Pakistan Day: Reflections & Resolve
Dr. Ikramul Haq
The unprecedented sufferings of Pakistanis, especially the poor and less privileged, will continue unabated no matter how many Pakistan Days we celebrate, unless the society is restructured on the principles of equity, fairness and justice—the fundamental elements of the constitutional democracy enunciated in Article 3 of the 1973 Constitution.
Anarchy, terrorism, lawlessness and chaos in today’s Pakistan is because of captivity of State in the hands of militro-judicial-civil complex, landed aristocracy, pirs, industrialist-turned politicians and traders. Pakistan’s economy serves these privileged classes. The militro-judicial-civil complex not only enjoys unprecedented tax-free benefits at the cost of taxpayers’ money but also not delivering for what it is being paid. The ruthless landowners and industrialists amass more and more wealth by exploiting landless tillers and industrial workers, respectively.
The unscrupulous traders create artificial hike in prices of essential items and thrive on the hard-earned incomes of the poor and the fixed-income classes. The government imposes unbearable indirect taxes on the poor and extends benefits to the rich and the mighty. This is the dilemma of today’s Pakistan, where we are going to celebrate on Thursday (March 23, 2023), 83rd Pakistan Day commemorating the Lahore Resolution and adoption of Pakistan’s first constitution.
The anti-people alliance of elites is the root cause of our many ills. Through cross marriages, the elites ‘look after’ each other well and manage to perpetuate control over State institutions and economic resources. For civil bureaucrats, life revolves around good postings, lucrative benefits, foreign tours and promotions. Officers having political clout are requisitioned by federal and provincial ministries. They either are relatives of ministers or are close to them. They serve their interests even if law and regulations do not permit so. This has destroyed the entire structure of civil services, where ‘political connections’ is now the name of the game.
Polarisation, favouratism and politicisation within State institutions are showing their disastrous results. Law and order has totally collapsed and terrorists attack any place they want with impunity. The State despite taking enormous taxes is asking people to arrange their own security while the State machinery is busy serving the rulers alone. Shehbaz Sharif as Prime Minister has not learnt any lessons from his past mistakes. He continues to promote cronyism. Many high-clibre officers have been denied postings/promotions they deserve on merit and “loyalists”, though junior, are enjoying lucrative posts. There seems no end to such brazen acts on the part of elites that keep on humming the mantra of democracy but act in an authoritarian manner.
Elites will never be interested in creating an egalitarian Pakistan. This fact is obvious from the most recent mini-budget [Finance (Supplementary) Act, 2023] presented by the fourth-time Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar and approved by the National Assembly, wherein not a single tax is levied on the rich and mighty to bridge the burgeoning fiscal deficit. On the contrary, indirect taxes raised, further crushing the poor and overburdening fast-squeezing middle-class.
At the same time borrowings from banks and foreign lenders continue to push the nation in the darker abyss of the ‘debt prison’—debt servicing alone is now the largest burden on the economy taking away all the taxes collected by Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and even no-tax collections. The elites are, however, still happy as they are enjoying unprecedented benefits and perquisites, free plots, free club facilities, all funded by the poor taxpayers. On the other hand, there is no political will to provide free health and education to the ordinary people, what to speak of fulfilling other obligations mentioned in the Constitution.
Dr. Ishrat Husain, in his book, Pakistan: The Economy of an Elitist State, has observed that in sharp contrast to the East Asian model of ‘shared growth’, based on rapid economic development coupled with a rapid reduction in poverty and more equitable distribution of the benefits of development in Pakistan, the elitist model confers political and economic powers to a small coterie of elite (parasites). While quoting Dr. Ishrat’s work, Dr. Khalil Ahmad, in his book, Pakistan mein Riasti Ashrafiya ka a’roj (Rise of State Oligarchy in Pakistan), has also concluded that Pakistan is presently owned and exploited by elites whereas it should belong to the people of Pakistan.
The powerful State officials in hands with the rich and mighty exploit the system for self-aggrandisement. For example, FBR through SROs [Statutory Regulator Orders] provides “legal” ways and means to the mighty sections of society to amass huge wealth—exemptions and concessions given to them are worth billions of rupees. It is worth mentioning that under Ishaq Dar, the FBR during 2013-17 issued many favourable notifications for the benefit of those in power, especially for sugar and steel industry.
In 2012 when officers of Grade 19-22 were allowed monetized transport allowance, SRO 569(I)/2012 was issued on 26 May 2012 [still operative] providing that government officials in Grade 20-22 would pay just 5% tax on this allowance. The powerful bureaucrats use official cars, get monetized allowance, and pay meagre tax.
In Finance Act 2013, the flying allowance of PIA pilots was clubbed with salary, but Ishaq Dar did not provide similar treatment for mighty bureaucrats for their transport allowance. This shows how elites protect each other and professionals like PIA pilots get a raw deal just because they are not part of State Oligarchy.
The problem of Pakistan is not scarcity of resources, but unwillingness in their proper utilizing and managing their equitable distribution, absence of effective administrative and justice systems to check socio-economic injustice.
It has been mentioned time and again by various writers that without imposing any new tax or raising the rates of the existing ones, the total revenue collection at federal level alone can be Rs 14 trillion (Rs. 7500 billion direct taxes and Rs. 6500 billion indirect taxes) if existing tax gap is bridged.
This level of collection is possible but as a first step, we will have to reform our State machinery. Expensive State property occupied by them as “residences” must be recouped and commercially utilised through long-term lease. Their benefits and perquisites should be monetized. Consolidated Pay Package for them, fair and adequate, would reduce corruption and remove a strong sense of elitism and improve governance.
For politicians and all State functionaries, an independent and effective accountability apparatus is the need of the hour. Without the fundamental structural reforms, we cannot establish a true democratic polity extending socio-economic justice for all, rapid growth ensuring job opportunities for millions of young people, whose frustration is on the rise with every passing day as elites are showing apathy towards them and enjoying luxuries at the State’s expense.
Naked exploitation of the have-nots and dehumanization of society are leading to gruesome incidents where people are taking lives of the innocents without any remorse and repentance. We will have to move fast to reverse this trend and make Pakistan a republic for the people and not the elites alone.
The time has come to make a firm resolve on 83rd Pakistan Day, and take definitive actions to implement in letter and spirit Article 3 of the Constitution which says: “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work”.
The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)