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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.
Not only is Afghan President Ashraf Ghani less temperamental and more logical than his predecessor Hamid Karzai, he is also good at making a strong case that Washington should not reduce the number of its troops in Afghanistan. Both the American generals and members of the international community, including Pakistan, are of the view that lingering instability in Afghanistan doesn't warrant further drawdown of residual troops. But President Obama was not of the same mind given his commitment to cut the troop strength to half by the end of 2015 and total pullout by the end of next year - vindicating his decision to ensure return of all the troops from Afghanistan when he leaves the White House. After a meeting with the visiting Afghan president he told media that "this flexibility reflects our reinvigorated partnership with Afghanistan". Indeed, President Ashraf Ghani could convince the host president of the need to maintain the troop level not only because his request made a great sense, perhaps, also for the atmospherics of his interlocution with the American leadership, which were distinctly at variance with Karzai's fractious relationship with Washington. The two, Karzai and Ghani differed as like "night and day", say the US officials. And, this is also a fact that with hindsight President Obama is increasingly of the viewpoint that 'Iraq has shown us the consequences of leaving a fragile ally too early'. Even when some progress towards bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table - mainly courtesy Pakistan and China - has been made insecurity is thick on the ground in Afghanistan. According to a UN survey, during 2014 the civilian deaths jumped 22 percent to 10,548, and 72 percent of these were at the hands of the Afghan Taliban.
It is in the nature of their bilateral relationship that should Saudi Arabia ask for help Pakistan has no option but to positively respond. Now it wants its traditional friends to share its burden of defending a legitimate Yemeni government. As expected, Pakistan is one such friend the kingdom has contacted without losing any time. And Islamabad's response, as expected, was quick. Within hours of the Saudi request Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a high-level meeting, attended, among others, by Army Chief General Raheel Sharif; and it was decided that Pakistan would send a delegation "to assess the situation". According to Saudi Arabia's official SPA news agency, Pakistan had by then 'declared its willingness to participate in the Operation Storm of Resolve ... based on a direct request from legitimate Yemeni government'. Others who have positively responded to the Saudi initiative include Turkey, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, while the GCC countries are already on board. Since the Houthi rebels are believed to be the cat's paw of Iran in the so-called proxy war with Saudi Arabia the emerging scenario in Yemen tends to attract the stigma of yet another showdown in the Middle East perennially divided along the Shia-Sunni fissures. But that is not the case; at least it does not appear to be, given the reality on the ground. The Houthis are from Zaidi Shias, unlike the Shias in Iran and elsewhere in the region. By codenaming its drive against the Houthis as 'Operation al-Hazm Storm' the Saudis have drawn a kind of parallelism with the 'Operation Desert Storm' the international coalition launched in 1991 to expel the forces of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
The government is said to be planning to use the ruse of National Action Plan (NAP) to clamp down on the electronic media. According to reports, discussions are under way to amend the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Act, 2007, empowering the Authority to control the coverage of terrorist attacks as well as any coverage that appears to glorify terrorism or terrorists. The broadcast streams of television channels airing 'objectionable' or 'unwanted' content are to be blocked by delinking them from the Paksat satellite. If such an amendment comes to pass it would constitute a nasty and unacceptable attack by an elected government on the freedom of expression. It is not for any entity (Pemra, supposed to be an independent body, remains under government control) to try and tell journalists what to report or not to report. As regard the issue of covering terrorism, after some initial hiccups the media has evolved its own code of ethics, deciding to avoid showing blood and gore as well as airing programmes that could fall within the description of glorification of terrorists. If any lacunae remains that should be removed through an informal debate and discussion with the electronic media's representative body rather than imposing censorship.
During a recent Monetary and Fiscal Policy Co-ordination Board meeting chaired by Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar the 2014-15 budgeted targets were revised downwards. Gross Domestic Product growth was revised downwards from the budgeted 5.1 percent to 4.5 percent - only 0.2 percent higher than what was estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the fourth/fifth review. The reason attributed to this revised estimate was a decline in agricultural and industrial output - the former due to August floods as well as falling sugar prices leading to lower area under cultivation of sugarcane and unfavourable weather conditions while the latter was attributed to energy supply shortages, weak demand and a precarious security milieu.


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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 13, 2015
Reserves $16.273 bln