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DAWN - Letters; July 30, 2003

July 30, 2003


Govt policy and foreign remittance

EACH successive government has wanted greater welfare of the overseas Pakistanis (OPs) but its implementing machinery always translated the wishes of the government into action by ever increasing the tax-free limits in the name of incentives. The motive behind this has always been obvious.

Earlier, President Gen Pervez Musharraf, who wished OPs’ welfare, presided over a meeting for this. And the bureaucracy introduced a Silver and Gold Cards scheme in the name of remittances-through-legal-channel.

An OP who sends $2,500 in a year under this scheme is issued a Silver Card, entitling him to bring duty-free personal effects/goods worth $750, which is equal to about Rs45,000. This limit in the new budget has been increased to $1,000 (Rs60,000). So, one who sends the country Rs150,000 in his own personal account/home, he deprives the national exchequer of Rs60,000 from duties/tax. No other country has given so liberal baggage allowance and duty-free incentives to its national working abroad. This is hitting our industry.

I am a common man and I know the purchasing powers of the majority of our Pakistanis working in the Middle East. I am working abroad in a government department and am getting a salary good to the local standards. But even then I cannot think of taking with me personal baggage to such an amount which could fetch Rs60,000 customs duty.

Secondly, in Pakistan today cloth, electronic goods and other items sell cheaper than in the Middle East, thanks to the flourishing Bara markets. Here in Bahrain many Pakistanis are bringing computers for their children from Pakistan.

So, the point is, for whom are these so-called “incentives” then being increased? Here is an example that can explain the things. About three years back an airline started a weekly “baggage-free flight” from a Middle East country (not from Bahrain) to Karachi. Its ticket was very cheap, with a condition that passenger would carry no baggage for hold, except a handbag. This flight started going full.

Under the scheme, this flight should have been empty of cargo but if the CAA record of the airport from where the flight was originating is checked, it would be found that the flight always took off with full load. A report in the press appeared (unfortunately the copy of which I am not able to trace) that this free flight was allegedly introduced to keep the baggage-hold free to facilitate professional khepias take their baggage, and specified customs officers were posted on that day.

Baggage of an ordinary person like me and that of a professional khepia has a difference. If I put 12 pairs of shirts and trousers in one suitcase, it would weigh about 20kg. But when a professional khepia packs 150 pairs, it weighs 20kg, because these khepias pack these items under hydraulic press.

Earlier, one could persuade a person to open an account in Pakistan — there were some incentives then. But now OPs complain that there’s not much to gain by opening bank accounts in Pakistan. The overseas Pakistanis have a lot of money but they prefer to keep it with them. Why? Anything sensible or logical has never been listened to, though there had been show-piece OPF conventions in Islamabad at which the government was expected to introduce some scheme like that of Ayub era’s bonus voucher under which anyone sending Rs100 be paid by bank Rs105. As acceptance of such a scheme was going to adversely hit hundi system, some vested interests never let this proposal to come on table for any serious consideration.

I once suggested that instead of this Gold/Silver Card scheme, on every remittance of Rs100 through legal channel bank may credit the payee with Rs100, but at the same time the government may credit extra Rs10 separately as a bonus/gift/pension/profit in a separate account in the name of the overseas Pakistan concerned. This Rs10 may not be taken from national exchequer, rather this Rs10 be shared by the OPF and the foreign ministry (out of the OP’s direct or indirect contribution). This Rs5 plus Rs5 be put in an account and when a worker returns finally, he may be allowed to withdraw a monthly profit from this account, and not the principal. Since this proposal is against the interest of hundi, it has not been acknowledged.

To say that the recent inflow of remittances was because of good policies is not correct. This is a temporary phase, a consequence of the 9/11 incidents. Those who think hundi is gone are wrong. It is an international trade required for dealing under different circumstances. For example, when so-called embargoes and sanctions are imposed, despite that trade keeps going on and even those who imposed sanctions themselves keep doing trade through third the channel and such trade is dealt through hundi or a similar form.

In our case those who say hundi is finished may keep in mind the last year’s conference to tackle money-laundering held in Dubai where it was recognized that “hundi/hawala system” was a requirement for developing countries and low-paid people and that it cannot and should not be stopped, but only regularized.

The government has allowed one or two per cent higher rate of profit to government pensioners though that is insignificant keeping in view the new conditions imposed on that scheme. I would suggest that if the government wants the huge amounts held abroad by the middle class Pakistanis, it should include the overseas Pakistanis (OP) in this scheme.

And when an OP returns home on the expiry of his contract, he be treated as pensioner and allowed to open a social account with NSS where he may get four per cent more than the normal rate provided. However, it be guaranteed that terms and conditions of such an account will not be changed.



Storage of floodwaters

WET cycles bring heavy floods especially when these follow a long dry cycle in which the river beds are silted and encroached upon. As this is a periodical phenomenon, the people forget the past experience and fail to take appropriate measures to mitigate the ill effects. This leads to a heavy loss to the national economy, at times putting it back by several years.

This happened in the early 50s, in 73, etc when vast areas of the country were submerged, specially in Punjab, where the old irrigation head-works are no more than solid masonry weirs or simply walls across the mighty rivers like Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum, without any flood gates. This has raised the bed levels of the rivers and consequently the flood levels by 15 to 18 feet at such head-works.

Marala, Balloki, Khanki and Punjnad head- works are living examples. This affects travels for several miles on the upstream.

This raising of the river beds, besides raising the intensity of floods,takes away huge water storage capability of the head-works, almost equal to the capacity of a big dam. In case the riverbeds are restored to normal, the urgency to raise the Mangla dam or another big dam could be deferred.

The usual flood precaution measures are necessary, but the real problem is to utilize the available water, to reach the tail ends to enhance agricultural production, as very rightly emphasized by the prime minister himself. The raised river beds also lead to heavy silting of canals and watercourses, which does not allow the available water to reach the tail-ends.

The remedy lies in installing floodgates in all such old head-works. This will reduce the intensity of high floods, increase water storage, as also considerably improve the irrigation system, allowing water to reach the tail-ends and minimize the silting of canals and watercourses.

This fact was pointed out to the flood commission in 1973 and later. The PM and the CM of Punjab may consider installing floodgates at all these head-works to save the country from such periodical menace. This can be done very economically utilizing local technology and resources. For the time being floods can be controlled through proper breaching sites and flood bypasses.



Woman’s status in Islam

THIS refers to the letter headlined “Woman’s status in Islam” (July 17) by Mr Amir Yusuf Ali Khan.

I would like to say that women are certainly inferior to men in an Islamic society. This can be easily proved by reading the holy Quran. With the ease with which a man can get rid of his wife speaks enough for the rights of women. On the other hand, a woman has to go through a difficult procedure of law to secure her separation from her husband.

In judicial matters, a woman is not given the equal status with men when it comes to bearing witness to a case in a court; she must have another woman besides her as a witness, or else her evidence is not accepted by the court as sufficient. Whatever this might imply, it in no way suggests equality of women with men.

Similarly, the law of inheritance amply shows what ‘role’ and status a woman is given in an Islamic society. Why don‘t we accept the fact that women have a secondary status in an Islamic society, no matter how we may interpret the Shariat. Accepting the truth will at least save us a lot of deception.



Architectural design for cemeteries

IN 1994 the students of Indus Valley of Art and Architecture worked on a presentation of Muslim cemetery in architectural design. No doubt it was a wonderful project of sheets, with views and models. It is a guideline for our cemeteries and mortuaries which are not designed in accordance with the spirit of architecture, urban planning, and designing. Cemetery, the last resting-place of everyone, should be necessarily designed to reflect the guidelines of Shariat.

The condition of our cemeteries throughout the country is shameful. Many things are lacking, including water (for ablution and drinking), toilets, mosques, plantation, parking for cars and motorbikes with standard size, pedestrian walkway, out-of-proportion distance between two graves, boundary walls, lighting problem at night, benches for sitting with shades, sewage water and sanitation problem, which worsens in the rainy season. There are no entrance and exit gates, not even the computerized record or proper registers for record, etc.

I appeal to the chief ministers and governors of the four provinces, development authorities, and chiefs and city nazims of every district to constitute a committee consisting of well-known and competent architects and invite them to create and produce architectural designs incorporating the principles and elements of urban designing for our cemeteries and mortuaries.

In this regard, the federal government should also play its role as a coordinator between the provincial and the city government, so that the work of research and design in every manner should be made part of the law, and it’s architecturally uniform throughout Pakistan.

I am confident that the president as a man with a good aesthetic sense will take the issue seriously.



Canadian Urdu writer’s death

ACCLAIMED short story writer, Syed Moin Ashraf, passed away on July 22, 2003, following a massive heart attack. He was a descendent of the great mystic Khwaja Syed Ashraf Jahangir Samnani (1289-1405), who is credited to have written the first treatise in Urdu prose in 1308.

Syed Moin Ashraf lived in Canada for over half a century. He started writing when he was about to retire from the Government of Canada public service. His first short story under the title Fatherhood was published in 1986 in Urdu Canada, an English-language journal of studies in Urdu literature, edited by W. A. Shaheen.

It was followed by another short story, Reborn, in the next issue of the same magazine. In Urdu, his first story appeared in Sahba Lukhnavi’s Afkar. It was his very first story Fatherhood, also published later in Urdu and English under the title Pandit Trudeau Tewari, that brought him into prominence.

His writings are characterized by a unique sense of humour. He develops serious situations in tense moments of human interaction at cross-cultural levels, displaying a humour that provides keen perception of human behaviour. His two books Tirchhay Raastay, in Urdu, and Come Brother, Lie Down, in English (Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 1999), testify to his lasting literary achievement.

Syed Moin Ashraf is survived by his wife, Naz Ikramullah, daughter of Begum Shaista Ikramullah, and an artist in her own right, and daughter Aamna Ashraf.


Ottawa, Canada

New bus service in Karachi

JOURNEY by the Green bus has been a comfortable and hassle-free experience since its introduction in Karachi over six months back. Green buses have saved a large number of people from the hardship the daily commuters are facing owing to the heavy rainfall this year.

In this metropolis, public transport is in a poor condition, with broken windows and rusty and tattered seats. On the other hand, Green buses are a good addition to our urban transport system. Uniformed drivers follow traffic rules and stop their vehicles only at designated bus stops.

Even though the new bus service greatly helps commuters reach their destinations safe and sound, most of the time they have to wait for more than 10 minutes owing to the dilapidated condition of roads and traffic congestion. Besides, the number of Green buses is very small.

It has also been observed that on Sundays very few Green buses are seen on the roads, making people wait for as long as half-an-hour. I request the authorities concerned to make necessary arrangements to run more buses on every major roads of the city and not to drop the number of buses on Sundays.



India-Pakistan relations

I AM an Indian citizen and I cherish to see improved relations between India and Pakistan. Trade and commerce, surface transport and road and rail links should be opened.

This is the time for the two countries to think and really try to strengthen their bonds. They should amicably settle their disputes.

They should send study teams to each other’s country. As its neighbour Pakistan cannot ignore relations with India.

The common people of the two countries have no feeling of hatred or suspicion. It is merely politics, and there is a point beyond which politics cannot be tolerated.


Hyderabad, India

TV licence checking

THE Pakistan Television Corporation has entrusted a private firm/contractor, namely Interconstruct, Melody House, Islamabad, with the task of recovering TV licence fees from those who have not cleared their dues. But the contractor has been knocking at every door, specially when menfolk are out, and insisting on checking the licence.

It is inappropriate. Interconstruct is not authorized to check such households as are already in possession of TV licence. They should keep a computerized list of TV licence holders of the areas and check only those who do not have the licence. No more harassment, please.



The question of recognizing Israel

MANY articles and letters have appeared on whether or not Pakistan should recognize Israel. I would also like to comment on this issue.

The recognition of Israel is a delicate issue. Pakistan must consider it carefully before taking any decision in the matter.

Pakistan and Israel are the only countries which were founded in the name of religion. But the difference is that Pakistan was created through great sacrifices while Israel was founded through intrigue in a land were the Jews were a very small minority.

The recognition of Israel by many Muslim countries is irrelevant because none of these is a democracy and none ever held a referendum on the issue. All Muslim Central Asian and African nations have been arm-twisted or bought off into extending recognition. Insofar as the Turks are concerned, who can blame them if we consider the unfortunate incidents which led to the destruction of the Ottoman Empire?

The coveted recognition was that of Egypt but the decision by Anwar Sadat was, and is, totally opposed to the wishes of the Egyptian people. In the case of Qatar, the recognition by the son immediately after deposing his father, the king, reeks of behind-the-scenes manipulation. About Jordan, the less said the better since this country was literally created by the British on the map with a pencil. And, finally, with the conquest of Iraq, a positive decision by the ruling council on this matter should be forthcoming.

Irrespective of all the above, the fact remains that the most important countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon and Syria, and to a lesser extent the UAE, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, have not extended recognition. Thus, Pakistan must not allow itself to be lured into taking any hasty decision.

Israel’s track record on agreements implemented and promises kept is deplorable, and so we should not delude ourselves that Israel would honour its word should it offer not to attack our nuclear installations. Moreover, Israel’s very close military and economic ties with India mean that our interests will always take second place to that of the Indians.

The Israeli attitude to peace and to peaceful co-existence can easily be gauged by their outright rejection of the superb plan of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah which offered the Zionists full diplomatic and economic ties with all Arab States in return for implementation by Israel of all UN Security Council resolutions.

The fact is that Israel is an expansionist power and it is not for nothing that a Shia leader has warned the Iraqis against selling any land to the Jews. Most Muslims are also of the view that the real reasons behind the Iraq war are linked to greater economic advantages for Israel, as well as to the securing of future water supplies for the Jewish state.

In our case Israel and the Kashmir issues go hand in hand and if we do decide to extend recognition, it will greatly weaken our stand on Kashmir. Moreover, those who hope that Israel would support us on Kashmir are living in a dream world. The irony is that while the Indians were taking the moral high stand that they would not negotiate on peace with a dictator, the Zionists have had no such qualms and the vast majority of the countries which have extended recognition to Israel are dictatorships.

President Musharraf is a patriot and has not compromised on Pakistan’s real interests at any stage but he must have been under tremendous pressure at Camp David to go the same way as Sadat. He must also have been aware that any decision in this regard without taking Saudi Arabia and Iran into confidence would greatly affect our relations with those countries.

The best course for us is to make our recognition conditional to the implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions by Israel because it is then, and only then, that we have any chance of getting the resolutions on Kashmir implemented.


Oakville, Ontario, Canada