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In pursuit of the unknown

If one was to summarise the state of governance in the country, the following will make a comprehensive list: The Budget has been passed and if there was a threat of the government losing power to the opposition, it stands averted.

The consequences of the budget have just begun to unfurl. While price escalation and a substantially increased cost of living is a reality, traders are agitated to be included in the tax-net. The common man is still bearing the brunt with the greatest fortitude.

The two incarcerated leaders, Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, have chosen to lie low and persist with their suffering for reasons which have left many guessing. Especially MNS, who had this crying urgency for medical reasons, has now chosen to go slow in contesting his cases and his conviction. AAZ is happy to let the process proceed at its pace without urgency. The coming days will either confirm the loud whispers of a background deal or a deeper political purpose to such recourse. Time will tell.

The ANF’s recent arrest of Rana Sanaullah is a development yet to play out on evening television. His acerbic criticism of the PTI makes for a nice little deviation as the opposition shouts political victimization. The ANF better have a watertight case, otherwise the credibility and authority of the state will only wither.

The political gerrymandering of some members of the PML-N and the PPP completes this landscape of complexity. As soon as the PTI withstood the initial challenges to its place in power by the combined might of the opposition and exhibited a robust staying power, the more malleable have begun exploring if indeed greater favour and return can be gained by allying with the PTI. It may be unsavoury but is an established character of Pakistani politics where benefit trumps ideology. With most politics now entrenched in the middle, there is little ideology left to define one from the other.

A year down the line for a government that promised change, is it at the place where it wanted to be? More importantly, do these tie into a mid to long-term plan of intended recovery and development if and when the situation permits? For the moment, these are the only planks along which the government seems to be moving. Whether these will intersect at a point in the future to create some integrated whole to a purposeful objective in our national journey is yet to be seen. A feared absence of an integrated blueprint of economic recovery remains a most disconcerting gap to many.

Away from typical political options which envision dismantling others and strengthening one’s own political existence, the focus must shift to what politics is primarily intended to do – build society and the economy, and around those strengthen the state. That is the primary function of any politics and its exclusive domain. This government doesn’t yet exhibit signs of such larger purpose.

Restructuring and reformation has stuttered in economic, bureaucratic and judicial reform, and in seeking efficiencies in governance and administration. Basic steps needed to reassure citizens that the government is serious in inhibiting its losses with corrective legislation to stop money laundering (PM IK says $ten billion is laundered every year) and recovering the plundered amount, with interdicting rampant smuggling across the western borders, remain woefully unrealized.

These actions by the government can only instill greater faith in the government’s ability to plug leakages in public money. Without these essential steps, to expect people to contribute more in duties, tariffs and taxes will seem like governmental highhandedness. Amnesties of one or the other kind are unlikely to be much helpful in this environment.

Ditto for the agitating traders. No doubt there exist segments of the economy outside the tax net, which flourish while only paying pittance for trade of billions. But to jump from a two percent tax-rate – that too sporadically paid and mostly extorted – to 17 percent seems a travesty in a traditionally laissez faire economy. A better management of the situation by prior inclusion of the heads of these traders’ associations could have eased the government’s objective of documenting these segments.

Why isn’t it happening? IK is driven by the resolve to bring to book errant(s) who he believes are dishonourable and unscrupulous in how they may have accumulated wealth over time. He probably also is under pressure to make up the revenue shortfall for enabling enough resource to run the government. But without an effort at cost-cutting and without any notable initiative to add wealth this remains a retributive mindset than any amore positive tweaking of production and growth to render greater revenues. The focus is more on the negatives than the positives. Cutting expenses is good. Forcing money out to finance manipulation and leakages is bad. Sheltering luxury is bad; taxing the poor is far worse.

There’s got to be a far better method to the madness even if it is rooted in righteousness and honourable conduct. A laissez-faire society and economy both need to be weaned away from their self-destructing habits. It needs a lot of understanding, cooperation and willingness on all sides to modify inherent attitudes. That usually is a factor of time and considerable placation. Force and law work well only where respected. Otherwise, there is always a danger of slipping into fascist ways. That’s not where we want to go.

Shahzad Chaudhry, "In pursuit of the unknown," The news. 2019-07-05.
Keywords: Political science , Price escalation , Medical reasons , Political parties , National journey , Economic recovery , Political options , Judicial reforms , Bureaucratic reforms , Public money , Political victimization