Stoning to death: Zia’s legacy
DOES religion prescribe the punishment of stoning for adultery? The Jewish answer to this question would be ‘yes’. The Old Testament, explicitly depicts various adulterous sexual acts, and prescribes that those indulging in them be “put to death” (Leviticus 20:10-21).
If a husband accuses his wife that she was not a virgin when he married her “and no proof of the girl’s virginity is found, then they shall bring her out to the door of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has committed an outrage in Israel by playing the prostitute in her father’s house: you shall rid yourself of this wickedness.”
If, however, the accusation turns out to be false “they shall fine him a hundred pieces of silver because he has given a bad name to a virgin of Israel, and hand them to the girl’s father” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). “When a man is discovered lying with a married woman, they shall both die, the woman as well as the man who lay with her: you shall rid Israel of this wickedness”.
The Christian answer to this question is found in the amazing and touching story narrated by the Apostle John. One day when Jesus Christ was teaching in the Temple, “the doctors of Law (Rabbis) and Pharisees brought in a woman caught committing adultery. Making her stand out in the middle they said to him, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the Law Moses has laid down that such women are to be stoned. What do you say about it?’...
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they continued to press their question he sat up straight and said, ‘That one of you who is faultless shall throw the first stone.’ Then once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard what he said, one by one they went away, the eldest first; and Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. Jesus again sat up and said to the woman, ‘Where are they? Has no one condemned you? She answered, ‘No, one sir.’ Jesus said, ‘Nor do I condemn you. You may go; do not sin again’ “ (John 8:1-11).
The aforesaid is the only reference in the Bible (New Testament) to adultery and stoning. The Bible does, however, have other references to stoning, all of which mention Jews stoning the prophets or the apostles of Jesus (Luke 13:34, 20:6; John 8:59, 10-31, 11-8; Acts of Apostles 7:58, 14:5, 14:19 and the 2nd Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 11:25). The Bible records the propensity of the Jews to stoning.
The anguish of Jesus Christ is heart rending. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that murders the prophets and stones the messengers sent to her! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings; but you would not let me. Look, look! There is your temple forsaken by God. And I tell you, you shall never see me until the time comes, when you say, ‘Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “ (Luke 13:34).
The holy Quran does not prescribe stoning as the punishment for adultery. There is not a single verse to this effect. The Holy Quran stipulates the punishment of “a hundred stripes” for the act of adultery, zina (24:2). If a particular sentence is prescribed in the Holy Quran a harsher one cannot be imposed. The holy Quran also requires the fulfilment of an almost impossible condition before conviction can result. Four eye- witnesses have to testify to sustain the charge (24:4).
And if those who accuse a woman and fail to “produce four witnesses”, they are then to be flogged eighty times. If there are no witnesses and a husband accuses his wife of adultery he has to repeat his testimony and on the fifth invoke the “Curse of Allah” on himself if he is lying (24:6-7). The punishment is averted if the wife similarly swears (24:8-9). Therefore, the Holy Quran here places greater reliance on the testimony of a woman.
In none of the verses pertaining to adultery in the holy Quran the term stoning (rajama / rajim) is used. ‘Rajim’ means ‘stoned’, ‘accursed’ or ‘damned’ and is used as an epithet of Satan (3:36, 15:17, 16:98 Shaitan nir rajim, Satan the stoned or accursed). The verb which derives from rajim is rajama, and it means ‘to stone’, ‘the act of stoning’, ‘a missile’, ‘something to stone with’, ‘guesswork’, ‘guessing’ or ‘stoned’ (11:91, 18:20, 19:46, 36:18, 44:20, 18:22, 67:5 and 26:116). However, none of the verses refer to adultery. The Arabic word rajim / rajama is similar to the Hebrew word ragam, which means ‘to collect or cast stones’.
How is it then that some Muslims followed the Jewish practice and prescribed stoning as the punishment for the sin of adultery?
General Muhammad Ziaul Haq discovered ‘Islamic law’ to secure his tenuous position. He enacted a ‘law’ which for the first time in the history of Pakistan ordained that “whoever is guilty of zina shall ... be stoned to death at a public place.” Zia gathered around him semi-literate and self-styled ulema, legal and other sycophant advisers and introduced laws which purported to be Islamic.
Every legal enactment is or ought to be preceded by an open debate. There was no debate when any of the Hudood laws were enacted. The one in which stoning was prescribed, The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hadd) Ordinance, 1979, was enacted overnight. The arrogance of the lawmakers knew no bounds. Since the Hudood laws claimed to be implementing God’s intent, it was expected that every care would be taken to ensure against the possibility of any mistake, but none was taken.
The sycophants surrounding Zia had the audacity to refer to him as a modern day Ameer-ul-Momineen (Leader of the Faithful). Any opposition to such a ruler was it not opposition to Islam itself? The craftily drafted question in Zia’s referendum suggested as much.
Twenty-three years have passed since the law prescribed the punishment of stoning and we have seen governments of democrats, technocrats and autocrats, but not one has been able to undo Zia’s legacy. No one is apparently prepared to seek the truth, if it entails being perceived as assailing ‘mazhab’.
The facts of the Zafran Bibi case have shocked the nation. A judge has sentenced her to death by stoning relying upon Zia’s law. Zia enacted the stoning legislation contending it to be a Hadd law. Hadd is a legal term for the offences and punishments which are defined in the Quran. The fact that the punishment of stoning for adultery does not find mention in the Holy Quran did not deter Zia’s Zina enactment.
The propagators of stoning support their contention by relying on reports attributed to Hazrat Umar; that certain verses prescribing stoning had been revealed but had been left out from the Holy Quran when it was compiled. This effectively calls into question the very infallibility and sanctity of the holy Quran as contained in the texts handed down over fourteen hundred years and is anathema to believers and is to be rejected. We are then left with certain traditions attributed to the Prophet reported in the recognized works of hadith literature.
The most famous collectors of the Sunni Hadith were al-Bukhari (Sahih), Muslim (Muslim), Abu Dawud, at Tirmidhi, an-Nasai and ibn Maja. All these compilers died between 256 to 303 years after the Hijrah (or between 870 to 915 AD). The Shiah collections of hadith are called khabar and were compiled even later, between 320 to 454 after the Hijrah (or between 932 to 1062 AD). The five recognized Shiah compilers were Abu Jafar (Kafi), Saykh Ali (Man la yastihzau-hu al Faqih), Shaykh Abu Jafar (Tahdhib and Istibsar) and Sayyid al-Razi (Nahj al-Balaghah).
It is an acknowledged rule in reading hadith literature that if a reported hadith purports to record that which is contrary to the Quran, it should be disregarded since the Prophet (pbuh) did not act contrary to Allah’s revelation.
But even if one examines the hadith recorded by the compilers of hadith which purport to prescribe stoning there is no instance when the Holy Prophet ordered stoning of a Muslim who was caught committing adultery or against whom a charge had been levelled.
The instances that have been recorded by the hadith compilers are of Maaz bin Malik and of the woman from the tribe of Azd Gaib. The two are separate instances but the stories are similar. It is reported that they voluntarily appeared before the Holy Prophet and without being confronted with a charge, accusation or being coerced confessed their own guilt. Then too the holy Prophet is reported to have been extremely reluctant to hear them.
In both these instances it is reported that the Holy Prophet upon hearing the confessions turned his face away, this he did no less than four times, but the persons persevered and repeatedly confessed before him. Thereafter he questioned whether they were mad or drunk. Only then stoning was ordered. The Holy Prophet then read their funeral prayer (namaz-i-janaza) which was a singular honour and prayed for them. The hadith reports that the Holy Prophet then said that the person stoned had sought such profound forgiveness that if it was spread over the entire community (ummat) its blessing (sawab) would be enough for all.
Some hadith compilers record that once the stoning had commenced the person being stoned ran away and was brought back. When this was reported to the holy Prophet he said “if you had let him go then it is entirely possible that he would have sought forgiveness and Allah would have accepted his forgiveness” (Muslim, transmitted through Abu Huraira).
The hadith which are relied by the propagators of stoning are really examples of extreme atonement and expiation and can hardly be used to expound a tradition (hadith) prescribing stoning. These incidents have also not been fixed in time. It is possible that these incidents took place before the verses ordaining the punishment of whipping for adultery were revealed (the revelation of the Holy Quran having taken 23 years).
On such slender facts Zia prescribed that a person who commits adultery, “be stoned to death”, forgetting the tradition reported by Hazrat Ayesha, that, “if the Imam (ruler) wrongly forgives it is better than if there is a mistake in sentencing” (Tirmidhi).
By relying upon the Holy Quran it cannot be contended that adultery is a hadd for which the punishment is stoning, but this could be contended if reliance were placed upon Jewish scriptures. Ibn Khladun had noted just such a tendency in the ignorant, “They turned for information to the followers of the Book, the Jews ... so when these people embraced Islam, they retained their stories which had no connection with the commandments of the Islamic law ... commentaries on the Holy Quran were soon filled with these stories of theirs” (Ulum al-Quran, Muqaddamah).
Halting the slide toward war
US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to the Indian subcontinent to help arrest the slide toward war is one of the most complex assignments undertaken by an American official in recent years. For the conflict between India and Pakistan takes place on many levels: the passions of both sides override traditional calculations of self-interest; the two countries possess nuclear weapons and delivery systems and have threatened to use them; important interests of major powers are involved. Nevertheless, no country — not even the world’s only remaining superpower — is in a position to impose a solution.
The Kashmir issue is one of the residues of the settlements of the period immediately following World War II. The subcontinent had had a high degree of geographic, cultural and religious cohesion but no unified political framework prior to British rule. Britain brought about political structures based on western political values and institutions. These values raised the issue of the coexistence of the Muslim and Hindu religions in a country where Hindus formed the vast majority. Britain tried to solve the problem by partition: regions with a Muslim majority (more or less) were formed into the state of Pakistan; the rest of the territory became contemporary India.
All this was accomplished amid unspeakable massacres carried out by both sides. But the borders could not be drawn unambiguously; today’s India retains a population of 150 million Muslims, making it the second most populous Muslim country in the world after Indonesia. In 1971, East Pakistan seceded, aided in no small part by an Indian military invasion, forming the present state of Bangladesh.
The current crisis in Kashmir goes back to the bloody days of partition. In 1947, hesitation by the Hindu ruler of the predominantly Muslim population in Kashmir precipitated interventions by both Indian and Pakistani troops and eventual accession of the ruler to India. The conflict ended, to the satisfaction of neither party, essentially along the existing line of demarcation — the so-called Line of Control — leaving the largest part of the population and the most important territory on the Indian side. In 1948, a UN resolution called for a plebiscite to determine the will of the population. That vote has never taken place.
In the half-century since, the issue of Kashmir has become embedded in the fabric of how the two nations justify their existence. For Pakistan, Kashmir symbolizes its claim to governing those parts of the Indian subcontinent where Muslims are in a majority. For India — which today has a larger Muslim population than Pakistan — the future of Kashmir is a test of its national cohesion. For, were the Pakistani claim sustained, the political future of the 150 million Muslims in India might be in play.
No wonder there have been three wars over the future of Kashmir. And, inevitably, the issue of Kashmir has proved unsuitable for mediation; there is no compromise foreseeable between the clashing passions. Pakistan calls for American mediation to add pressure to its claim for a change in the Line of Control. India rejects any mediation and, indeed, any outside role because it will not grant the principle of the Pakistani claims. Neither the United States nor Russia — or any other group of countries — has been able to do more than ameliorate the impasse.
Matters have once again reached the boiling point because, for at least a decade, Pakistan has been supporting guerilla activity in Kashmir by tolerating infiltrators crossing the Line of Control, frequently with the support of Pakistani intelligence services. Since the Line of Control runs along mountain ridges, many of them above 10,000 feet in elevation, support camps have been established to facilitate these border crossings.
Paradoxically, this state of affairs, however painful, was tolerable to India so long as Pakistan was isolated. And for several decades, Pakistan was governed by civilians who mismanaged its economy and finances and, since October 1999, by an unelected military government headed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. These governments sought to sustain themselves by appeals to Islamic fundamentalism.
But the attacks of Sept. 11 brought home to Musharraf the vulnerability of Pakistan’s position. He overcame diplomatic isolation by turning full circle. He abandoned the Taliban in Afghanistan, turned on fundamentalists in his own country and opened Pakistani territory to American operations against Al Qaeda.
These measures were widely welcomed in America. In India, they raised the spectre of a Pakistan modernizing with western help and investment, relinked to the United States by cooperative ties, but continuing to support terrorism against India, thereby giving the open wound in Kashmir a subcontinental scope and turning Pakistan into a permanent thorn in India’s side. The Dec. 13, 2001, terrorist attack on the Indian parliament provided a pretext to settle the Kashmir issue, and perhaps the challenge of Pakistan itself, conclusively.
The temptation is great to turn the issue of global terrorism against Pakistan and to reduce Pakistan’s capacity to serve as a symbol for India’s Muslim population. And precisely because Pakistan’s leaders view India’s motives in a similar manner, they are making nuclear threats that have a certain plausibility.
In this manner, the issue of Kashmir merges with some of the basic principles of Indian foreign and security policy. These are naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean, friendly regimes on India’s borders and pre-eminence in the entire arc from Singapore to Aden. The single-minded pursuit of this policy has provided occasions for most of India’s neighbours to experience India’s considerable military prowess. This confluence of motives has brought about a situation dangerously close to developing its own momentum.
In terms of the war against global terrorism, the United States opposes the violation of demarcation lines by terrorist groups and the use of terrorism against civilian populations. This is why the Bush administration has used its influence in Pakistan to press ever more insistently on an end to infiltration and the closing of the camps near the Line of Control facilitating it. The United States also has a major geopolitical interest in cooperative relations with India, the world’s largest democracy. A position of major influence for India in the region between Singapore and Aden is — or can be made to be — compatible with America’s strategic interests in both the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
But the dynamics of the situation are far from clear-cut. The Al Qaeda terrorists are on Pakistan’s side in the war in Kashmir. But they despise Musharraf for siding with the United States in Afghanistan. They would celebrate his downfall either because he appears weak vis-a-vis India or because he loses a war. Thus, even while Musharraf says (and probably sincerely) that he is trying to control cross-border actions, he may lack the ability to enforce it. And many elements of the Al Qaeda (and perhaps some in the Pakistani intelligence services) have a vested interest in Musharraf’s downfall by ignoring his orders and starting a war.
This danger confronts America with a grave dilemma. Even though the Pakistani regime has serious flaws, Musharraf has been a staunch ally in the battle against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism since Sept. 11. In January, Musharraf separated Islam from cross-border violence and began a process of controlling the Islamic schools teaching global jihad. Were the most moderate Islamic regime in the region to collapse while America looks on, the consequences for Afghanistan and the entire region could be serious.
Radicals would gloat about the precariousness of friendship with the United States and the unreliability of American security assurances. Our military forces in Afghanistan would lose their rear area; Al Qaeda might rediscover a base territory. Osama bin Laden in Kabul is one thing; Osama in Islamabad would be devastating.
The situation could easily get out of hand if India would feel obliged to respond to terrorist attacks by elements not controlled from Islamabad (and even more so to deliberate provocations). Even if its intentions are limited, India may misjudge the Pakistani “red line” at which the war escalates, perhaps into the nuclear field. For Pakistan is in a position vis-a-vis India analogous to which the United States perceived itself to be in Europe during the cold war. In the face of the superiority of the Indian conventional army, Pakistan treats nuclear arms as the indispensable balancer. Hence its threshold for nuclear use is lower, and renouncing nuclear weapons may, in fact, make a war more likely.
But the major nations have no reason to accept the counsel of despair that the momentum of events is beyond control, especially on an issue where their interests are so congruent and so engaged. Indeed, the tensions along the Line of Control are an almost a unique case of crisis calling for multilateral diplomacy. Russia will not look lightly on a radicalization of the Islamic world — this is why Russian President Vladimir Putin has been personally so active. China has a relationship with Pakistan stretching over a decade — partly as a counterweight in the Sino-Indian border disputes. Europe — especially Great Britain — has a historic interest in a peaceful evolution of the area.
All these countries — whatever their other differences — seem to agree with the parameters outlined earlier: opposition to terrorist infiltrations, opposition to the weakening of Pakistan. In these conditions, the United States cannot confine itself to exhortations; it must instead take the lead in crystallizing these general interests into a more precise calculus of incentives. American policy must help chart the narrow path that presses Musharraf to prevent infiltration across the Line of Control, while making clear to India that a war would seriously weaken India’s vital interests, including the cooperative Indian-American relationship that has been making such significant progress.
Finally, there is the issue of the use of nuclear weapons. The world has listened to the reciprocal threats of both sides with amazing equanimity — almost as if nuclear war were a natural disaster like the weather, beyond human control. But nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent would cross a dividing line heretofore resistant to all passions, in all wars of the nuclear age. The other nuclear powers — especially Russia and the United States — should not accept that nuclear weapons become conventional. All aspirations to nonproliferation will disappear if the risks of nuclear use are not made to exceed those generating resort to them.
At least Moscow and Washington — possessing the largest nuclear capabilities — should convey to the parties their insistence on this dividing line and begin urgent studies on specific measures to give effect to these warnings. But these measures can work only if there is a de-escalation of the military buildups along the Line of Control side by side with the end of infiltration.—Copyright 2002, Los Angeles Times Syndicate International.
A hard man in Colombia
On August 7, Alvaro Uribe will be sworn in as Colombia’s president — if he escapes assassination in the meantime.
His father, one of the country’s richest ranchers, was killed during a bungled kidnap attempt in 1983 by the bigger of the country’s two guerilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but Uribe himself is a survivor who has already escaped fifteen assassination attempts. When he does take over the presidency, the war is going to get a lot bigger.
This is causing great anguish in the usual circles elsewhere. As a hard-line, right-wing president who is committed to doubling the size of the Colombian army, recruiting a million civilian volunteers into a vigilante militia, and winning a military victory over the rebels, Uribe is just the sort of figure that the vaguely well-intentioned in safer places love to hate. They fret that he will put people’s civil rights in danger, and besides, everybody knows that regular armies can’t defeat determined guerillas.
Indeed, Uribe’s victory even worries some senior people in the Pentagon. He clearly intends to seek a lot more military aid from the United States — Colombia is already the third-largest recipient of American military aid, after Israel and Egypt — and President George W. Bush is so keen on him that he might even throw in some US troops. That way lies another Vietnam, fear the more far-sighted American soldiers, who remember that US public opinion was unwilling to support ANY American military interventions overseas for more than a decade after the Vietnam debacle.
Colombians take a different view. In a field of eleven presidential candidates, Uribe got an unprecedented 53 percent of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential election last week (27 May), rendering a second round unnecessary. It was all the more surprising because he was running as an independent, not as the candidate of one of the two establishment parties, Liberal and Conservative, that have alternated in power in Colombia every four years for decades.
So why the landslide of support for Uribe in Colombia? It was, as a local pundit put it, a ‘victory for despair’. People are fed up to the back teeth with living in the midst of a permanent low-intensity war. Only about 3,500 Colombians a year are killed in the war, far fewer than die on the roads, but the lives of many millions are permanently distorted or disrupted by fear.
Four years ago, a majority of Colombia voters backed the ‘peace process’ promised by the outgoing government of Andres Pastrana, but it simply didn’t work. FARC took every concession it was offered, up to and including its own government-free secure territory, and went right on killing and kidnapping: its leaders, a curious mixture of old-fashioned Marxists and thoroughly modern cocaine barons, simply saw no advantage in a peace settlement that fails to give them control of the country. So if talking to them is no use, perhaps Uribe can just kill them.
Can expanding the war help to end it? Truck-loads of popular wisdom say that guerilla wars are unwinnable, but that is based mostly on the experience of the terrorist and guerilla struggles against foreign rule that were waged across Asia and Africa in the era of decolonisation.
From Palestine, Kenya and Indonesia in the late 1940s to Aden, Vietnam and Zimbabwe in the 1970s, the local insurgents usually won (sometimes with outside help, but often without it) simply because they were fighting foreigners. They had nationalism on their side, and even though they rarely won a military victory, time was also on their side. Make life miserable enough for the occupying power, and he will eventually cut his losses and go home — for he has a home elsewhere to go to.
Counter-insurgency campaigns by local governments against local rebels are a very different story, for the rebels do not automatically get the patriots’ vote, and the government and army have nowhere else to go. They have to stay and fight it out — and they generally win in the end.—Copyright
LIKE most Americans, I listen to what my leaders tell me to do. So when Cheney of the White House, Rumsfeld of Defense, Ridge of Homeland Security and Ashcroft of Justice tell me to prepare for an attack, I listen.
The next question I ask myself is, if we are attacked, what do I do? Certainly Homeland Security has plans for me.
I called the Homeland Security hotline and told the man who answered the phone, “I have heard the alert warnings and I want to get out of town.”
“Where do you live?”
“Washington, D.C., right near American University.”
He said, “That’s a bad place to be in case of an attack.”
“I know that. Could you advise me on how to escape from the area?”
“Take the Beltway.”
“But isn’t everyone else taking the Beltway?”
There was a pause. “Maybe you’re right. Take the Bay Bridge in Maryland and drive until you hit the Perdue Chicken Ranch, and hide in a hatchery until the all-clear is sounded.”
“It’s pretty hard to get on the bridge on a normal weekend, much less during an alert. I’ll be in my car for 10 hours and then run out of gas.”
He said, “You are not being helpful. Suppose you took the subway to Reagan National Airport and grabbed a plane.”
“Buffalo is as good as anyplace. At least it’s not a prime target.”
“That is a big help.”
“Don’t forget North Carolina. Nobody is going to blow up Nags Head.”
“How do I get from Washington to Nags Head?”
“Call the AAA. They’ll tell you.”
“Is this a red alert or a green one?”
“It’s a red one, which means fill up your gas tank, put a dozen bottles of water in the back seat, and carry antacid pills.”
“What about my credit cards?”
“Be sure to take them with you. There may be a lot of places along the line where you can use them.”
“Where are you going to be?”
“In the mountains of West Virginia. Since I am one of the top people in Homeland Security, they are going to fly me out in a helicopter.”
“I gotcha. Suppose I stay in the basement?”
“Good idea. When we find where the threat is I’ll call you back.”
“One last question. I know I should be on the alert, but what should I be alert for?”
“That’s the FBI’s secret.”—Dawn/Tribune Media Services
Corruption in the CBR
THE Berlin-based Transparency International, which is trying to expose and combat corruption in the developing countries has taken a pot-shot at Pakistan’s Central Board of Revenue. In doing that it has fallen in line with the World Bank, IMF, and the Asian Development Bank which hold the CBR as the villain of the piece in the fiscal sector.
But it is not unexpected in view of the fact that TI which had earlier held Pakistan as second, third and fifth most corrupt country in the world in the past is composed largely of senior retired World Bank officials. And they have also the report of the task force headed by Shahid Hussain, also a former vice-president of the World Bank, as the guiding document.
So they have largely repeated the recommendations of Shahid Hussain’s committee to reform the taxation structure in Pakistan. He had pointedly blamed the CBR for most of the setbacks and follies in the fiscal sector. And the recommendations of the TI are receiving serious attention of the various departments of the government who have little love for the much denigrated CBR. The TI has also repeated some of the common fallacies in the fiscal sector. For example the total number of tax payers is not 1.2 million but almost two million as a result of the drive of the government to make more and more people pay the taxes.
In fact in a country in which the income tax revenues are barely one third of the total tax revenues, those who pay withholding taxes, indirect taxes like the fifteen per cent GST on goods and services which is the top revenue source today should also be regarded as tax payers.
Advance taxes too are paid by a large number of people beginning with the importers. In such a context it is absurd to talk of only 1.2 million people paying tax out of a hundred and forty million, of whom forty percent live below the poverty line. The tax revenue collected now is 13.6 per cent of the GDP according to the economic survey for 2001 unlike the figure of twelve percent usually bandied about.
The non-tax revenue forms 2.8% of the GDP but most of the non-tax revenues are in fact taxes particularly the surcharge of forty-seven billion including thirty-two billion from petroleum and fifteen billion from natural gas. In fact the revenue from this source is expected to be higher this year because of the manner the petroleum prices are being frequently pushed up. Finance officials admit this source of income should be treated as tax revenue. But only because it may fluctuate they are not treating it as tax revenues. For that matter the tax revenues also fluctuate depending on the state of the economy and yet they are called tax revenues.
But a needless exception is being made in respect of petroleum surcharges only to keep up the official theme song that taxation in Pakistan is low and hence the people should be taxed more. It is time that such discrepancies are removed and the tax system rationalized.
When the report of the Shahid Hussain task force was submitted last year it was reported that implementation of its recommendations in full would take three to five years but the implementation appears to be slow except in the intake of new human resources whose merit remains to be proved. It has also been suggested that the salaries of the CBR staff should be increased substantially to keep them above temptation.
That is a valid argument but the salaries of only the CBR personnel cannot be increased in the manner judges salaries have been increased or of the president and prime minister. Salaries in the other departments must also be raised other wise we would be giving their staff the license to become more corrupt or more inefficient or both.
The problem with most of the departments is heavy overstaffing often with unsuitable people or offices not capable of delivering what they are assigned to do. Hence the government has thought mostly of putting them in a surplus pool instead of assigning them to do jobs through which they can waste money or embezzle official funds.
It has also been said by the TI as said by many others that contacts between the tax payers and tax collectors should be reduced to the minimum. While that is desirable, but if in place of that the contact between the tax collectors and the tax advisors of the tax payers increases that can be highly disruptive. But if paying taxes in reality is made complex and persons with an income of above one lakh per year are expected to keep account books regularly, and self-assessment is open to unlimited scrutiny, unlike five or ten % in the past. The contacts between the tax collectors and tax advisors of the tax payers increases manifold, opening the flood gates of corruption much further.
Corruption within the taxation system increases when the taxes are numerous or excessive as is the case here. Until recently the federal, provincial and local taxes totalled over a hundred and one. Even the industrialists complained that they had to pay about forty kinds of taxes. And now the Pakistan Hotels Association wants a single agency to collect all the taxes, federal, local and provincial from the hotels instead of they having to pay far too many agencies including the bribes that usually thrive in such an environment.
The fact is that the higher the taxation, the larger the evasion, the remedy often sought is to raise the taxes further or increase the number of taxes. And that has always proved to be counter productive as in such an environment both the tax collectors and the taxpayers try to profit from the evasion.
In a developing country what matters is not only the ability of the tax collectors to mobilize more and more revenues but also the ability of the people to pay. To consume anything one has to pay 15 per cent sales tax but when the tax payer is unemployed and needs the assistance of the state to maintain his family the state does not come to his assistance.
When our officials talk of the high rates of taxation in Scandinavia, or Holland, other countries in the West and Japan, they completely forget the social security measures provided by these countries when a person is unemployed. But now we live in a state where not only social security but even elementary security of life and property is not assured by the state except in terms of resounding rhetoric.
Not only to do the industries have to provide for their own power but also individuals because of the frequent loadshedding or breakdown in power supply and a good many people besides senior officials have to pay heavily for water by tankers and when it comes to medical facilities one has to pay a very high price for the service one buys. After all such payments are made including for buying bottled water.
I know of many middle class families who are paying more for their tanker water what they pay as income tax. After they have met what they call their survival expenditure so little is left to pay as taxes. As if all this is not enough, the electricity rates and the POL prices keep going up after each fortnight putting a terrible squeeze on the family budget.
The reason is said to be the rise in world oil prices. But normally when world POL prices rise the hefty tax on them should come down. The domestic oil prices had not been coming down when world prices crashed as the difference is sucked up as enhanced tax. It is a game of the government winning all the time and the citizen always loosing.
In the past the rising dollar was given as a reason for the rising POL prices but for long now the dollar has been static or gone below the rupee and yet the people are forced to pay higher oil prices to meet the states revenue needs.
The government which always thinks of its own short term gains and not the interest of the people and takes extra measures to cater to the demands of the top officials cannot be a success in the long run. But now the government can blame the IMF for telling us what to do and how and forcing us to do that despite our vastly improved foreign exchange position.
The problem for the government is low revenues, a part of which is lost at the collection stage. Money is spent on needless projects, public funds, are embezzled major projects are left incomplete and the country as whole suffers on that score.