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Pending return of a high-level team after talks in Riyadh it would be out of place to comment on the nature of Pakistan's contribution in response to the Saudi request for help to prop up the embattled Hadi government in Yemen. However, some broad contours of Pakistan's mind on the situation are available in the wake of 'comprehensive review of prevailing situation in the Middle East' conducted at a meeting in the PM's House on Monday. The consensus was that while Pakistan remains committed to the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Saudi Arabia, it would be calling upon the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the United Nations to help find a political solution to the ongoing crisis in Yemen. In essence, Islamabad has clarified its position widely misrepresented in media, evoking unfavourable reaction at home and abroad. In particular, Islamabad would like to assuage frayed nerves in Tehran, where its ambassador was called to be informed that issue should be discussed between the two neighbours. But that said the meeting did point out quite clearly that 'as Muslims we are bound to safeguard the holy land' - and that it is not because the Sharifs are closer to the Kingdom's royal house. How things would turn out to be after the Pakistani interlocutors return, it cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty.

Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced an injection of 200mmcfd of gas imported from Qatar into the national system. He clarified that by the end of 2015 it would be enhanced to 400mmcfd. It is unfortunate that his recent statement has simply added to the confusion that surrounds the terms and conditions that were negotiated between Qatargas and Pakistan State Oil, which is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources.
Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir reportedly rejected the conclusions drawn by his own ministry with respect to the reasons behind a decline in exports. The Commerce Minister directed his team to seek exporters' views - the major stakeholders - while preparing the presentation on the reasons behind a decline in exports. This is sound advice and unfortunately reflects the lack of coordination between the policymakers and the stakeholders that has visibly been the major impediment to enhanced productivity in all our sectors during the third time of Nawaz Sharif administration.
Even less than two years on, the ruling PML (N) is opposed to party-based local bodies elections, lending credence to its perceived fears the outcome may go against it and giving an element of legitimacy to the charge that May-2013 general elections were massively rigged. Given growing contention about its performance the PML-N perhaps rightly thinks that the upcoming local bodies elections have the makings of a referendum. Otherwise its opposition makes no sense, especially when these were party-based elections to provincial assemblies and parliament that brought it to power at the federal level and in the country's biggest province, Punjab. The PML (N) must not lose sight of the fact that its top leader Nawaz Sharif signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with Benazir Bhutto in 2006, when both wandered the wilderness of their exile forced by the military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Isn't then a matter of shame on the part of the PML-N that its deputy minister for parliamentary affairs in the National Assembly, Sheikh Aftab, should justify his government's stand because 'such (non-party) elections were held under Ziaul Haq'. No surprise then the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, opposed the passage of a bill to hold local bodies elections in the Capital on a non-party basis. The PPP had resisted party-less elections in Punjab and won the court verdict in its favour. It is quite likely therefore that the bill passed by the lower house may be rejected by the Senate. How relevant political parties are democratic elections this past Sunday presented an evidence for all to see - as candidates submitted nomination papers for cantonment elections they were accompanied by supports with known party affiliations. Reports suggest that political parties are preparing to adopt nomenclatures of 'groups', as they are not supposed to be part of the process. And as to who would be their candidates for local bodies elections the parties are in works to make selections.
It was not long ago that political leaders of the country used to insist on various types of tax exemptions and canvass for increased expenditures on their pet projects. Although old habits die hard, times seemed to have changed as there appears to be some tilt in their attitude. In a seminar organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) with the collaboration of Oxfam on 25th March, 2015 in Islamabad, representatives of some major political parties called for effective taxation reforms to bring the rich into the tax net. National Party President Mir Hasil Bizenjo said that current tax system provides relief to the rich. He pointed out that landlords are not paying taxes while higher indirect taxes were being collected. This must change to restore the trust of the people in the taxation system. Asiya Nasir of JUI (F) stressed the need for adopting the tax model of Scandinavian countries where no one was exempted from paying taxes. She asked for tax reforms in the taxation system and advised political parties to act collectively for seeking reforms and simplifying the system. Haji Adeel of ANP also asked for a uniform tax system. Everyone who earns must pay tax irrespective of his field and rank, he desired. While taxes were deducted from the salaries of government and private sector employees, nobody monitors the income of doctors and artistes. MQM's Rasheed Godial said that we must increase our tax-to-GDP ratio. The state had failed to provide quality education, health and jobs to people because of low collection of taxes and less spending on PSDP and high governance cost. Sarfaraz Ahmed of Jamat-e-Islami believed that tax system was inefficient by design and direct taxation was not possible because of slow pace of documentation. Malik Uzair Khan of PML (N) said that his government was trying to eliminate SRO culture and making efforts to increase direct taxes.
According to a press release, the Chairman of Privatisation Commission (PC) Mohammad Zubair gave a detailed presentation on the progress of privatisation to the Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who then directed him to ensure transparency in all transactions and uphold the principle of accountability. This is sound advice and needless to add such advice by the Finance Minister has become routine, even though Dar, no doubt, is fully cognisant of the fact that many a privatisation transaction may be challenged in the court of law because of the inclusion of one specific criterion for sell-off - a strategic investor.
During his stock-taking visit of Karachi on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif insisted that the target of the Rangers-led operation in the mega-city were the criminals, but he also remained inaccessible to Governor Ishratul Ebad and other MQM leaders. But to those who watch a bit closely how the third-time prime minister expresses himself without speaking a word find there was no big mystery in this departure from the normal when invariably the law and order meetings would be held at the Governor's House. Thanks to his ability to stay calm even in the eye of storm Governor Ebad has survived many a crisis, to earn him the distinction of being the most durable high-office holder in the history of Pakistan. Something must have gone wrong this time that he was conspicuously kept away from a critical briefing - held at the Faisal military base instead of the standard venue of Governor's House - on the evolving law and order situation in Karachi. Is it because his name appeared in the video Saulat Mirza recorded from his death cell? It seems the prime minister has conveyed to him that he should resign. And, should he desist, which is not expected, but you never know how the MQM can make up with the PPP once again and the two decide to resist the pressure, then the probability of Governor's Rule in Sindh becomes a strong possibility.


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ICT 2014

Foreign Debt $61.805bn
Per Cap Income $1,386
GDP Growth 4.14%
Average CPI 8.6%
Trade Balance $-999 mln
Exports $2.064 bln
Imports $3.063 bln
WeeklyMarch 20, 2015
Reserves $16.132 bln