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Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, flanked by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Haroon Akhtar Khan and Chairman FBR Nisar Khan held a press conference on his return from Dubai where the 10th tranche review under the International Monetary Fund's 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility was successfully completed. He stated that the government requested no waivers as all targets were met but he did express concern over the distinct possibility that the 5.5 percent budgeted growth target may not be met because of lower production of cotton in the country. He added "we are trying to take growth to over 5 percent" though one would assume that even the reduced target is going to be a challenge at best.
Migration to greener pastures is a universal phenomenon. Among people who migrated to the green pasture of Europe for better life and economic benefit Pakistanis have not been in short supply. Also among them are some of them who asked for, and were given, political asylum. And quite a few may be illegal migrants who entered the EU countries from the back door or on forged documents. Of late, however, for reasons not fully justifiable, they have come under a sharper focus and attempts are being made to ease them out, possibly to vacate space for the incessant inflow of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. Towards the end of last year some member-states of European Union set about deporting Pakistani immigrants without giving them the right to defend their position. But the concerned authorities in Pakistan refused to accept them and sent them back through the very planes that had ferried them to Pakistan. Their deportation was not only against basic human rights but also without proper verification of their antecedents, as well as in blatant violation of the bilaterally agreed European Union Readmission Agreement (EURA). Resultantly, Pakistan suspended the said protocol. As the EURA unfolded in real terms it was grossly short on respect for human rights. And in some cases, as Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan conveyed to the visiting EU Commissioner for Migration Avramopoulos, the dignity of Pakistani immigrants was hurt. Alternately, he proposed the text of a standard operating procedure (SOP) in order to ensure that the process for deportation is transparent and speedy in compliance with verified documents of the marked deportees. He is of the mind that Pakistan will not allow any plane carrying deportees unless their nationality status is verified and details of charges and supporting evidence are made available.
Joint Action Committee Pakistan International Airlines Employees (JACPIAE) called off the strike after 15 days of severe disruption in the national airlines flight schedule at a great cost to passengers/cargo clients as well as itself through loss of billions of rupees of revenue. And sadly the cost was infinitely higher for the families of the two who died during the protests. There were also reports of intimidation of those JACPIAE members who broke the strike notably Pakistan Air Lines Pilots Association (PALPA) as well as the police intimidating JACPIAE members from going to the protest venue.
Afghan Taliban may be anything but they are not ideological followers of Chairman Mao, though they seem to be committed believers of his famous quote 'fight fight, talk talk'. As they fight they want to talk also. No wonder then the principal upshot from their meeting at Doha last month amply suggested that they are prepared for reconciliation talks with the Kabul government. But that does not mean they were giving up their armed struggle against their government and its allies anytime soon. In fact, they stepped up their fight, as any rebel group fighting a sitting government would like to do before coming to the negotiating table; and they predicated their offer of joining the peace talks by certain preconditions, which appear to be unacceptable to the other side. But there is no reason why those should cause disruption in the Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group's peace process. Their preconditions include withdrawal of American troops, recognition of their official address, removal of Taliban from blacklists of the United Nations and release of their prisoners. There is nothing new about peace talks and peace process between the contenders being held side by side. Given that the latest Doha meeting, unlike before when it didn't have the participation of top Taliban leaders, had full blessings of Afghan Taliban's chief Mulla Akhtar Mansoor. Were it not so, there was little reason for the Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group to fix next date, February 23, of its meeting in Kabul, to which they have invited the Taliban groups for 'direct talks' with the Afghan government. Taliban haven't responded yet, but they haven't rejected also. The roadmap the QCG is said to have firmed up remains confidential. But the very fact that the statement issued by the group after its meeting in Islamabad talks of adoption of a 'roadmap stipulating the stages and steps in the (peace and reconciliation) process' tends to convey the signal that it enjoys the support of at least some important factions of Taliban and other insurgent groups.
While exports of the country continue to suffer and exporters are crying for some compensatory measures, government does not seem to be bothered about the deteriorating situation on this front. Chairman Pakistan Apparel Forum Javed Balwani and Chief Co-ordinator of Pakistan Readymade Garments Association Ejaz Khokhar told Business Recorder that "we are struggling against both internal and external factors and recent gain of dollar against Euro has been a blow to Pakistan's exports to EU countries." According to them, Pakistan's exports to EU countries are 60 percent in euros and 40 percent in dollars. As such, a strong dollar vis-à-vis euro does negatively impact on 40 percent of country's exports. They also revealed that in a meeting the Prime Minister had assured them to provide a level playing field against regional countries and resolve their problems in a week's time about six months ago but since then not a single issue had been addressed. There was a potential to increase exports of apparel sector to dollar 7 billion from existing level of dollar 4.5 billion if the industry was provided a level playing field. Khokhar attributed overvalued exchange rate, non-serious attitude of the government towards textile exports, liquidity problems owing to blockage of refunds by the FBR and high input costs as the primary factors for the loss of competitive edge of textile industry. Exporters had also lost credibility as reliable suppliers because the industry had been unable to deliver orders on time due to energy crisis. The government had been requested time and again to ensure supply of gas to the processing mills to help exporters to meet the orders but it was of no avail. Balwani also accused the government of having no realisation that Pakistani exports had suffered a decline of dollar 1.75 billion in the last six months. A lack of seriousness on the matter was evident from the fact that there was no minister of textile industry who could listen to the genuine grievances of an industry which contributes about 57 percent to total exports of the country.
While the government should have been all set to hold population and housing census after a long gap of 18 years, it does not seem to be properly prepared for the task. Some lose ends remain to be tied. To start with, as per the plan, Army personnel are to accompany civilian field staff to ensure against any hanky-panky by vested interests. The number of census blocks is 166,801 which means even if one uniformed enumerator is assigned to each block, the security forces will have to spare that many people. It remains to be seen if that is a realistic expectation given that the Army is already spread thin fighting a war in the tribal areas and carrying out intelligence based operations all over the country. So far the GHQ has not given a firm commitment, as to if and when, it can fulfil the requirement.
The federal government's decision to reduce price of petroleum and products subsequent to a further reduction in the international price would henceforth not automatically reduce its revenue collections from this critical source - accounting for 40 percent of total revenue collected according to the Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar - with the decision to replace ad valorem sales tax with a flat rate. Ad valorem sales tax is a percentage of the price of the commodity implying thereby a decline in revenue collections as the price of the commodity declines while a flat rate would generate the projected/budgeted revenue based on the amount consumed. This, in turn, would enable the government to meet the budget deficit targets and thereby access the tranche releases under the ongoing 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility extended by the International Monetary Fund.