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January 2, 2011

Alif

A taxing issue
Writing in Jang about Pakistan’s economic crisis and the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST), MALEEHA LODHI, a former Pakistani diplomat, argues that while there is an economic crisis in the country, the absence of a “tax culture”—where many withhold or altogether fail to pay their taxes—will continue to hurt the nation.

She argues that the true test of the government’s commitment to the RGST regime will be apparent after the Muharram holidays. The RGST, according to Ms Lodhi, will be a testament to whether or not Pakistan can uphold its international financial commitments and will be assessed by donors as to whether the country is able to effectively raise internal resources to meet its loan commitments.

She brings to notice proposals put forward by a task force ten years ago, which concluded that Pakistan’s financial crisis will continue if the tax-to-GDP ratio is not increased, that the ability to deliver public services will remain inefficient and high inflation will remain inevitable. She is critical of the government for not clearly articulating the goals of this reform and not demonstrating enough resolve to push for the reforms. This, Ms Lodhi points out, has resulted in skepticism and opposition from political and interest groups.
Other countries that instituted similar reforms, undertook campaigns to raise awareness and educate people of the objectives and need for reforms at least one year prior to their introduction; this however, was not done in Pakistan. Ms Lodhi writes that it is imperative both for the government and for Pakistan that these reforms go through; it will help the government shed the label of being indifferent and will help the country embark on a process to arrest its downward economic spiral.

Non-STARTer
Oman’s al-Watan discussed the impact of the US-Russia START treaty to the Middle East in an editorial. The paper argues that despite both countries stating their desire to reduce their active nuclear weapons’ stockpile by a third, their large current inventories will mean that this gesture will not be seen as a sign of relief to the rest of the world.

However, it argues that the momentum created by the START treaty should be used to push for a programme of comprehensive, verifiable universal disarmament, and the opening of current nuclear installations—especially those of Israel—to international inspectors. It is critical of the international community for maintaining silence on the Israel’s ambiguous nuclear posture. On the NPT, it argues that the US should take the opportunity to convince those countries that have not signed the NPT (primarily Israel) to take steps to do so immediately and adhere to its requirements.

The editorial concludes the difference that the START treaty will make to the world will be insignificant and that the world is consumed by larger challenges, including the economic crisis, climate change and United States’ “illegal occupation” of other countries.

Sudan’s referendum
Opinion on the upcoming referendum in Sudan on the separation of southern Sudan from the North, Qatar’s al-Raya newspaper called for pragmatism and reminded readers that this was a constitutional commitment undertaken by all parties of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

It urged both the National Congress (in the north of the country) and the SPLM (in the south) to create the necessary conditions to ensure that the referendum can take place without incident. The paper criticised the contradictory statements made by government officials in the north on the their position on the referendum and the SPLM. It urges both parties to avoid war-like rhetoric, saying that this will be a disservice not only to the people of Sudan, but also to the international community, which has spent considerable time brokering the peace deal.

Towards an ittehad
In its editorial on November 1st, Pakistan’s Nawa-i-waqt discusses statements made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei regarding Kashmir. Ayatollah Khamenei, in a public address, had urged Muslims around the world to support the “just cause of Kashmir” and had referred to India as a Zionist regime.

The editorial says that whenever Muslims the world over have been persecuted, it has been at the hands of the Jews, Hindus and Christians. The editorial argues that it is not in Pakistan’s interest to engage India in dialogue on Kashmir, but to allow and support the “freedom movement” in the Valley. It calls the revelation by Shamshad Ahmed, a former Pakistani diplomat—that he was instructed not to raise the Kashmir issue at the United Nations by General Pervez Musharraf—“embarrassing.” At the same time, the editorial is optimistic that the recent violence in the Valley has internationalised the issue and discredited India’s assertion that the movement was supported from outside the country. It draws attention to statements on Kashmir made in the Norwegian parliament.

The editorial asks that if India, Unite States and Israel can “unite against Muslim countries,” why Muslim countries cannot set aside their differences and unite to counter this aggression? It proposes that Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan form a bloc to address these challenges. The editorial believes that Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai has lost his patience with the United States, and while Iran was already confronting the Americans, Turkey has always been a supporter of an Islamic bloc. As the Islamic world’s only nuclear power, Pakistan must play a pivotal role in such a bloc, the editorial argues. The editorial argues that an Islamic bloc is essential in ensuring the “liberation” of Kashmir and Afghanistan.


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