Taxing times


The west is in a bit of a wringer when it comes to Pakistan. On the one hand, they cannot afford to let it slide into anarchy: the phrase that has caught on when it comes to describing nuclear-armed Pakistan is, unfortunately, the drunk with the car keys. It has to be helped. On the other hand, however, is the feeling that aid to Pakistan is like throwing in good money after bad. Like anybody putting in the money, the western leaders want results. They want a change in the status quo. To sum up this line of thinking best, as the German Foreign Minister said, You can harvest as much money as you want, it wont be enough at the end of the day if there is no reform.

The press is going to have a field day with statements such as these. Even the boutique English press is going to be replete with word play (With Friends like these.). But if we get out of our persecution mania for a moment, we would do better to realize that there is reason in the wests apprehension. Yes, perhaps our friends in the developing world havent been as kind as they should have been, now and in the past. And yes, perhaps it is true that a large number of our problems, like militancy and a far from ideal development of democracy was also at the behest of the west. But we are still the manifestation of the Munir Niazi couplet, the one in which he refers to the viciousness of the world at large while admitting to his own penchant for courting death. Initially written to describe the folly of a quixotic youth, it fits us perfectly, making Pakistan, at 63, the worlds oldest adolescent.

We have one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the region, our rich regard taxation as some sort of punishment for those not smart enough to find loopholes around it, we refuse to tax agricultural income from large landholdings, we have an unhealthily lopsided balance of direct taxes to indirect ones and we still expect the world to chip in. Since the aid that the west gives us is derived from the tax money of their citizens, does it follow they are better Pakistanis than us?