Punjab CM Clueless to Control the Daily Human Rights Abuses

There was a petty dispute, over an electricity bill between the landlord and the father of the victim, (Master Tabassum Shahzad, 10 years old, student of class five) one week before. Both parties have adjacent fields. The accused party own 23-25 acres of land, while victim party is poor and owns just 2-3 acre of land

On 21 July 2014, at 10:30 am, the child, Shahzad, went to his family’s fields. The accused, landlord Mr. Ghulam Mustafa, was standing in his fields. The landlord called Shahzad over to the tube well (a peter engine installed in the open). When the child arrived the accused, caught him, over powered him, forcibly tied the hands of child from front side with a scarf, and put both hands in the running belt of a harvesting machine. The boy was stuck to the running belt and both of his arms were crushed, cut, and separated from his body.

Soon after, the perpetrator, Ghulam Mustafa, panicked, picked the unconscious and bleeding boy out of the machine and rushed him by motorbike to a private hospital of Gujrat, Punjab, 8-10 Km away from the town. It took half an hour to get to the hospital. Ghulam Mustafa told the hospital administration that it is just an accident. The boy underwent surgery. Meanwhile the parents, relatives, and other local people arrived with the separated, ruptured limbs, but doctors said the arms cannot be reattached.

When the child regained consciousness after the operation, Ghulam Mustafa came back to the hospital; the child started screaming and told his parents that Mustafa was responsible, but before he could tell more details, he again lost consciousness. Later that night he again narrated the story to the parents.

On the next morning, 22 July, the parents got the child discharged from the private hospital and transferred him to Aziz Bhatti Hospital Gujrat, a public hospital, because the hospital authorities were asking for a huge amount of money and not providing treatment. The Medico legal report was done and the police was informed on the same day. The police were initially reluctant to register the FIR, but later it was done on 24 July.

The hospital staff was not cooperating with the parents and the child was not properly taken care of. Only nurses visited the child. The hospital administration initially was not providing medication; the parents themselves had to provide it. When they asked about the x-ray report, the parents were told that the doctor was on leave, the report would be provided within 3-4 days.

The child’s uncle, Javed Iqal, further explained that when they realized that police and hospital administration were not paying attention, they contacted a media outlet: the ARY TV channel, which immediately aired the news, on afternoon of 24 July. Soon after, the entire govt. machinery became active. The senior medical officers, MS, Dr. Naveed Tahir rushed to the ward, inspected the child, and released the medical report. They started providing all necessary medicine, and the child was transferred to a ward where the electricity is available. However, the nurses did not entertain the request of the family members of the victim to change dressing in the operation theatre and not to change the dressing in front of the parents, which was highly painful to watch.

As the news about the working of Punjab police and its negligence was viewed throughout the country, the high police officers District Police Officer (DPO) Superintendent of Police (SP) and SHO also visited the child and his parents in the hospital. The whole administration has become very soft with the family members of the victim after all the media outlets began criticizing the dysfunctional rule of law in the country and the power that powerful people enjoy.

The Gujrat police, knowing well about the case, took three days to file a case against the perpetrator under section 324, 334 of Pakistan Penal Code, after the case was publicized through media and chief minister took the notice.

Reflections on India

by Sean Paul Kelley

Sean Paul Kelley is a travel writer, former radio host, and before that, an asset manager for a Wall Street investment bank. He recently left a fantastic job in Singapore working for Solar Winds, a software company based out of Austin, to travel around the world for a year or two. He founded The Agonist, in 2002, which is still considered the top international affairs, culture and news destination for progressives. He is also the Global Correspondent for The Young Turks, on satellite radio and Air America.

If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who is being honest with you and wants nothing from you.

These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I did not visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India.

Lastly, before anyone accuses me of Western Cultural Imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn’t really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper class Indians, don’t seem to care and the lower classes just don’t know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the sub-continent. But, here goes, nonetheless.

India is a mess. It’s that simple, but it’s also quite complicated.

Clip_27I’ll start with what I think are India’s four major problems – the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation – and then move to some of the ancillary ones.

First: Pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution, indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don’t know how cultural the filth is, but it’s really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump.

Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree, were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all too common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter, was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight.

Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for ones’ health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads.

The only two cities that could be considered sanitary, in my journey, were Trivandrum – the capital of Kerala – and Calicut. I don’t know why this is, but I can assure you that, at some point, this pollution will cut into India’s productivity, if it already hasn’t. The pollution will hobble Indies’ growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small ‘c’ sense.)

The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: Roads, Rails, Ports and the Electric Grid. The Electric Grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swathes of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. Without regular electricity, productivity, again, falls.

The Ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of long shore men and the like.

Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America and I covered fully two-thirds of the country during my visit. There are so few dual carriage-way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of and, if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced (another sideline is police corruption). A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older and, generally, in poor mechanical repair, belching clouds of poisonous smoke and fumes.

Everyone in India, or who travels in India, raves about the railway system. Rubbish! It’s awful! When I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But, in the last five years, the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travellers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses.

At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that wait lists of 500 or more people are common now. The rails are affordable and comprehensive, but, they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like sadhus in an ashram in the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the over utilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit.

Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US, I guess.

The last major problem in India is an old problem and can be divided into two parts: that have been two sides of the same coin since government was invented: bureaucracy and corruption.

It take triplicates to register into a hotel. To get a SIM card for ones’ phone is like wading into a jungle of red-tape and photocopies one is not likely to emerge from in a good mood, much less satisfied with customer service.

Getting train tickets is a terrible ordeal, first you have to find the train number, which takes 30 minutes, then you have to fill in the form, which is far from easy, then you have to wait in line to try and make a reservation, which takes 30 minutes at least and if you made a single mistake on the form, back you go to the end of the queue, or what passes for a queue in India.

The government is notoriously uninterested in the problems of the commoners. Too busy fleecing the rich, or trying to get rich themselves in some way, shape or form. Take the trash, for example, civil rubbish collection authorities are too busy taking kickbacks from the wealthy to keep their areas clean that they don’t have the time, manpower, money or interest in doing their job.

Rural hospitals are perennially understaffed as doctors pocket the fees the government pays them, never show up at the rural hospitals and practice in the cities instead.

I could go on for quite some time about my perception of India and its problems, but in all seriousness, I don’t think anyone in India really cares. And that, to me, is the biggest problem. India is too conservative a society to want to change in any way.

Bombay, India’s’ financial capital, is about as filthy, polluted and poor as the worst city imaginable in Vietnam, or Indonesia – and being more polluted than Medan, in Sumatra, is no easy task. The biggest rats I have ever seen were in Medan !

One would expect a certain amount of, yes, I am going to use this word, “backwardness,” in a country that hasn’t produced so many Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, imminent economists and entrepreneurs. But, India has all these things and what have they brought back to India with them? Nothing.

The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in stasis. It’s a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I’m far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.

Now, you have it, call me a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West and all that. But remember, I have been there. I have done it and I have seen 50 other countries on this planet and none, not even Ethiopia, have as long and gargantuan a laundry list of problems as India does.

And, the bottom line is, I don’t think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative.

Family Comes First for the Chief Justice

It is not unusual for universities to award financial aid to deserving students who cannot afford the high fees demanded by seats of higher learning. But when a varsity awards an exemption – meant for the underprivileged – to the two daughters of the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Mohammad Anwar Khan Kasi, eyebrows are bound to be raised.*

According to documents available with Dawn, the management of the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) halved the fees of two sisters in contravention of all stated rules.

Violating their own rules

IIUI Director Academics Shagufta Haroon briefed Dawn on the process adopted to select students for the award of financial assistance, saying that every student has to fulfill the requirements before they can be considered.

As per a notification dated June 3, 2008 and signed by Haroon herself, students are required to apply for financial assistance via a detailed form. According to the notification, only the “most deserving and needy students can apply for fee concession in the second semester on the basis of Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA)”.

The form asks students to provide minute details of their family background, assets, sources of income, employment and household expenses, among other details. But no such form is available on file at IIUI in the case of the two sisters.

In contravention of existing rules, on March 7, 2013, Haroon herself marked for approval an application submitted by one of the students in question, asking for a fee relaxation on the basis of merit. The application was addressed to the university’s vice president of academics.

Sahibzada Sajidur Rehman, a friend of the Chief Justice, – who occupied the post at the time – immediately approved the request and a notification was issued the same day, announcing a fee exemption of 50 percent for both sisters. The basis for the exemption, according to the notification, was that “both the sisters have (a) good academic record”.

The elder sister, who was pursuing a Masters in Business Administration (MBA), had a perfect CGPA of 4.00, while the younger sibling – a student in the Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA) program, had a respectable CGPA of 3.5.

Following the fee waiver, the semester fee for the MBA student was reduced from Rs 65,200 to Rs32,700, while the BBA student’s fees came down from Rs68,400 to Rs37,800. There are a total of seven semesters in the MBA programme and eight semesters in the BBA programme.

But when asked about the case of the two sisters, Haroon said: “I don’t know if any student has been awarded financial assistance without following the due process.”

An IIUI official said that there were several other students with excellent academic records, who had never been considered for financial assistance, because they did not meet the criteria for deserving students.

This particular exemption also contravenes the rules for award of scholarship set down in the minutes of the 47th meeting of the university’s academic council, which stipulates that a faculty’s scholarship committee must consider the cases of deserving and needy students and submit their recommendations to the university president.

This case, however, was never put before any such committee.

A source inside IIUI said, “Interviews are held to select the most deserving students out of the several who apply for assistance each semester. Since we can only give fee exemptions to 10 per cent of the students in each faculty, the screening process is quite stringent. After interviews, a consolidated list from all faculties is sent to the management for approval. Most other applicants for the exemption were either orphans or the children of non-gazetted employees, who earn less than Rs30,000 per month.”

In addition, IIUI Director General Administration Gulzar A. Khawaja said it is not university policy to award scholarships on the basis of outstanding academic performance.

Varsity rules also back up his claim and in the minutes of the 47th meeting of the university’s academic council, it is clearly stated that “Fee waiver shall be granted to most deserving and needy students … on the basis of having secured a minimum GPA of 3.00 out of a total of 4.00”.

In the June 3 notification, Haroon notes that the director for academics asked that this requirement of a minimum grade also be removed and deserving students be awarded scholarships even if they could obtain minimum passing marks.

In June 2013, the court of the Chief Justice issued an order staying Rehman’s removal from the position of VP Academics, which remained in force until his retirement, three months later.

When approached, former IIUI VP Academics Sajidur Rehman said: “Justice Kasi has never asked me to extend fee exemption to his daughters. I have approved financial assistance for many students but always insured that all the necessary requirements are fulfilled and that assistance is extended on the basis of merit.”

IHC Assistant Registrar Shafeequr Rehman, who deals with the press on behalf of the court, said that he was not authorised to comment on the issue and only the court registrar could speak on the chief justice’s behalf.

IHC Registrar Meeran Jan Kakar could not be reached for comment, despite repeated attempts.


Claudia Ochoa Felix: Leader of the the Most Powerful Drug Trafficking Organization in the World

Clip_9Wielding her signature pink AK-47 and posing like her idol Kim Kardashian, this is the new leader of an elite kill squad used by one of Mexico’s deadliest drug cartels.

Claudia Ochoa Felix, nicknamed The Empress of Antrax, is thought to be the new leader of the ‘Los Antrax’ hit squad, used by the Sinaloa cartel to carry out executions and revenge attacks.

The 27-year-old uses social media to brag about her lifestyle, posting pictures of herself holding guns, posing with a leopard, and strutting around in tight outfits and swimsuits.

Clip_9The shots even include images of her children lying with hundreds of banknotes surrounding them in the bath or on the bed.

U.S. intelligence sources have named the Sinaloa cartel as ‘the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world’, and they are thought to be responsible for much of the heroin smuggled into America.

Clip_12Los Antrax is the drug cartel’s elite contract killer squad, and was previously led by Claudia’s lover Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa, 33, who was arrested in January.

If there is a dirty job that needs to be sorted out, Los Antrax get the assignment. They are also in charge of security for the cartel boss Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada, 66.

Clip_9Claudia married a Sinaloa drug trafficker known as ‘El Chavo’ Felix with whom she had three children – however they later separated.

Despite her ostentatious lifestyle, Claudia managed to avoid public attention until Yurina Castillo Torres, 23, was shot dead on May 7 in an apparent botched assassination after being mistaken for Claudia.

According to local media report the two looked similar and were from the same area. Despite the attack, Claudia has refused to go underground and can still be seen clubbing in the main discos and nightclubs of Mazatlan, Culiacan and Guadalajara.

The only difference is that this time she is always surrounded by heavily armed men who protect her.

Clip_9Despite the attempt on her life, Claudia denies any connection to any criminal organisation, saying claims about her are ‘cowardly lies and slander’.

A deadly drugs war has raged in Mexico since 2006 and has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives as gangs fight over territory and carry out revenge killings.


International Ranking of Pakistani Universities

Clip_43While briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Federal Education and Professional Training, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said that although Pakistan may not have the best educational institutes in the world, the local educational institutions are continuously improving in rankings.

The commission, he said, has been constantly trying to improve the quality of education in the country.

Dr Ahmed said that there were two types of rankings of educational institutions.

In the global rankings, National University of Science and Technology (Nust) has been ranked among the top 500 universities of the world.

In the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) university rankings for Asia, Pakistan is improving steadily.

Pakistani universities in Asia top 300

Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS) – ranked 106

Aga Khan University – ranked 116

Quaid-i-azam University – ranked 123

National University of Sciences And Technology (NUST) Islamabad – ranked 129

Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) – ranked 181-190

COMSATS Institute of Information Technology – ranked 201-250

University of Karachi – ranked 201-250

University of the Punjab – ranked 201-250

University of Agriculture, Faisalabad – ranked 251-300

University of Engineering Technology (UET) Lahore – ranked 251-300

In 2014, ten Pakistani institutes have been included in the list of top 300 Asian universities

In 2011, there were four Pakistani universities in the list of top 300 Asian universities. In 2013, that number rose to six and the 2014 rankings show that 10 Pakistani universities are among top 300 Asian universities.


Khan said that not a single meeting was called while the session of the National Assembly was going on for a month. Addressing PML-N’s Zulfiqar Ali Bhatti, Khan said the attitude of the members shows that they have no confidence in him as the chairperson of the committee.

Indian PM’s Residence: 7 Race Course Road

7 Race Course Road PM Res NDIt is not one house but a cluster of five bungalows — Numbers 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 — on an avenue lined with putranjiva trees.

Bungalow 1 has a helipad. Bungalow 3, white in colour, is where Manmohan Singh has lived with wife Gursharan Kaur for 10 years.

Before him, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajiv Gandhi lived in Bungalow 5.

There is a good chance that Narendra Modi will opt for 5 RCR which in Singh’s time was used for guests.

The complex is called 7 RCR because Bungalow 7 is the prime minister’s official workplace, apart from his office in South Block.

Bungalow 9 RCR is where the Special Protection Group, the elite force responsible for the prime minister’s security, is housed. This bungalow has a tennis court.

“These aren’t big bungalows. His house has just two bedrooms, an additional room, a dining room and the main living room that can, at a stretch, accommodate about 30 people,” says a relative of Dr Singh.

In comparison, the house Dr Singh occupied when he was finance minister — 8 Krishna Menon Marg (Vajpayee lives there now) — was huge, with a central gallery, six bedrooms, five toilets, a guest wing, three kitchens, office space and 12 servant quarters.

The lawns at 7 RCR, however, beat everything else.

“They are massive, manicured and big enough to run a horse,” says the relative.

Vajpayee would often sit in the lawn to read his morning newspapers.

The abundant gulmohar, semal and arjuna trees growing on the premises are also home to several birds, including peacocks.

Getting a peep into life here is not easy.

Photographs of the place, apart from some sorry shots of ministers walking in and out of the veranda, are impossible to get.

Asked for such pictures, an official at Press Trust of India, the country’s largest news agency, exclaimed, “What? It’s out of the question.”

Ask officers in the information & broadcasting ministry and the reply is standard: you need top-level clearances.

But that won’t help either because “even for state dinners, the shots are kept very tight so that not many details of the space are revealed,” says an information officer.

Compared to this, the White House and 10 Downing Street, residences of the US president and UK prime minister respectively, offer virtual tours of the premises.

“There is only one entrance to 7 RCR and that is guarded by SPG,” says Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s former media adviser and author of The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh.

“The first building you come to when you enter is 9 RCR. Further ahead is the parking and then the reception area. Beyond this is the even more heavily guarded enclosed space that houses 7, 5, 3 and 1 RCR.”

Relatives can’t drop by unannounced. Friends cannot simply turn up to meet the prime minister.

“Only those visitors whose names have been given to SPG by the prime minister’s personal secretaries are allowed in,” says Baru.

The rule applies to everybody — including the national security adviser, top bureaucrats, relatives and guests (barring close family). Visitors are expected to carry an identity card.

Once that barrier is crossed, SPG ferries the visitor to the prime minister.

There is a dedicated fleet of cars – Tata Nanos, at one point of time – for that. The residential bungalow has an additional ring of security.

Nearby high-rise Hotel Samrat cannot let out the top four floors: these have been taken over by the government.

The whole area is a no-fly zone.

This fenced fortress offers many perks that the residents of much bigger bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi can only dream of.

For example, it has a power substation (there is no question of 7 RCR ever facing a blackout), doctors and nurses from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on duty round the clock and an ambulance on standby that always accompanies the prime minister’s motorcade — it includes six BMWs, all made to order during Vajpayee’s tenure.

Two are used by the prime minister in Delhi, two are for VIP guests and the remaining two are flown with the prime minister wherever he travels in the country.

The workplace at 7 RCR has two small rooms on either side as you enter for each of the two personal secretaries.

Then there is a small corridor with a visitor’s room to the right. Further ahead is a chamber to meet guests. Adjacent to that is the living space for larger meetings, behind which is the dining room where breakfast and lunch meetings are hosted.
A corridor from 7 RCR takes you to Panchvati which can be segmented into two or three conference rooms or a large banquet hall. This is where Singh hosted David Cameron, George Bush, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

On the walls are artworks loaned by the National Gallery of Modern Art. An NGMA official says the works are changed every now and then, in consultation with the prime minister’s office.

During visits abroad, the prime minister collects a number of gifts — Dr Singh received paintings, mementos, metallic bowls, tea sets — which are either displayed at 7 RCR or sent to the toshakhana (treasure house).

Not just art, even films travel to 7 RCR. In 2006, soon after Lage Raho Munna Bhai released, Raaja Kanwar, who was then the director of UFO Moviez, which specialises in digital cinema, organised a private screening at 7 RCR.

“We received a call from the prime minister’s office for a private screening at Panchvati for the prime minister, his family and a few members of his office,” says Kanwar.

“Later, private screenings of Taare Zameen Par and Peepli Live were also organised.”

The portable system consisting of a server and a digital projector was brought into 7 RCR after the usual security checks.

Barbers, tailors and stylists too are a phone call away.

“We would get a call from 7 RCR whenever the prime minister needed new clothes stitched,” says Singh’s regular tailor, Karan Vadehra of Vadehra Tailors in Connaught Place.

“He would have himself measured wherever he was comfortable, at times in the waiting area at his residence.”

Vajpayee had a similar routine.

“The only person Vajpayee would go to was his dentist at Khan Market because the dentist’s chair could not be brought to 7 RCR,” says Harsh Shrivastava who was Vajpayee’s deputy speech writer.

Keeping 7 RCR functioning efficiently requires an army of workers.

Besides the secretarial staff, it has a support staff of about 50 gardeners, peons and electricians.

They are employed after a thorough background check. “All those who have an SPG pass for 3 RCR have to go through an even more detailed background check, including police verification and questioning of their former employers, neighbours and landlords.

This applies for everyone, not just the support staff,” says Shrivastava.

There are no quarters on the premises.

Staff comes in every day and leaves after the day is over. Some of the staff here has been around for decades.

These are people who can be trusted to go about their jobs with their lips sealed.

“One such person was Vijay Kumar, a research assistant who had been at 7 RCR from the time of H Y Sharada Prasad, the media adviser to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Kumar died recently,” says Baru.

There is, of course, the personal staff which the prime minister or his family picks — the cook, assistant and some secretaries for confidential work.

This is the only staff than can be hired and fired by the prime minister or his family. One such incident did take place during Dr Singh’s tenure when Gursharan Kaur fired a cook for serving chapati with ghee and some fried food to Dr Singh against the doctor’s orders.

Family meals are the way they are in any household: regular food and regular crockery and cutlery.

But elaborate official events are when the finest is revealed. One of Singh’s relatives who attended an official lunch recalls that the cutlery was embossed with the Ashoka Chakra.

“I really wanted to flick one for keeps,” he says.

The last time 7 RCR underwent large-scale renovation was in 2004, before Dr Singh moved in. It had cost Rs 7 crore to renovate his bungalow.

Work is on again before Modi moves in.

One view is that he will convert one of the bungalows into space for his public relations team

PML-n Has No Plans to Fix the Structural Problems

Clip_163Most of Pakistan finds the budget speech delivered by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in June 2014 to be indecipherable gobbledygook. But in this – the first budget that the PML-N government can take full responsibility for – the Nawaz Administration revealed the true nature of their thoughts and beliefs.

Buried in the dense legal text and more than 3,000 pages of the budget documents is a message clear as day to anyone who is mad enough to go searching for it:

We do not really have a plan for the Pakistani economy, we have no intention of fixing its major structural problems, but while we are in power, we plan on serving up a few goodies to our friends.

A budget document is supposed to come up with reasonable answers to three basic questions:

  • Who should pay taxes?
  • How much should they pay?
  • What should be done with the money?

For our entire history, we have consistently and indisputably come up with the wrong answers to every single one of those questions. Contrary to the lies many of us were taught as a kid (especially in our Pakistan Studies classes), there has never been a government in Pakistan that got it right.

So why am I being harsh on Dar? Because not only is he not trying to make things better, he is actively making them worse.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at each of these questions in turn.

The first question: Who should pay the taxes? There are many perspectives on this, with many differing justifications, but in general, it is considered a good idea to tax richer people at higher rates than poorer people.

And direct taxes (like income taxes) are generally considered more progressive and fair than indirect taxes (sales tax, federal excise duty, customs, etc.)

Now, for a concrete example.

One of the highest taxed items in Pakistan is cigarettes. This sector is taxed in the following ways: On every pack of cigarettes, there is a sales tax and a federal excise duty, which is determined by the price of the packet and the quantity of cigarettes sold.

Who is paying that tax? Well, it is being deposited in the government’s account by Pakistan Tobacco and Philip Morris Pakistan, but they are simply the collectors of this tax. In reality, it is being paid by the average customer of the khoka, who can be anyone from a day labourer to a bank CEO.

Here is where the math gets a little tricky.

Let’s take the day laborer first. Let’s assume this person makes last year’s minimum wage of Rsb10,000 per month. Of that, let’s say he spends Rs 500 on cigarettes a month. About two-thirds of that is taxes, so about Rsb330 is going in taxes, which is about 3.3 per cent of his income.

Now let’s take a bank executive making Rs 200,000 a month. This person probably smokes better brands, so spends maybe Rs 2,000 a month on cigarettes. Of that, about Rs 1,330 goes into taxes, which is only 0.67 per cent of his income.

You begin to see the problem with indirect taxes: the poorer person is paying a higher percentage of his income to pay the same tax, even though he is also consuming less. That makes this tax less fair.

The government also taxes the profits of the tobacco companies. Those profits are what is left over after the company is done paying its suppliers, employees, and financiers. The tax is based on the level of income of the company. Smaller firms pay lower taxes than larger ones, just as people with higher incomes are taxed at a higher rate than those with lower incomes.

So if direct taxes are so much fairer, why does the government have indirect taxes at all?

Because it is a lot easier to ask Pakistan Tobacco to jack up the prices of cigarettes and cut the government a cheque than to go and investigate the accounts of every small business and determine just how much they made in income. Our government’s policy, ever since independence, has been to tax what they can, not what they should.

Ishaq Dar made this problem worse with this year’s budget by making even some components of the income tax more like a sales tax.

For instance, the government is now introducing a tax on some electricity bills that will be levied like a sales tax but adjustable against income tax. The government will call it a direct tax, but its levying mechanism effectively means that it has the same effect as an indirect tax.

The second question of what the tax rate should be is one that arouses a lot of ire, particularly among middle class people who want to sound intelligent.

One of the most cited examples is that for every Rs 100 prepaid mobile phone card, consumers pay Rs 34.50 in a variety of taxes. Yes, a 34.5 per cent tax on cellular services seems high. But where else should the government levy the tax?

In 2013, Pakistanis spent Rs 446 billion on cellular services, according to the PTA.

The only other categories of consumption that saw more spending, according to data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, were food (Rs 4.2 trillion) and fuel (Rs 1.6 trillion).

So, if you want lower taxes on cell phones, which would you rather see them raised on: milk, or petrol?

Of course, this is not to suggest that the government should have high taxes on cellular services. It should not. But the government raises rates on documented sectors in large part because it refuses to force the less documented sectors to pay up their fair share.

Admittedly, this is the one area where Ishaq Dar made some constructive suggestions. He proposed that the retail sector – the shops you and I go to – be made to share part of the sales tax burden, which is currently borne entirely by manufacturers and consumers. That is a good idea, but he laid out no real mechanism to make this work.

And true to tradition, the money keeps flowing from the poor to the rich

And on the last question of what the money should be spent on, the Nawaz Administration truly unveiled their true colours.

The provincial governments – which is where we spend money on such frivolous items as education and health – are being forced to run a “surplus” of more than Rs 200 billion during the coming year.

The federal government is calling it a “surplus” but what they really mean is that they will be giving the provinces less money than they are entitled to under the Constitution and the National Finance Commission award.

Meanwhile, the government appears to have magically found the money to pay textile exporters a subsidy on their financing costs.

In short, schools and hospitals that serve the poorest Pakistanis will continue to fall into disrepair while textile industrialists will see their profits continue to rise at the taxpayers’ expense. Policies like these are not unique to the Nawaz administration and have been adopted quite consistently since independence. And they have real effects on the income distribution of the country.

Using data from the PBS Household Integrated Economic Survey from 2001 to 2012, I was able to track what happened to the incomes of the richest and poorest Pakistanis.

During that time – which included a moderate economic expansion, a strong boom, a severe crash, followed by a tepid recovery – the incomes of the top 20 per cent ALWAYS grew faster than inflation, no matter which time interval I looked at. For the bottom 20 per cent, incomes ALWAYS grew at less than the rate of inflation, regardless of the economic growth rate.

It is not just a cliché: the poor really are getting poorer in Pakistan.

The budget represents the choices we make about how to run our society. We seem to be choosing to subsidise the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

If that does not make you angry, I don’t know what will.


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