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The Express Tribune Editorial 16 January 2020

Green passport


Our problems scream for solutions, but our rulers have left things go adrift. In recent years, in several important spheres of life we are being placed at the bottom on the social league table. For the past many years, the green Pakistani passport is being viewed with suspicion due to causes ranging from drugs, human trafficking and terrorism to money laundering. The latest Henley Passport Index has placed Pakistan at 104th position out of 107 countries. The ranking is based on the number of destinations the passport holders can travel to without obtaining a prior visa. Pakistan and Somalia occupy the same position with access to only 32 countries without a prior visa. Pakistan is positioned in the bottom four on the list for the third year running.
The ranking is based on the data gathered from the International Air Transport Association, whose figures are recognised as the most accurate travel information. Ranking below Pakistan is Syria with access to 29 countries; Iraq with access to 28; and Afghanistan with access to only 26 without a prior visa. The Indian passport has also slipped 10 places to 84 in the latest report from a decade-high ranking of 74 — a sorry reflection of Modi’s economic policies and politics. Progressive Indians are leaving their country because of the stifling political and social atmosphere prevailing in the country. The exodus of educated Indians from their motherland is also being attributed to a ‘growth’ without jobs, which is resulting from blatantly crony capitalist policies being pursued by Modi. Since the rise of fascist forces from 2014 many independent thinkers have been killed by Hindutva brigands and many have been forced into silence.
In Pakistan, economic problems due to the greed of the ruling classes have resulted in a paucity of jobs. This is manifest by deportations of Pakistanis from foreign countries.


Traders’ demands


No U-turn on monetary and fiscal policies until the economy stabilises: Prime Minister Imran Khan has made it loud and clear to the business community which has been expressing fears for quite some time that if the economic slowdown continues, more and more industrial units will turn sick. A delegation of the FPCCI met the PM on Monday and placed three main demands before him — cut in interest rate, reduction in energy prices and withdrawal of the CNIC condition on purchases worth Rs50,000 and above — but to a flat refusal.
The fiscal tightening measures adopted by the government are virtually irreversible — for being a part of the conditions imposed by the IMF against a six billion dollar bailout deal that was agreed last May. The IMF dollars may have been giving some financial cushion to the cash-strapped government and helping it carry on with its stabilisation policies, but they are proving too costly to the common man. The deal with the IMF — whereby the rupee was depreciated by more than 30%, power and gas tariffs as well as fuel prices were repeatedly raised and the interest rate was doubled over a period of time — has resulted in an unprecedented price hike.
While there is no way to justify the methods the traders are using to avoid the tax net, some of their concerns are genuine. Increasing utility charges have made the businesses unviable. Besides, the rising interest rate has led to the working capital turning expensive. No wonder then that there has been a 71% fall in private sector borrowing in the first five months of the ongoing fiscal year.
But as of now, the government is in no position to provide relief to businessmen or the common man, like in terms of reduction in the interest rate or energy tariffs, as it is bound to enhance tax collection in line with the IMF conditionalities. One wonders, then, how the year 2020 could be the year of economic progress, as claimed by the PM.


Measured response


Belligerent comments from the new Indian Army Chief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, were at the top of the agenda during the Corps Commanders’ Conference on Tuesday. The generals had their plates full as the US-Iran tensions and the Mideast and Afghanistan situations also had to be reviewed and debated. The ISPR referred to Indian Army Chief’s statement as “irresponsible rhetoric with implications on regional peace and stability”. Director General ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor also quoted Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying, “We shall continue to play our responsible and positive role for regional peace without compromising on national security and defend our motherland at whatever cost.”
The statement was clearly measured. In the context of direct comments coming from the ISPR and Maj Gen Ghafoor, which included references to India’s “Balakot misadventure”, the Pakistan Army Chief did not make a direct reference to past conflicts or their results, nor did he directly call out his opposite number across the border. Instead, the emphasis was on peacemaking, while reminding of the army’s capability to protect and defend Pakistan.
To paraphrase from former US president Teddy Roosevelt, Gen Qamar appears to be choosing to speak softly and carry a big lathi. And that is about as close to the perfect policy for India’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric. Last year, many people had concluded that after failing on most of his 2014 economic promises, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi forced his military into an unnecessary conflict to increase his popularity ahead of an election. The conflict didn’t go as expected — India lost two fighter jets, had one pilot captured, and only “killed” a few Pakistani trees. But the Indian media willingly spouted pro-Modi propaganda without question to convince the electorate that they had won.
Now, with a series of domestic crises on hand, including the unprecedented protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and continuing economic underperformance, Modi is going the same route. But we must ask why the Indian Army is echoing his rhetoric. Is it because the top brass of the ostensibly secular force has also bought into the Hindutva agenda?
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