New Age Islam Edit Bureau
21 November 2017
Pakistan and the Hijacking of Islam
By Busharat Elahi Jamil
Why Are They So Angry?
By Mosharraf Zaidi
Ending Child Marriage in Pakistan
By Arshad Mahmood
Trouble In Paradise
By Ozer Khalid
By Dr Niaz Murtaza
Transitioning Into Nowhere
By Khayyam Mushir
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Pakistan and the Hijacking Of Islam
November 21, 2017
Although Pakistan came into being in August 1947, after effectively gaining independence from British rule, it has never truly known freedom. Today, the country is still beholden to what may be best termed as global imperialism. Before Partition from India, the very concept of a separate Muslim homeland faced much opposition from religious groups such as Majlis-e Ahrar-e Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, among others. The British colonial administration co-opted the mandate of these parties in order to undermine both the Muslims of India and their leadership.
These fatwa ‘dealers’ issued decrees against the creation of the anticipated new state of Pakistan. Thus these cheerleaders of communalism busied themselves with a little subversive word play. Thus did they take Pakistan (land of the pure) and turn it into ‘Palidastan’ (land of the unclean and impure); and Jinnah was no more Quaid-e-Azam (supreme leader) but ‘Kafir-e-Azam’ (chief infidel). But they didn’t leave it there. Meaning that they issued yet another fatwa declaring that anyone daring to recognise Jinnah as the Quaid would face having his nikkah annulled. And just so that there would be absolutely no mistake — whosoever was sufficiently audacious to resist would himself be proclaimed ‘Kafir’. Thus this particular band of merry mullahs outdid themselves when they began chuckling about how the founding father of this country wouldn’t even make the P in Pakistan.
Yet on a more serious note, following on from the above, three separate classifications are needed.
Firstly, the independence of Indian Muslims was not so much a fundamentally Islamic or religious issue — but, rather, a political one. Admittedly, Indian Muslims were seeking, under Jinnah’s leadership, a new and separate state where they could practice Islam freely. But this is a concept very different to that of an Islamic state; something that neither the Quaid nor Allama Iqbal supported. Moreover, the minority members of Pakistan’s first National Assembly, particularly those from East Bengal, rejected the Objectives Resolution in 1949; pronouncing it contradictory to the vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan.
The religious right are split along sectarian lines and follow different schools of thought depending on their respective political agendas. Which naturally begs an important question: if they are so divided on the matter of faith — how do they hope to unite the nation under the umbrella of Islam?
Secondly, and paradoxically, comes the interesting question as to how this ‘infidel’ supreme leader could go on to found an Islamic state? Yet today, these religious parties are living and breathing and thriving in their once ill-fated ‘Palidastan’. In fact, it was the Objectives Resolution that allowed them to save face before worming their way into the very socio-religious fabric of Pakistan.
In a bid to consolidate their hold on power in the new state — these anti-Pakistan mullahs made the calculated move of entering into politics. Thus did they raise dispute after dispute to earn recognition among the masses. The Khatm-e-Nabuwwat movement of the 1950s, pertaining to the finality of the Prophet-hood, remains one case in point. Here, they carefully manipulated public sentiment with a view to validating their due role as leaders of the faith. By 1974, they were able to demonstrate the extent of their authority when they compelled Bhutto’s Parliament to declare the Ahmadia non-Muslim; within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. This was a move to strengthen the Saudi idea of unanimous representation of Muslims, globally. Today, the anti-Ahmadi legislation of 1974 and 1984 still has Pakistan gripped firmly in its deadly embrace.
Thirdly, according recognition to these so-called religious contractors forcefully negates the sacrifices of those who secured initial freedom for every religion at the very cost of their own lives. It has also allowed these groups to slowly yet steadily concentrate their hold on Pakistan’s socio-political system. Today, the country is home to more than 35 registered religious political parties. These not only enjoy strong electoral support but tangible street power, too. What is more, the last general elections recorded the following in terms of the religious right ballot gains: Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F) won 1,461,371 votes; JI 963,909; Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM) 360,297; JUI (Nazriyati) 103,098; and JUI (Nurani) 67,966 when it came to National Assembly representation.
These Islamic religious parties are split along sectarian lines and follow different schools of thought depending on their respective political agendas. Which naturally begs an important question: if the religious elite are divided on the matter of faith — how do they hope to unite the nation under the umbrella of Islam? True to form, the clergy here in Pakistan are profiting from both religion and so-called democracy. Yet this doesn’t serve their constituents, who are verily encouraged to confuse politics with religion.
The religious right’s dominance of the political system has reached the point where parties like JI and JUI-F have the clout to destabilise any ruling regime of the day. Even figures like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman don’t discriminate when it comes to joining hands with democratic or authoritarian regimes; including the current PMLN government. He is, after all Chairman of a bogus Kashmir Committee; while his party colleague Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri holds the Senate vice-chairmanship. And then we have the contentious issue of PTI’s ties with Maulana Samiul Haq that have extended to funding. Thus who can blame the general citizenry for not being able to conclude whether these religious men of steel stand with democracy or dictatorship? When politics remains the name of their game as opposed to serving the nation.
These groups as well as their religious-political bodies are prone to exploiting such sensitive issues as Khatm-e-Nabuwwat and blasphemy. They use specific legal provisions to harass the country’s minorities; with a view to keeping them bound by certain shackles that serve their political agenda. Which explains the low quotas of reserved parliamentary seats for religious minorities: just 10 for the National Assembly and four for the Senate. That these communities are largely underprivileged simply makes this under-representation even more criminal. Already hundreds of Hindu families from Sindh have migrated permanently to India, while those who stay behind face institutional marginalisation at the hands of the political set-up.
This has serious consequences for Pakistan. When those from Christian, Ahmadi and Hindu communities suffer such very real uncertainly and fear that they would rather flee this — their — country, it contributes further to the ongoing brain drain. The saddest part is that our so-called democratic governments, having already done deals with the devil, find themselves paralysed when it comes to reining in these self-serving mazhabi mullahs and their politicking. This hinders Pakistan’s development and poses a very real threat to the country’s existence.
Of course, the religious right’s real strength rests in its street power, for which they target madrasa students. Back in 1947, Pakistan was home to just 189 religious seminaries. Then came Gen Zia who openly patronised the madrasa, going as far as declaring certificates issued from these seminaries equivalent to a university Master’s degree. Today the number of Madaris have crossed 35,500; with a total enrolment of around 4 million students. Most of these remain unregistered.
This question of non-registration is known to be a major contributing factor when it comes to spawning militant activism and recruiting those who would wage jihad against state and citizenry. An overwhelmingly large majority of Pakistan-based terrorists have been linked to the country’s unregistered seminaries; thereby reinforcing notions of the relationship between madaris and militancy. Interestingly, here is where minorities come into their own in terms of loyalty to this country. For not one single incident of terrorism in Pakistan has ever involved a member of non-Muslim minority communities. Yet despite this — the latter are constitutionally barred from being elected to either the premiership or the presidency.
Here, we have conflicting schools of thought as well as sectarian divisions, which include but are not limited to: Wahhabi, Barelvi, Shia and Ahl-i-Hadith. Thus these prevailing differences — when it comes to specific beliefs or practices — sow seed after seed of discord, all of which threatens the unity of the country. This is especially true when it comes to organisations and movements like Labbaik Ya Rasulallah and Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nabuwwat. These are responsible for playing the sectarian card, thereby perpetually fanning the flames of communalism in Pakistan. Thus the hate preached by such outfits only increases the very real sense of insecurity among the country’s minority communities. And, in fact, it would be no exaggeration to conclude that such factionalism is sufficient to destabilise Pakistan entirely. Yet this is nothing new. Internal and external forces have, ever since the Zia era, high-jacked religion in a bid to threaten the territorial integrity of Pakistan. How much longer are we prepared to let this go on?
Currently, Pakistan is being held hostage by more than 40 militant groups, including: Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which has been renamed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP); Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). All of these, without exception, came about purely due to the religious bigotry and sectarian hatred that has plagued this country for so long. And all continue their murderous and bloody practices — in the name of their personally modified version of Islam — to challenge the writ of state. The most tragic part is that these banned outfits procure around 60 percent of funding from ordinary citizens, those suffering from blind faith; with the rest coming through ill-gotten gains, such as kidnapping for ransom, street crimes and general theft and looting. Meaning that not only do these fanatical groups spread their vitriol — they also are directly responsible for rising crime rates nationwide.
This is where the media, as society’s fourth pillar, needs to come in. Yet it is still seemingly reluctant to put industry rivalries aside to collectively confront religious extremism. The government, for its part, ought to ban the broadcasting of hate speeches, particularly with regard to electronic media. But, print media, too, also should be monitored closely to bring an end to this practice once and for all. In short, we must say no more to the deliberate mixing of religion with politics. Moreover, Islamic television channels must produce programmes based on plurality, tolerance, peace and harmony. This is something that the clergy must support — for a society at peace with itself is a productive and prosperous society. And then, only then, will Pakistan have the right to call itself an Islamic Republic.
Many people have sought to approach the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan with gloves and a hazmat suit. This is understandable. Any discussion about belief, religion and spirituality in Pakistan is a hazard.
This process of establishing a monopoly over religion is not new, nor unique to Pakistan. Although there is much to be said about a country built to secure the liberty of Muslims that now finds itself so scared of the same liberty that it must change the text of laws behind closed doors, and must offer safe passage to the judges and ministers that are deemed to be in violation of the vigilante-enforced religious order.
The magic of Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is not extraordinary devotion to Islam or to Seerat un Nabi; as a land of Sufi saints and Hussaini yaqeen, every Pakistani may offer Rizvi a real run for his money. The real magic is that this individual and his group have managed to generate sustained national headlines on an issue on which there is quite literally 100 percent national consensus.
Business-class liberals are a big tent group of Pakistanis including many Noonies, Insafians, GHQists, and post superannuation careerists. They tend to be most confounded by the Rizvi phenomenon. Their conversations are awash with consternation, frustration, anger, and wonderment: “how can he use such language?”, “where is the government?”, and my favourite, “why are those people so angry?”
The Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES) conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics is the closest thing to a credible source of information about income and consumption levels. The most recent version of the HIES we have is for 2015-2016. The survey breaks down Pakistan into quintiles, or blocks of 20 percent, to help ease our understanding of society. There are five quintiles, or blocks of 20 percent each. This is a quite useful device, because it helps us understand the granularity and texture of society better than a national average.
The national average per capita monthly expenditure in Pakistan according to the most recent HIES is Rs5,166. When reasonable people see this number, they attribute it to the vast numbers of poor people in the country. A breakdown by quintile helps us understand this poverty a little better.
The highest quintile’s average per capita monthly expenditure is Rs10,937, or almost double the national average. The lowest quintile’s average per capita monthly expenditure is Rs2,295 or about half of the national average.
How many Pakistanis in each quintile? The most recent census pins us at roughly 210 million, meaning that each quintile is about 42 million individuals. This means that on average, each of the bottom 42 million Pakistanis consumes roughly Rs2,300 per month, or about Rs77 per day. The top 42 million Pakistanis on the other hand, each consume about Rs365 per day. The difference between the top and the bottom seems large, but it isn’t really as dramatic as the distance between Pakistan’s business class elite and the rest of the country.
According to the PTA, as of September 2017, there are over seven million LTE/4G connections spread across three providers. These connections are likely to be on high-end Smartphones. Let’s call this group the iPhone/S8 Plus group or for greater ease, Pakistan’s business class elite. All seven million of these obviously belong to the top quintile of the country, the one that consumes, on average, about Rs365 per day. The question is: just how much more than the average do these folks likely consume?
A regular coffee at any of the imported coffee shops that have sprouted up all around Pakistan’s urban centres costs roughly Rs300. A McDonalds Happy Meal costs around Rs280. At the very top telos of our consumption molehill however, McDonalds is looked down upon. A more acceptable meal at that altitude will have ingredients that are imported, and cost, per person upwards of Rs1,500 or about five days worth of consumption for the average top quintile Pakistani.
Why dig so deep into consumption? For starters, it helps to contextualise oneself within the wider society that we live in. Top end smartphone users can believe whatever they like about how wealthy or fortunate they are or are not – but they occupy no lower than that top sixth of the top twenty percent of the country, or the top three percent of the country. Now, let’s go back to those questions about Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
How can he use such foul language? Rizvi is not using foul language because he cannot control himself, just like Donald Trump has not exposed his misogyny by accident, just like Narendra Modi did not refer to victims of the Gujarat riots as helpless dogs because of any confusion about the status of dogs in South Asia. The foul language being employed by Rizvi is the natural evolution of the Imran Khan effect. Intelligent observers noted not the strong rebukes Khan received for taunting parliamentarians in 2014 for having wet their shalwars. They noted the energy and vitality of Khan’s ‘tigers’ as they leapt in unison toward parliament and later the PTV headquarters. Foul and abusive language may disgust many people, but it has an energising and vitalising effect on as many or more. Bottom line? Sensitive uncles and aunties can take their outrage back to the business class lounge. Foul and abusive language is a potent driver of something many of us clearly do not understand.
As the Rizvi phenomena grows, many have wondered at the utter failure of the government to do something about it. Where is the government? The government is somewhere between cowering in fear, experiencing vertigo from confusion, and rushing to further legitimise and normalise acts of large-scale paralysis of public spaces, like interchanges and highways. This reactiveness is understandable because both state and society have no other game. There has been no sober examination of why Mumtaz Qadri was able to garner such deep and widespread support. There is no serious conversation about the growing cultural war in the mass media. There is no one to address of the helplessness of a society that reveres traditions being blitzed by the technological enablement of challenges to traditions.
None of the big questions that merit treatment by the state, through academia and specialised state bodies, are being asked. We have been reduced to trying to understand deep and complex phenomenon through tweets, Facebook updates and ministerial confessionals on television that make us feel good just because they represent a smidgen of humility and an acknowledgement of multi-decade crises. Where is the government? It is vaporising itself under a morass of incompetence and callousness. We are on our own.
Which segues nicely into the answer to my favourite innocent question: “Why are those people so angry?”. Most Pakistanis in the top 3 percent will never be on their own. They will have a Chaacha or Maama to call, a classmate from Aitchison, or Beaconhouse, or IBA to rely upon. They will have English. And when things are really bad, they can always rely on a Happy Meal to feel better. But many among the 97 percent below are born, and die, effectively on their own. Even accounting for the ability to opt out of the contaminated water supply, unsafe and low quality schools, quacks for doctors, they cannot opt out of court dates that keep getting rolled over, policemen that keep trying to roll them over, and opportunity that never rolls around. Protagonists like Rizvi are tapping into the cultural and economic anxiety of the bottom 97 percent.
This country has long been overdue for a serious set of conversations about the social and economic compact. It has lacked the institutional seriousness to conduct these conversations. Khadim Hussain Rizvi is a reminder of these facts. No more. No less.
Hats off to Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sehar Kamran who has tirelessly campaigned for the approval of her proposed legislative tool against underage marriages –– the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017 –– after the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior described it as un-Islamic. The Senate panel later reconsidered the bill following the dogged pursuit of the mover. Senator Kamran was not present when the bill was rejected earlier. The bill will again be placed before the upper house next month and if approved, it will then go to the lower house of parliament or the National Assembly.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), up to three per cent of girls are married in Pakistan before the age of 15 years and 21 per cent are married before they turn 18. These statistics are based on the findings of the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) for 2012-13. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that when such a large number of girls are married in their childhood, it results in high rates of maternal and child mortality and this is one of the key reasons that Pakistan’s Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) still stands at 276 per 100,000 live births and Pakistan’s newborn mortality rate is at 55 per 1,000 live births. We all know that Pakistan failed to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets related to maternal and child health.
Besides the health consequences, there are so many other aspects of child marriage which are not good for the child herself, her family and society at large. Based on these facts, child marriage is considered one the most important child-protection issues and therefore the conferences of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on child protection in Khartoum, capital of Sudan, in 2007 and Cairo, Egypt, in 2009, respectively, adopted both the Khartoum Declaration and Cairo Declaration whereby the Islamic countries were called upon to raise the minimum marriageable age to 18 years. “Participants call upon all OIC member states to raise the age of marriage to 18, ensuring full consent and registration of marriage” reads the Cairo Declaration. Similarly, the Khartoum Declaration states “take the necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and all harmful traditional or customary practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, in the light of the relevant declarations, instruments, and conventions”.
Many, if not all, Muslim countries have increased the minimum marriageable age, including Bahrain: 21 years for both women and men, Libya: 20 years, Eritrea years 21 for men and 18 years for women, Algeria: 19 years, Qatar: 18 years, United Arab Emirates: 18 years, Lebanon: 18 years, Albania: 18 years, Morocco: 18 years, Oman: 18 years, Bangladesh: 18 years, Kyrgyzstan: 18 years, Kazakhstan: 18 years, Mali 21 and 18, Nigeria: 18 years, Tajikistan: 18 years, Sierra Leone: 18 years, Mauritania: 18 years, Kosovo: 18 years, Comoros: 18 years and Djibouti: 18 years. Many Islamic countries have the minimum marriageable age at 17 years and many more are considering raising the minimum marriageable age. All these Islamic countries and many non-Islamic countries have raised the minimum marriageable age as it is crystal clear that child marriage is a grave threat to the lives and prospects of young girls. It violates their rights, denies them their childhood, disrupts their education, jeopardises their health, and limits their opportunities.
Marriage is a contract in Islam and the Quran [4:21] refers to marriage as a Mithaq, ie, a solemn covenant or agreement between husband and wife, and enjoins that it be put down in writing. Since no agreement can be reached between the parties unless they give their consent to it, marriage can be contracted only with the free consent of the two parties — which makes it clear that such a contract cannot be entered into by children. How a child can be expected to go into a lifelong contract when he or she is not expected to drive and/or vote? Marriage is a lifetime contract and a child who does not even understand what a contract is cannot be expected to choose her or his life partner and based on this fact chid marriage cannot be Islamic at all.
Pakistan’s human rights review, Universal Periodic Review (UPR), is scheduled to be held this month. In its last UPR in 2012, there were several recommendations related to child marriage which were accepted by the government of Pakistan, including a recommendation by Canada to “take steps to implement laws and policies with a view to eliminating early and forced marriage”. Similarly, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its Concluding Observations and Recommendations about Pakistan’s 5th Periodic Report in 2016 while welcoming the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act of 2013 which has raised the minimum marriageable age for both boys and girls to 18 years, raised concerns about the difference between the minimum legal age for boys (18 years) and girls (16 years) in all other provinces and recommended that the minimum marriageable age for girls be raised to 18 years.
Keeping in view the negative effects of child marriage on girls and children, its health, education and social consequences for girls, OIC conferences’ recommendations from Khartoum and Cairo, steps taken by a number of Islamic countries to raise minimum marriageable age in light of the Quranic verses [4:21], Pakistan’s constitutional and international obligations being party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other core conventions and being the newly elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, it’s high time that both houses of parliament fulfilled their responsibility of enacting the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017 without any bias related to party affiliations, etc. It’s worrisome that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Javed Abbasi opposed it at the Standing Committee meeting. It is hoped that the PML-N lawmakers in the Senate and the National Assembly will support the bill and put the country on the right track with respect to the rights of children and women. I request all members of the Senate and the National Assembly to support the Child Marriages Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017 and not make any unfavourable decision based on some distorted historical facts and cultural taboos.
Trouble in Paradise
Trouble lurks in Paradise. For the tax avoiding wealthy elites, the flames of Hell in Paradise are re-ignited anew. “Paradise Leaks” represent an eerie déjà vu of the Panama Papers debacle. Dante`s scorched Inferno might yet be destined for many high-profile Pakistani politicos and industrial tycoons, previously deemed above and beyond the law.
After the scandal-strewn Luxembourg and Panama leaks (which ousted a Pakistani prime minister), the latest Paradise leaks, shared with Germany`s broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung and released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), nakedly exposes morally reprehensible tax deductibles and opaque offshore structures where money is dubiously siphoned away from public authorities in austerity-laden times when social inequality is unacceptably rampant.
The Paradise Leaks, leaving nary a stone unturned, exposes monarchs, crocodile-tear jerking “end global poverty” celebrity campaigners, corporate multinational behemoths and no less than 135 model Pakistani citizens, including high-profile household names, from politicians and captains of industry to a former prime minister.
As with the Panama Papers, the FBR has empowered their intelligence and investigation wing to issue notices to all Pakistanis identified in the Paradise leaks. Each person sent a notice will thereafter be given 15 days to answer the queries raised via the FBR.
FBR sources confirm that 19 of the 135 Pakistani citizens and their financial shenanigans are to be “deeply probed” from off-the-book accounting transactions, to bank account details, to companies of which they are legal beneficiaries of and money transfer records. Only six names have been released to the FBR. The FBR seeks crucial intelligence from regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA).
As evidence surfaces to light, the FBR seeks to launch action against relevant high net worth individuals (HNWIs) under the laws governing tax theft, suspicious activity reporting (SARs) and anti-money laundering (AML).
However, the ICIJ will only divulge the data of HNWIs currently holding “public office” or individuals deemed to be in the “public interest”, and other names (of private citizens, no matter how unsavoury or wealthy) won’t be revealed to nation-states, as journalists cannot be “accessories” to state prosecutors/tax officials. Journalism follows a code of ethics whereby sources, especially those “off the record” must be protected. Pakistan’s very own Protection of Journalists Act of 2014 underscores the importance of protecting sources.
So the FBR cannot rely on the ICIJ and will have to conduct a lot of the investigation themselves. The FBR’s hands are also tied, for instance, they cannot investigate cases older than six years. Such statutory time limits merit revision. Furthermore, it was the Supreme Court, not the FBR, that dislodged a former sitting prime minister. Watchdogs need sharper teeth or they remain “paper tigers”.
One way to obtain details of the Pakistani citizens implicated is via the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) multilateral machinery pertaining to the exchange of information on financial assets. The OECD’s 2014 “Common Reporting Standards” mandate comprehensive guidelines on financial transaction and tax transparency, so it is in Pakistan`s best interest to forge closer ties with the OECD, and further intensify regulatory harmonisation with the OECD’s Common Reporting Standards.
Pakistan has not yet signed any treaties with the countries labeled as “safe havens” to dodge taxes, for instance Jersey, the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, etc. Pakistan must urgently promulgate enforceable treaties with the nine well-known tax havens, without which getting concrete evidence about tax dodging remains a distant mirage.
Haroon Akhtar, the prime minister’s revenue adviser, requested tax havens to share information but to no avail. Shaukat Aziz, a former Pakistani PM, named in the Paradise Papers is not a Pakistani “resident” and as per FBR’s very lenient income tax policies for non-residents may invoke immunity. The FBR and competent authorities are well advised to tighten the laws pertaining to “non-residents”, especially those who have held positions of high public office in Pakistan. Why should a “privileged few” greedily avoid what they clearly owe back to society, when their own employees and customers pay their fair share?
Tracing the money that rightfully belongs to the treasury’s coffers should not be the FBR’s sole responsibility. NAB, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance, the SECP, the SBP and NADRA can all intelligently co-create an Offshore Leaks Database in Pakistan and mount an intelligence-sharing campaign to shed crucial light on the shadowy world of offshore tax opacity. Global tax harmonisation, cross-border alignment in reporting standards, tougher sanctions on transfer pricing are other helpful measures.
Under current law, a Pakistani resident may create an offshore company and park the money there “after” having paid all the taxes on it in Pakistan, failure to do so constitute illegal tax “evasion” (tax “avoidance” remains legal). A more critical legal precedent must be set on tax “avoidance”.
In the 1990s, the State Bank of Pakistan forex rules rendered it illegal for a Pakistani resident to operate an offshore account, as accentuated in the Rockwood estate or ‘Surrey Palace’ case. Perhaps it is time for our State Bank to reconsider that rule as the gaping schism between the “rich and the rest” widens.
Taxes in Pakistan, despite multiple efforts, remain a burden of the working classes. The richest in society bear a moral responsibility to set the highest standards of ethical conduct. This is what is sorely lacking, in Pakistan and beyond. In matters of accountability no official, irrespective of political stripes, should be spared. In matters of tax transparency we must remain “political atheists” to take culprits to task.
If tax evasion is “legal”, it doesn’t make it “moral”. A closer alignment between law and morality is sought. Pakistan already suffers from a highly inelastic tax base, the national budget loses billions of rupees annually through legal tax avoidance. These billions could perhaps have been spent on health, education and to feed the starving millions.
The Rousseauvian social contract in Pakistan has come unstuck. It is high time for a new social contract between the state and our citizenry, where trust equity is restored through equitable income redistribution, accountability and fiscal transparency.
POST-2008 politics has followed a few unstated rules based on the twin cities having a tacit ‘no-nuclear-first-strike pact’ in place. Pindi will not use its nuclear option (coup) first if Islamabad doesn’t first use its nuclear option (clipping Pindi’s wings). Politicians will rule but Pindi will run the security and foreign policy domains. In return, Pindi will avoid politicking if its core powers aren’t threatened.
Zardari tried putting the ISI under civilian control reportedly under US advice. But faced with a furious backlash from the security establishment, he gave up soon and remained meek subsequently. Nawaz too kept his desire for civilian supremacy well under check. Yet, despite civilian meekness, this elite political pact appears to be unravelling after 10 years. There are many hints, perhaps even evidence, that Pindi is becoming restive and, like in the 1990s, wants to covertly manage politics even when its core interests are not threatened.
The targets are seemingly our main parties. Early signs emerged in 2015. Carried away by its success in crushing violence in Karachi, the security establishment perhaps felt it could end sleaze too. Whether the intent was really this or merely bringing to heel politicians, the anti-PPP drive failed. This month, further signs emerged with the failed attempt to arrange a marriage between the MQM-P and PSP.
Is The Security Establishment Becoming Restive?
Finally, in the PML-N’s case there are more hints than evidence. The PML-N leaders hint at the establishment’s hand in Sharif’s disqualification. The verdict itself is so weak it encourages speculation whether an elected prime minister would be evicted on such flimsy grounds without establishment support. Sharif faces more solid proof of sleaze in NAB cases. So, the unfair de-seating may soon become moot. But it has instigated political instability. The electoral entrance of fringe religious groups and rumours about mysterious calls being made to PML-N MNAs further muddy the water.
Rumours about minus-three, even minus-four formulae (Altaf, Zardari, Nawaz and Imran) had started appearing in 2015 on social media. As of today, Altaf stands fully eliminated and Nawaz partially so. Imran’s fate is in balance in the court and ECP cases. Of course, all this may not be the result of plotting since our politicians carry sufficient skeletons in their closets to convict them. But engineering is not the right strategy for removing the gaps in our politics. So while the proof may not yet be solid enough to strongly accuse Pindi, the hints are strong enough to put out a cautionary note against devising such a strategy given past failures.
Such forays into politics are seen as the result of the follies of politicians. There are two variants to this logic. The first assigns noble aims to Pindi: politicians mess things so much that it has to intervene. But politicians have never messed things so badly. In fact, dictators have messed things more. The second variant is more cynical. It argues that the follies of politicians allow Pindi to grab power in the garb of being saviour. This variant is closer to our situation. But there is nothing inevitable even about it. There are many states where governance is also poor but where there are no deep states itching to step in. In fact, among major states, such temptations afflict establishments now only in a small group which can aptly be called the TEMPT (Thailand, Egypt, Myanmar, Pakistan and Turkey) Club.
Yet, there is strong support for such politicking among many educated people who view politics via only a moral lens. Such a lens is critical but when used alone it creates unrealistic demands for unconditional, full and instant change. Thus, it must be supplemented with a political economy lens which provides better strategies and realistic time frames for political change.
The PML-N and MQM are currently the two parties facing the most flux. There is much that’s wrong with them when viewed from a moral lens. But a political economy lens helps in analysing how some of their follies emerge from strong needs within society and not just the evil aims of their leaders. The MQM is being asked to give up its name and ethnic politics based on the view that these serve only the needs of its leaders. But more than jobs and flyovers, the MQM provides a sense of unity and identity to Mohajirs. Defanging its violent arms is proper; forcing it to abandon ethnic politics is not.
Similarly, the PML-N is the embodiment of patronage and dynastic politics which produces sleaze. Controlling sleaze is necessary but only via civilian accountability tools and sound verdicts. But trying to demolish the PML-N instantly can affect Punjab’s broader political economy that thrives on patronage.
This all thus requires patient handling rather than crude political engineering by arrogant elements.
I wrote about Singapore in my previous column and described its peculiar stability and staggering achievements, despite the amalgam of contradictions that combine to make up its whole.
So if we were to follow the same trajectory, make the same decisions, build a similar system, you would imagine that eventually that formula would work for us as well and deliver the same results? Sounds exciting – except, a neat application of the Singapore model is just not possible in Pakistan.
No, I’m not about to go on and contradict what I stated and implied in my previous piece; there is a lot we could improve and achieve by simply mimicking what Singapore has done in the realms of economic planning, public spending, education, health, infrastructure, technology and foreign affairs. But could we impersonate its style of governance and get away with building a quasi-democracy? I don’t think so and here’s why: Singapore is a small island city state, with a population of roughly 5.5 million inhabitants, approximately 70 percent of whom are Chinese Buddhists and who speak either of two main languages – Mandarin and Malay – at home, with English being preferred by all as the primary language of communication in all spheres of life. The minority religions are Christianity, Islam and Taoism, with roughly 20 percent of the populace declaring that it has no religious affiliation. With religion, language and ethnic contradictions out the window, it’s easy to introduce a quasi-democratic model and curb dissent with a zero tolerance policy on challenges to the writ of the state.
Now consider Pakistan. There can be no comparison on the population front of course as there is no similarity of size. And from that point onwards it’s a downward slide into chaos. Pick any one of the following: religion, ethnicity, sectarian affiliation and language, and all you have is the din of competing beliefs and interests, merging into a cacophony of disagreement. We don’t have ‘one religion’, for example, as much as we would like to gloss over the fact and declare ourselves to be a Muslim state. Because in 70 years and prior to it, there was never any agreement on what brand of Islam would hold sway with maximum acceptance in the Subcontinent.
If Sunni, then Barelvi or Deobandi? If not Sunni then Shia? And say you had that figured out, what about Sindhi, Baloch, Punjabi and Pakhtun? A sharing of power you would say but how, when each has a world view diametrically opposed to that of the others? And take a magnifying glass and peer closely into each ethnic group. With the exception of Sindh, where despite linguistic and ethnic differences the populace is able to articulate its political interests under a Sindhi identity; is there any such singularity and unison in the other provinces? Are the Baloch united? Are the Pakhtun a homogenous cultural group? Do the Seraiki agree Punjab ought to be one contiguous unit? And all that difference is exacerbated by the multi-lingual nature of our polity. Because language is the medium through which difference is articulated, through which identities manifest themselves and declare their independence, even before they declare their superiority.
So how do we go about applying the Singapore model to the plethora of difference described above? Short of dialogue and engagement, the only final solution appears to be force. Well that’s something that has been tried and tested with disastrous results in Balochistan: the attempt to deal with a political problem as if it were a law and order situation. Which brings me to the unpopular conclusion: the only way forward for Pakistan is the firm establishment of a multi-party democracy. Because differences can only be resolved through dialogue and engagement and yes when a broad consensus is achieved, only then may rules and regulations be enforced.
However, the last decade has been bad for democracy. The only thing that the democratic system has achieved is the procedural transition from one government to the next. It appears that will happen in 2018 as well. All political parties are unanimous in the holding of the next general elections. But that’s where the unity of thought and purpose ends. Conceptually we are yet to achieve the transition to a democratic state. And that’s because the main actors, the political parties, are out to sabotage the system again – a time tested modus operandi, which may have become a force of habit.
There are similarities in what is going on at the moment with what happened in the last year of the PPP government. A prime minister has again been chucked out of office. There is political limbo as the ruling party struggles to stay afloat just as long as the next elections. And in the meanwhile every party in the opposition appears to think that if it moves in for the kill now, chips in all it can to ensure the dismemberment of the ruling party, that will somehow ensure its victory in the next general elections. In five years, the seismic shift in politics that is apparent, therefore, is that negative engagement – the tarnishing of political opponents’ public image, the disruption of the parliamentary process and smug compromises with the establishment – is the way to political power. It has become the new modus vivendi for democratic politics in Pakistan.
The problem is that this cycle appears set to continue. While the jury is out on who will emerge victorious in the next general elections – or what coalition is likely should there be no clear winner – the routine of democratic consensus building is likely to be sabotaged again and in similar fashion, owing to the dangerous precedent set in the last five years. Expect more dharnas, more mud-slinging, more disengagement from parliament and fewer laws and regulations. And if this happens – with the consequent failure to deliver success on the economic front also likely – expect more civilian space being conceded to the establishment.
And in the meanwhile there’s another casualty the democratic arrangement has suffered owing to the brand of politics practised by the opposition in the last five years: the erosion of the writ of the state. The recent sit-in by a religious group in Islamabad provides the painful evidence of this sad fact. The complete insecurity and weakness of resolve that the government has been forced to demonstrate – in fear of a possible PR crisis that could well be the final nail in the coffin of the PML-N’s political career – has ominous connotations for future governments. Religion, it is now established, can be used as a conversation ender, which no government can challenge unless it is prepared to use force. The only alternative is to concede space.
For nascent religious groups, splinter factions of established religious parties and proscribed organisations, on the contrary, this is a victorious moment. They know now that they can paralyse the government and daily life at the drop of their hats, by marching to the capital, destroying property and issuing threats and warnings. They also know that they will now have more avenues available for entering mainstream politics as political parties seek to enter into political arrangements with them. Be afraid.