Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ignominy and mayhem

Who has time for increasing revenue and cutting expenses though, for the gangsterisation of Pakistan is complete; from the killing fields of Karachi to the halls of the National Assembly.

I was never a fan of Musharraf’s image management obsession for it reflected our national hypocrisy in which drawing rooms sparkle and kitchens and bathrooms stink. Why doesn’t the core jive with the cover?

And yet now that we have been put to international ignominy, time after time, I am second-guessing myself. Facades crack, but to the unknowing Western eye and the broken Pakistani heart, provide at least an illusion of respect. With the national post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, that we suffer from, the last and least that we needed was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finger-wagging at the elite and wealthy not paying taxes and providing flood relief while citizens of the US and Europe are taxed to help the flood relief effort in Pakistan.

Not that she is wrong. Our national begging bowl, though carried in Mercedes limousines and handled by designer suits is ever present and slick. We are silly enough to try and impose more taxes rather than collect basic income tax under the laws that are already in place. We know that Pakistan has one of the lowest income tax collection rates in the world. And yet true to the dichotomy that defines our national psyche we choose to keep our house in a mess and finance our luxuries with the national exchequer for trips to foreign lands for reasons that are dubious at best. Our economic misery provides another fig-leaf for our penchant to beg ever so smoothly every time.

Pakistanis must have the most resilient psyche in the world to deal with a collapsing economy, persistent terrorism, runaway prices, rising unemployment, absent healthcare, target killings, recurrent natural disasters and governmental and politician antics that would shame a bad Hollywood movie. What boggles the mind is the bravado with which others are pan-handled when billionaire governmental officers and politicians have made an art of escaping good old income tax.

We have perpetually looked outward for everything. Not just for praise and positive reinforcement but also disconnected Euro-Americans to point out our problems and give reprimanding solutions. Independence from the British occurred physically in 1947 but mental colonialism is alive and well. And from that same land Shakespeare’s line seems written for us: the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.

Instead of looking outward, perhaps we should handle the national economy with the simple principles with which one handles a business. Or even a family budget. In tough times there are only two solutions: increase revenue and decrease expenses. The talent within Pakistan is plentiful in all areas and the detail can be easily determined from the many economists that it has. But really this is not rocket science. The mind-boggling corruption at all levels that has occurred, especially of late, is a large hole in the small bucket of national resources.

The high unemployment rate can be decreased and national revenue will soar if a large number of employees are hired in the tax collection system. Procedures to ensure revenue collection must be made effective if not airtight. Taxing the obscene wealth circulating in Pakistan can make that begging bowl redundant pretty darn quick!

The Federal Education Commission and the Election Commission are engaged in proverbial football with regard to verifying the degrees of the parliamentarians. The FEC says to the ECP that it cannot do the job as 400 some parliamentarians are playing cat and mouse with it and not submitting the required paperwork. The ECP reminds the FEC that this is the FEC’s constitutionally mandated role.

It is not just the immediate and effective application of income tax that will generate a great deal of revenue, an example should be set from an assessment of the wealth and tax status of the parliamentarians that we elect and pay handsomely out of the national exchequer. Not only are these parliamentarians, many of whom are indictable for their fake degrees, paid very well for the poor country that Pakistan is, they are also feudal and thus independently wealthy. These wonderful men and women are passing laws that benefit self rather than protecting the state. Much like the fox guarding the henhouse.

Cutting expenses is the other way. And they have to be cut across the board with the qatra qatra darya ban jata hai (drops coalesce to form a river) mindset. Until we change our individual mindsets from one of first-class to that of economy, nothing will change. It is not the other person that is going to do it, not just Zardari or Gilani but each individual Pakistani. At the same time imposing a flood tax is not the answer; implementing income tax and wealth tax is what is needed. Income tax is graded and fair; flood tax would be imposed on a people already unable to provide for basic needs of daily living, and would only serve to inflame an already angry nation.

Who has time for increasing revenue and cutting expenses though, for the gangsterisation of Pakistan is complete; from the killing fields of Karachi to the halls of the National Assembly. That the murder of one man, MQM’s Raza Haider, and a by-election could kill over 150 people is mind-numbing. In its traditional corruption, Pakistan’s police is another example of the fox guarding the henhouse, but now the other arm of justice, our lawyers have joined the fray. How long will absolute savagery reign in a land that has an elected government and an allegedly effective Supreme Court? Will the armed and furious continue to run rabid? At this rate Karachi may well be on auto-curfew; why would people leave their homes to buy bread only to get killed in the crossfire.

Political parties are not meant to be mafia-style gangs, at least not in democracies. And yet no intraparty elections occur in any of Pakistan’s political parties and their nefarious agendas are rife within and have permeated the daily lives of ordinary, unaffiliated Pakistanis. And no major party in Pakistan is exempt from this unfortunate fact.

Just when one thinks things have reached their nadir in Pakistan, something bigger happens. Pakistan’s strange resilience in the face of the nerve-wrecking has paradoxically altered the Pakistani mindset and made it believe even more in the national motto: sab theek ho jaye ga (everything will be alright). Will our state change only when we drag ourselves out from sixty three years of delusional sand?

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at