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Posts Tagged PML(Q)

AMB.ZAFAR HILALY’S OPINION: No time for mutiny

 
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The symbol of an Anglican bishop is a crook (a hooked staff); and that of an archbishop is a double cross. Coincidentally, that’s what many of the English used to feel about their clergy. “I never saw, heard nor read that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country”, said Swift. And he should have known – Swift was a high born Anglican priest (& writer).
 
Our feelings about the clergy are not very different. We too prefer to steer clear of them, except on unavoidable occasions namely, births, marriages and deaths. Even at Friday prayers some prefer to wait outside the mosque till the mullah has finished his sermon and only then rejoin the congregation.
 
That’s because we know our ‘priests’. We’ve had varieties of maulanas – ‘whisky’ and ‘diesel’ and ‘sandwich’ are just three examples. There have been others, like those who opposed the creation of Pakistan but on which, when it became a fait accompli, they scrambled aboard in search of lucre and office. Of course, there are those who were/are genuinely respected for their contribution to national life. Nevertheless, a straw poll suggests the public far prefers the mullah’s role be confined to leading prayers and performing religious rituals than governing, which is why religious political parties have never obtained more than a small share – 12 percent – of votes in elections and that only happened once.
 
But times are a changing. So overwhelming are the common man’s difficulties today, so dire his plight and so desperate his desire to find a way out that increasingly he is turning to religion, not only for protection against pain and suffering but also in the efficacy of the unforeseen, the miraculous and the extraordinary. Only God, he feels, can now rescue him. Hence, the mullah finds himself acting as an intercessor between man and God. And, as things go from bad to worse, it is not our politics that is becoming Islamised but Islam which is being politicised – and that’s a bane.
Qadri seeks to benefit from the public’s despair and their craving for a messiah. He avoided reference to religion in his Lahore speech on December 23, because he did not need to; consider he is a Shaikul Islam. Nevertheless, lest anyone forget, he dressed like a cleric even though his peculiar headgear was as foreign to our milieu as his English accent must have been to an Englishman. It looked like the Ottoman relic the Turkish clergy sported till Ataturk arrived on the scene and banished it.
 
Usually affectation in dress is an indication of a flaw in understanding and taken to the extreme it may be revealing of character and temperament. An aspect that was highlighted in the video shown on TV which revealed Qadri boasting that he had a major role to play in drafting the blasphemy law and persuading Ziaul Haq to accept it. If, indeed, he was proud of being the initiator of that law, as he said on video, why then deny it? Was it a concession to the feelings of his fellow Canadians who would have put him on an ‘extremist watch list’ if it were true? Besides, ‘if you cannot tell the people the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.’
 
Qadri is hardly the paragon of virtue and rectitude that he is being made out to be. A high court judge of yore, Justice Akhtar Hussain, heading an enquiry commission investigating Qadri’s (false) accusations in 1990 that the Jamaat-e-Islami and IJI had tried to kill him had some damning words for Qadri. Justice Akthar Hussain said Qadri was fond of dreaming and then exploiting such dreams. The judge characterised his mental condition as “ailing”, adding “anything can be expected from such a person” (The News Dec 25, 2012). Considering that in his book Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, Qadri describes himself as, and I quote: “Shaikhul Islam Dr Muhammed Tahirul Qadri is a scholar and intellectual leader of extraordinary proportions. He is a living model of profound classical knowledge, intellectual enlightenment, practical wisdom, pure spirituality, love, harmony and humanism…”
 
It might be said of self praise, just as it is said of slander, that something always sticks if we praise ourselves fearlessly, provided the praise is not entirely shameful and ridiculous. But even then, there is no excuse for such lavish self praise. Blowing your own trumpet incessantly is a sickness and left untreated it stinks.
 
And frankly, phoniness suffused Qadri’s visit. The pre-arrival publicity, the VIP reception at the airport, the multitudes assembled to hear him speak, the military precision of his security guards, and his dress and demeanour seemed wholly contrived. Here was a controversial former politician being accorded a welcome befitting a national hero and with no expense spared.
The multitudes that had gathered to hear Qadri were a strange potpourri of people; among whom were rustic peasants struggling to open Nestle water bottles. One of them was attacking the wrong end of the bottle till someone produced what looked like a sickle and chopped the cap off.
 
We know our peasants. They are simple God fearing men, and true sons of the soil. Hence, I cannot imagine anything persuading them to come and listen to a lecture by a cleric on the intricacies of the constitution. Or, on second thoughts, I can – a handsome reward, the prodding of the local chaudhry and, who knows, a nod and a wink from the powers that be.
All sorts of theories are being bandied about for the stupefying, nay, miraculously large turnout. The trouble is that nobody readily believes in miracles, hence speculation was rife as to where the money came from and the kind of organisation that was able to paste handbills of his Lahore meeting even on a remote bridge in Karachi.
 
Those who are fastidious about knowing how money moves ridiculed Qadri’s boast that some of his followers were willing to sell their homes for the privilege of traipsing the world merely to hear him speak. And that Pakistanis even in relatively lowly positions abroad, “like drivers”, were contributing a thousand dollars each towards his cause. Having lived and travelled abroad for the greater part of my working life, I found no ‘drivers’ so well endowed or so willing to part with their hard earned money. Of course, the well off among Pakistanis living abroad do, but obviously not the poor.
We will learn all about that soon enough. And if the Qadri visit turns out to be a ploy to postpone elections then those who have been deceiving others, by denying there is a hidden hand behind it all, will really have only deceived themselves because the consequences could be grave and even fatal for the country’s future stability.
 
If Qadri is genuinely interested in bringing change in Pakistan and is indeed in favour of the constitutional path, as he claims, not withstanding his talk of revolution, he should renounce his Canadian citizenship, form his own party and get elected.
 
To stir the political pot at this sensitive juncture of our political calendar, and just when people were wondering whether the government had the strength left to somehow crawl past the finish line and hold peaceful elections, is unwise. To allow a controversial cleric the freedom democracy confers to hurt democracy, notwithstanding his dubious claims to the contrary, is foolish. However, to help and support him in his endeavour is folly. The need of the hour is unity not mutiny.
 

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PARLIAMENTARY CROOKS: How Crooks Rule Pakistan-Nearly 70 percent of Pakistani lawmakers don’t file taxes

 

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”

 Plato quotes (Ancient Greek Philosopher He was the world’s most influential philosopher. 428 BC-348 BC)

 

 

Nearly 70 percent of Pakistani lawmakers don’t file taxes – group

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Almost 70 percent of Pakistani lawmakers did not file income taxes last year, an investigative journalism group said on Wednesday, highlighting deep flaws in a taxation system that has drawn repeated criticism from Western aid donors.

The Center for Investigative Journalism in Pakistan released a report based on leaked tax returns, marking the first time that the records of 446 lawmakers and ministers have been published and focusing scrutiny on individuals ahead of polls next year.

Pakistan’s inability to raise revenue has constrained government spending, depriving schools and hospitals of funds and exacerbating a power crisis, causing widespread hardship in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people.

Western allies have poured billions of dollars in aid into Pakistan, worried that growing public anger may boost recruitment to Islamist militant groups threatening to destabilise Pakistan and beyond.

But the aid has not been nearly enough to plug the huge gap between members of the elite, who often pay little tax, and the poor who desperately need the public services taxes should fund.

“This is what the people of Pakistan are upset about,” said Jehangir Tareen, a trim, silver-haired businessman who paid the most tax in the National Assembly last year. He tried to set a precedent by making his returns public but no one followed suit.

“Taxes are the beginning and end of reform in Pakistan,” said Tareen, who gave up his seat in parliament in frustration over his inability to push changes. “Right now the rich are colluding to live off the poor.”

Umar Cheema, an award-winning journalist heading the Center for Investigative Journalism, said he hoped the report would make members of parliament more accountable to voters.

Cheema took legislators’ identity card numbers from their public election nomination papers, then convinced employees at the Federal Board of Revenue to leak the tax returns related to the identity numbers. It took him nine months to collect the data.

POOR ENFORCEMENT

The report highlights why Pakistan has failed to improve its tax collection rates: politicians benefit from a lax regime. No one has been convicted of income tax evasion in 25 years and few Pakistanis see a failure to pay tax as shameful.

Although lawmakers have about $25 (15.48 pounds) a month deducted from their basic pay in tax, almost all have second incomes.

“They built this system for their own benefit,” said tax expert Ikramul Haq. Poor laws and loopholes meant lawmakers often have their income exempt from tax, he said.

Huge swathes of the economy, like agriculture, are virtually exempt. Specially designated products also benefit from “zero-ratings” and are not subject to any tax.

“We want to cut down on zero ratings and loopholes,” said Ali Arshad Hakeem, the head of the Federal Board of Revenue. He has vowed to crack down on tax cheats.

“Parliamentarians are just a subsection of the population we want to become compliant,” he said.

Enforcement is so poor that paying tax is almost voluntary, another revenue official said. About one percent of Pakistanis file tax returns.

The investigative group said it had not been able to find tax returns for 35 out of 55 government ministers, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Finance Minister Hafiz Sheikh was among those who did file, paying $1,700 in tax on his ministerial salary. His money from private equity funds would be exempt, a tax official said. He spent more on his electricity bill than his taxes, according to a federal tax record seen by Reuters.

The interior and finance ministries did not return calls or emails inquiring about tax obligations for ministers. Visits by a Reuters reporter also did not yield any comments.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar paid $670, the investigative center said. Her spokesman said she paid $1,700, more than most. Her agricultural income and a small dividend from up-market restaurants she co-owns were exempt, he said.

Among the ordinary members of parliament whose tax returns the investigative group was unable to find is Mehboob Ullah Jan, a former secretary for religious affairs.

He is often pictured wearing a traditional flat cap, handing out aid to poor families fleeing fighting in his native northwestern Pakistan.

Jan has assets of more than $30 million, making him the country’s richest legislator, according to an analysis of asset declarations by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, an Islamabad-based think-tank.

Jan did not return calls seeking comment.

The average Pakistani legislator has assets of $800,000, the investigative center’s study of their declarations found. Yet of those who paid tax, most paid less than $1,000, it said.

Former minister and Georgetown University graduate Mushahid Hussain Syed paid less than a dollar in tax, the center said. The senator was attending a conference in Bali but sent an email disputing the report and saying he had paid $6.

“I was not a Senator then, my source of support was from my family’s agricultural income and lecture honoraria,” he told Reuters.

According to his tax record, Syed paid $6 but had $5 due as a refund.

“RIDDLED WITH HOLES”

The report makes troubling reading for Pakistan’s donors. Much of their aid supports services normally funded by state revenues.

Britain has begun a five-year, billion dollar project to improve education in Pakistan. The United States has given Pakistan more than $3 billion over the past two years.

Pakistan also owes the International Monetary Fund (IMF) $7 billion. The IMF has repeatedly demanded Pakistan widen its tax base as a precondition of possibly rescheduling loan repayments.

“The tax net is riddled with holes,” said Jeffrey Franks, a regional advisor to the IMF.

Most countries collect between 20 to 40 percent of their economic output in tax. In Pakistan, less than 10 percent is collected, Franks said.

Pakistan revenue authorities say 0.57 percent of adults pay income tax and the number is steadily declining.

“People know that the elites, the government, are corrupt but they don’t understand how the corruption works,” said report author Cheema.

“If our rulers are not paying for themselves, why should taxpayers in other countries pay for them?”

Part of the problem with going after tax evaders is the poor state of records at the Federal Board of Revenue. It’s hard to distinguish ineptitude from corruption, officials said.

About three quarters of the time, people’s declarations of what they paid did not match the actual payments, the officials said. An official said authorities never really tried to match up the records: “Oh dear God, no!” he laughed.

(Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)

Copyright © 2012 Reuters

This video has been hacked by cyberterrorists of MQM and defaced. This was done at the direction of Pakistan’s No.1 Terrorist, Altaf Hussain

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