she is not politically well connected. The Professors in BS-22 are least interested in facilitating the academic and research activities of the students. The poorly equipped science labs are another major factor impacting the quality of higher education. There is acute shortage of equipments and exiting ones are obsolete which are not largely beneficial in the pursuit of advanced knowledge. It is the high-tech instrumentation of science labs in universities and the development of skills of the students to operate state-of-the- art instruments that enhance the quality of education. Significant improvement in quality of education and research publications of both the faculty and students in the high impact factor journals boost the ranking of varsities. This essential ingredient of our education system is neglected.


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Active taxpayers

Instead of broadening the extremely narrow tax base, the government lost over 131000 active taxpayers as only 1.261 million people and companies filed their annual income tax returns.  A 10 percent reduction in the tax base during the fifth year of PML-N government underline the need for a serious review of tax and administrative policies that Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has been following. As per the FBR published list of Active Taxpayer for the year 2017 the number of taxpayers has dropped to 1.261 million as compared with 1.391 million in 2016.

Under the Tax Rules of 2002 FBR, publishes new active taxpayers list on March 1. Last week, FBR Income Tax policy Chief made a claim before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance that the number of taxpayers would jump to 1.6 million once active taxpayers list is notified. On the contrary Special Assis5ttant to the Prime Minister on revenues expressed the hope that the figure would increase to 1.4 million. The difference between the claims and result has put a question mark over keeping 22000 personals strong force tax for collection that is even unable to maintain the existing extremely narrow tax base. The Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi declared broadening of tax base as his first priority in his maiden speech delivered at the floor of National Assembly after he was elected as Chief Executive. Likewise, in an interview with Bloomberg, a New York based news agency he said that a plan will be implement with a view to build profiles of potential taxpayers in a renewed bid to broaden the tax base. He said that the plan seeks to plug leakages, encourage correct property valuation, lower individual tax rate and offer tax amnesty on offshore accounts.

The bitter fact is that less than one percent of country’s population of 210 million pay tax. International lending agencies including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have repeatedly shown grave concern over Pakistan’s very low tax-to-GDP ratio of 12 percent which is lowest in the world. In the governments of two main stream political parties, tax evasion and income tax non-filers trend go up. In 2007 2.1 million people and companies filed their income tax returns. At the end of previous PPP government, the number of active taxpayers dropped to 935,776, which gradually increased during 2014-16 to 1.391 million when IMF loan program of Extended Fund facility was going on. In September 2016, the IMF program ended and the trend of not filing income tax return went up. Hence in 2017, 131000 tax payers jumped out of the tax net.

The PML-N government introduced a policy of charging higher tax rate from the non-filers of income tax returns. It imposed 0.6 percent withholding tax on all banking transactions carried out by non-filers. Eventually, it lowered the rate to 0.4 percent after yielding to the pressure exerted by trading community. But the move backfired as transaction through banks’cheques declined and cash transactions flourished. The FBR own statistics shows that out of 48 main withholding taxes, 94 percent withholding tax received was generated only on 10 rational sources like contracts, imports, telephone bills and salaries etcetera. So long as the government does not impose tax on agriculture income, stock exchange brokers’ income and profits and capitals gains tax on accurate valuation of properties, the tax base will remain narrow. Prime Minister’s offer of one-time tax amnesty is a financial NRO for the offshore business which was hitherto ran with money laundering and the tight global fiscal laws has compelled the offshore assets holders to whiten their black money either by just paying peanuts in the form of direct tax or avail merely a certificate from the incumbent about the legitimacy of their ill gotten wealth by not paying even zero tax.

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Inefficiencies of education system

Speaking to a delegation form Pakistan Alliance for Math and Science (PAMS) advocates, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that promotion of advanced knowledge of Math and Science are integral to country’s future but the present education system is nor adequately delivering the skills to the students. PAMS asked the government to improve the state of learning in math and science in keeping with its responsibility of ensuring that every child receive quality education as per Article 25-A of the Constitution. The delegation recommended that the issue of Math and Science learning should be taken up at the forum of Council of Common Interest to appoint Ambassadors of science and technology to represent Pakistan in areas such as artificial intelligence, bio-technology, robotics and climate change. PAMS’s delegates emphasized establishment of math and science centers at all public libraries within the domain of the federal government.
Who is responsible for the degeneration of higher education? The answer is the elected governments of feudal and mercantile classes. The devolution of higher education to provinces in 2010 under 18th Amendment to the Constitution gave it a death blow to the education system. The education budget is not judiciously utilized on the improvement in the quality of education in the provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh, rather greater proportion of it is misused. The provincial governments do not appoint the faculty of public Sector universities on merit. Because of the excessive powers vested in the Universities Syndicates the faculty is accountable to none and study of students suffers.
There is acute shortage of equipments in science labs and the available equipments are also obsolete. In most of the public sector universities the doors of science labs are closed by the staff and students’ entry is banned then. In a few private sector universities Like Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Science and Technology and National University of Science and engineering labs remain open till 2300 hours in the night. Establishment of science centers at public libraries in the domain of federal government will not be of much help in the promotion of science and technology. It is the instrumentation of science labs in the universities and development of skills of the students to operate the state-of-the-arts instruments that matters. If the government really wants to enhance the standard of scientific and technological knowledge it should give priority to provision of modern equipments and instruments to universities and send students of higher education for at least six months training abroad to get command over the use of high-tech instruments.
The curricula of math and science subjects need periodically updating by introducing new inputs and inventions. The students of M Phil and PhD programs can not afford high subscription fee for downloading research material from international journals of high impact factor. It is the responsibility of the government to provide funds to the universities solely for the purpose of subscriptions to the top notch research journals so that each enrolled student is provided with and access ID, which the students will use for their research work. This suggestion is not an alien idea as it has been practiced for two decades in countries abroad. In the past when HEC was the only deciding authority for improving the quality of education before the enactment 18th amendment, the commission had no idea whatsoever of improving and enhancing the quality of the research, rather they shifted there hard work on quantity and not the quality. If HEC had done their mandated job the situation would have been different. The provincial governments have stopped funding to higher education institutions and these institutions have exorbitantly increased tuition fee and the time has come that acquisition of higher education will not be financially affordable for the students belonging to middle class families. Ironically, there is a free for all for the money launderers to send million of US dollars, Euros and British Pounds to their offshore accounts but the M Phil and PhD students can not send a few hundred dollars for the publication of their research work in international journals as Pay Pal account no longer exists. It is for the federal and provincial governments to address the issues which hinder the improvement in the quality of education. Hollow rhetoric about the degeneration of education system released in the form of handouts and publication of cooked news stories about the desire for improvement will not change the grim scenario.

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Hinting at shifts in foreign policy

Spokesperson of foreign office Dr. Muhammad Faisal has said that National Security committee has directed for changes in the foreign policy which envisages closer and strong relations with countries of this region. He said although Pakistan came into the grey list of FATF but there are no chances of coming on to black-list of this organization. He clarified that matters pertaining to FATF will be dealt with by the Finance Ministry.

The warmth in relations with Russia and Pakistan’s greater reliance on Beijing indicate gradual shift in foreign policy. Pakistan and Russia held joint military exercise last year and a Russian military delegation was given an extensive tour of Waziristan. Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif has vested Moscow a week ago. Moscow and Islamabad are cooperating for the early resolution of Afghan Conflict. Russia has supplied a few helicopter gunships to Pakistan and there are greater opportunities in defense matters. JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft is now the main stay of Pakistan Air Force. Russia made Klimov Rd-93 engine is fitted in this aircraft besides some avionics. US President Donald Trump’s tough stance, accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit “, makes substantive changes in the foreign policy inevitable.

The recent debacle at the 37 nations Financial Action task force meeting in Paris leaves no doubt about the bitter fact that Pakistan stands isolated in the international community. China has gone out of the way to protect Pakistan from international criticism, isolation and punishment despite its grave concern about the latitude extremists and terrorists enjoy in Pakistan, some of whom directly or indirectly pose threat to the stability in its western region. China once again stood by Pakistan at FATF meeting. But as a result of an egregiously misleading and triumphant tweet by the Foreign Minister  from Moscow, which was apparently against the procedure of FATF, ensured the reversal of face saving reprieve for Pakistan. The myopic and inept civilian leadership forfeited, at least for the moment, the confidence of our staunch friends Saudi Arabia and most important China itself.. The very considerable abilities and passionate commitment of the foreign office are simply not availed by the incompetent and arrogant political masters who do not either understand or listen to the professional input of career diplomats. Their commitments are devoted more to blowing their own trumpet than to serving their nation.

Pakistan may find itself on the black-list of financial watch-dog if it does not prepare a comprehensive plan to eradicate terrorist financing. The remarks of the spokesperson of foreign office imply that the formulation of this plan is the sole prerogative of the Ministry of Finance. The statements of State Minister for Finance, Rana Muhammad Afzal and De facto Finance Minister Miftah Ismael reflect that they do not give much importance to working out an action plan for anti-money laundering and countering the finances of terrorism deficiencies. Does Pakistani political leadership have the spine and capability of making drastic changes in the foreign policy, demonstrating a paradigm shift from West to the East, is a million dollar question? The diplomatic fiasco in the wake of stopping NATO supplies to Afghanistan in 2011 after the Salaa Check attack by US helicopter gunships is a grim reminder that the leadership of the two mainstream political parties cannot perform this job.  Changes in the foreign policy require strong economy, whereas at this point of time it is debt riddled. BRICKS Bank and Chinese banks are not alternative to International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and Asian Development Bank for giving massive financial aid enabling Pakistan to pay its liabilities on account of alarming current account deficit, debt servicing of $ 90 billion foreign loans and financing the resource gap in the budget for the next fiscal year. Beggars are no choosers. Pakistan cannot afford estranged relations with the United States and our leadership must capitalize on the positive signals emanating from Washington.

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Afghan leadership realism

A the opening session of 25 countries Peace Conference in Afghanistan Capital Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani offered recognition of Taliban as  legitimate political group as a part of political process that could lead to talks aimed ending more than 16 years of war. He also showed willingness for opening of Taliban office. It is positive signal from the incumbent Afghan government to help create a platform for meaningful talks to end the conflict and restore peace to the lengthy war torn Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani proposed a ceasefire and release of prisoners and expressed willingness to review the constitution as a part of pact with Taliban, who have so far refused to accept direct talks with the government in Kabul. The comments represents a significant shift on the part of Ashraf Ghani, who in the past called Taliban terrorists and rebels although he offered talks with other resistance groups like  Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbadin Hikmatyar.

The realism shown by the ruling leadership in Afghanistan has kindled a hope for a negotiated settlement of the current Afghan conflict. The history of Afghanistan tells that they can sort-out their disputes in intra party dialogue provided foreign interference stops.  Former Afghan President Dr. Najib Ullah approached the leaders of Afghan Tanzimat in 1992 for transfer of power through UN brokered peace agreement. Had that move been supported by world powers and countries of this region peace and stability would have long been restored to Afghanistan. Even after the end of his rule if the 10 resistance groups, who fought a war against the Soviet occupation forces, were left free to resolve their difference the situation on the ground would have taken a positive turn and ensuing fratricidal war would have been avoided. It was that war which paved the way for the rise of Afghan Talibaan . Back then Afghanistan, which was dumped by the US and other western powers after Geneva Accord, became a paradise for terrorist groups.  The tragedy of 11/9 prompted the US to invade of Afghanistan. President Donald Trump Afghanistan strategy envisages a military solution of this conflict by defeating Taliban on the battle ground. It remains to be seen as to whether the United States lends its support to the realistic initiative of President Ashraf Ghani or not.