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ImagePakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) received four bids for spectrum auction for the next generation of mobile services by the 14th April deadline. The contenders include China Mobile, PTCL (Ufone), Mobilink and Telenor. Turkcell did not participate reportedly because it did not find the prospects attractive enough as a new entrant in the Pakistani market with five existing telecom operators already engaged in tough competition. This implies that the inclusion of spectrum 850 MHz with the specific objective of attracting new entrants was simply not a sufficient incentive.

One terrible lesson the West Pakistanis learnt from the break-up of the country in 1971 was that single-house parliament was antithetical to federalism which Pakistan was as it then existed in two units set apart by a thousand of miles. Both the 1956 and 1962 constitutions established single-chamber National Assembly parliament that did cater for representational parity between the two wings. However, these constitutions did not provide for the Upper House with equal representation of federating units that acts as a check to take a more realistic view of the situation and implications of the bills passed by the Lower House in the 'heat of emotions' or haste. Rightly then, the 1973 constitution catered for two houses of parliament, the second being the Senate where the provinces enjoyed parity irrespective of the size of their populations. The Senate is also expected to act as repository of talent, experience and specialisation by inducting talented and well-known personalities of national stature who otherwise would like to stay out of electoral fray. Nonetheless the Senate of Pakistan has not been made as powerful as the Senate in the United States. Its legislative powers are limited - more importantly in respect of money bills - and can be overruled only by passage in a joint session of the parliament. Should the government decide to override the Senate it can call joint sitting of parliament under Article 70 of the constitution and have the bill enacted in just one day provided it has the requisite strength in parliament to have it passed.
According to a Business Recorder exclusive, the sum total of provincial tax collections during the first seven months of the current year rose to 87 billion rupees in comparison to the 70 billion rupees collected during period of July-January 2012-13. Punjab witnessed a rise in collections of 9 billion rupees - from 36 billion rupees last year to 45 billion rupees this year with a major increase attributed to stamp duty (one billion rupees) and urban property tax (one billion rupees). Sindh collections rose by 4 billion rupees - from 32 to 36 billion rupees with excise and stamp duty the major contributors to the rise. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa collections rose by a whopping 3.9 billion rupees - from 1.8 billion rupees to 5.7 billion rupees and Balochistan witnessed a rise of 370 million rupees - from 483 million rupees to 853 million rupees. In percentage terms Punjab increased collections by 25 percent, Sindh by 12.5 percent, KPK by 216 percent and Balochistan by 76.6 percent. Hence in percentage terms KPK performed a lot better than Sindh and Punjab with Balochistan performing the second best in terms of increasing the provincial revenue generation in percentage terms.
The unanimous passage of the resolution in the National Assembly urging the Speaker to form a committee to investigate allegations of non-payment of taxes by parliamentarians on 8th April must be lauded. The motion was moved by Asad Umer and six other members of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and sadly to say, was discussed on the sixth attempt of the party to discuss it in parliament.
The rupee has witnessed wild fluctuations during the current year. After touching about Rs 112 to a dollar in the open market only a few months back, it continues to appreciate with interbank and open market dollar rates tumbling to Rs 96.10 and Rs 98.20 respectively on 11th April, 2014. More surprising is the perception of the rupee rate in the market. Contrary to the usual expectations of a steady depreciation of the Pak rupee over time, the sentiment in the market is highly positive and there is no sign yet that the trend will change anytime soon. As dollar inflows are quite robust despite regular payments including those for oil; and funds are also now coming from bilateral and multilateral sources, further strengthening of the rupee is likely. Some analysts are even predicting the rupee to appreciate to Rs 95 to a dollar in the next few weeks.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is incorrigibly optimistic about result-oriented outcome of the government peace talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Blowing off his palm the impression that talks have run into troubled waters he says there is no deadlock in the dialogue process and next round of the two committees would take place shortly. He also dispelled the perception that his government and the army are not on the same page. The release of non-combatant prisoners by the government, he insisted was in agreement with the forces otherwise how could they be set free when they were in internment centres run by the army. He did admit 'an irritant in the otherwise excellent civil-military relationship' caused by some of his colleagues, but this was more of mismatching opinions than of policy. So far so good, but what about future about which he too is not very certain. The next round, according to him, is going to be 'crucial and critical' as both sides are expected to come up with a comprehensive agenda. The minister wants Peshawar to be the venue for the next round, instead of tribal area where militants are sorting out each other. With militants' claimed violence still being rampant what makes Chaudhry Nisar optimistic? The government has already released 19 non-combatants and would like to release 13 more, but the TTP has patently cold-shouldered this generosity by not only refusing to release anyone held by them but even by asking who these prisoners were. Is it then what is half glass empty to the people is half glass full to the interior ministry? A more incisive, dispassionate look into the reality of the peace dialogue process is in order. Of course, the future of this dialogue process remains blurred and largely unpredictable; but it has scored a few plus points also, of which two stand out rather pointedly. First, there is the ceasefire which is holding, though not as fast as one would wish it to be. On the other hand, all the recent violations have been invariably disowned by the TTP, accompanied by its claim that some others are trying to sabotage the peace process and that killing of non-combatants is 'Haram'. Of course, this is no great solace that one group of Taliban has stopped killing innocent people. But this does suggest that on the question of ceasefire the Taliban groups differ, and differ violently as confirmed by their ongoing bloody infighting. And this indeed is a significant output of the dialogue process given the fact that any government faced with the challenge of internal insecurity would like to see anti-state groups taking out each other. But that said the possibility cannot be ruled out that those opposed to peace talks would assert their existence and clout by notching up violence, as seems to be the motive behind incidents of violence in Rawalpindi and Islamabad since the ceasefire. Perhaps, reciprocal releases of prisoners held by the Taliban would have added to the interior minister's positivism. Hopefully, when the two sides meet next time some releases should follow. Since kidnapping for ransom is a flourishing business in today's Pakistan it is quite likely that all the known big-name kidnapped are not with the TTP; in fact they have already denied custody of sons of Yousuf Raza Gilani and Salmaan Taseer. However, if the TTP does go for a release it is most likely to be Dr Ajmal. There are innumerable improbabilities about the outcome of the peace process. But going by Chaudhry Nisar's growing optimism it increasing appears that it cannot be abandoned at this stage. But this cannot go on also without delivering something tangible - a litmus test for the next round.
A Business Recorder exclusive indicates that the 17 percent increase in tax collections in March 2014 is 6 percent lower than the rise in tax collections in March of 2013. Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has repeatedly cited the percentage rise in tax collections as an indication of the success of his taxation measures, however, what must put a dampener on such claims is the fact that the PPP-led coalition government registered a 22 percent rise in collections. This raises questions about the success of the tax measures that are being implemented.


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