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June 10, 2019

The alchemy of Tabdeeli 2.0

Opinion

June 10, 2019

The sorcerer’s stone, also known as Manka, Geedar-singhi and Tabdeeli, has not worked and we are back to the clinic of our own dear hakeem to receive our favourite medicine. Perhaps, it is the attraction of his young apprentice that has brought us here again in the manner of Mir Taqi Mir. However, the alchemist insists that the old bottles of medicines are now infused with the power of his magic. They will now taste sweeter and turn us all into energetic tigers and tigresses. Tigers we may all become, if all other forms of human or animal existence are forbidden upon us, but our ailment is only worsening.

A generation ago, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) got hold of a great team of communicators, who organized one of the most effective elections campaigns in our political history by reincarnating Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the grey-bearded leader of the JI, as a Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They even made Jamaatis in their starched white shawar kameezes and waist jackets dance to the beat of drums. If the PPP had danced its way to power, what could stop the Jamaatis?

The rallying cry of the campaign was an amazingly crafted slogan, “Zalimo Qazi aa raha hai” (roughly translated as: oppressors be warned, the Judge is arriving). The slogan played a pun on the surname Qazi. So the day of judgement for the oppressor was near only because someone in the ancestry of the leader of the JI had once served as a judge, thus bestowing the everlasting surname to the family.

The elections came and went but the slogan stayed for almost a decade, now as a joke that used to evince instant laughter. You would find it written in public places with a slight twist “jaldi karo Qazi aa raha hai” (Hurry up, Qazi is coming).

The 2018 elections went a step ahead. Tabdeeli did arrive ( aa naheen rahi, aa gae hai) – and therefore it is not funny. Most wily Zalims smelled the change in the air (or someone whispered the news of change in their ears) and they joined the Qazi of Tabdeeli well ahead of the elections. Overnight, they grew wings and found their place in the clouds among other angels. These were the very zalims Tabdeeli had to throw in dungeons and put us on the train to Denmark, because the Qazi of Tabdeeli had won a cricket world cup. And now Tabdeeli has brought us back to our old hakeem, or hakeemani if this word evokes the image of Christine Lagarde in your mind.

There can be many reasons for the alchemical transformation not happening in a timely manner. The formula, of course, is perfect. For decades, our alchemist had a chance to observe the base metal at home and gold in wilayat while shuttling between two lands for playing cricket. This resulted in some of the greatest discoveries in the field of economic and development. He discovered, for example, that an honest leader riding a bicycle could turn a Timbuktu into a Copenhagen just by peddling his way from his home to his office. He also found out that he himself was the leader the Ummah had waited since the time of Mansa Musa, the richest man ever, who ruled Timbuktu in the 14th century.

Now that our alchemist is in charge of a country that was founded as a laboratory, and fortunately helicopters on this land cost almost as much as bicycles, the gold laden or dollar laden caravans appear to have lost their way somewhere in the desert.

But asking about these caravans is against the deep rules of alchemy. We must keep our gaze on those zalims who failed to grow wings in time and thus have remained mired in the quicksand of accountability. And we, the Guinea pigs of the laboratory, have discovered the most important ingredient of the alchemy of Tabdeeli.

Tabdeeli reached here by dealing in the biggest commodity of our times – attention. This is the commodity the media deals in. Today’s media merely captures the attention of its audiences and sells it to advertisers. That’s why information is now infotainment. While giving us news on foreign policy, our television channels have to play songs our grandparents sang during their courtships (or should have sung if given a chance of courtship rather being forced to marry cousins). Today’s biggest business, Facebook, Google, Twitter etc are also attention merchants that give us something to grab our attention and then sell it to advertisers.

We see something similar happening in politics also, which is fast turning into politcotainment. Mohammad Hanif rightly noted last week in a column that Tabdeeli is all about entertainment. Entertainment is the subtle, or blatant, art of grabbing attention. Tabdeeli was all about grabbing attention. It grabbed the attention of an angry, restless class of young people, pumped up with testosterone, made them suspend their disbelief and then gave them a chance to become real life Avengers just by getting abusive on social media. Since Tabdeeli knows how precious this attention is, it is doing everything to keep a monopoly on the commodity. Therefore, dear readers, we must keep cursing the base metals without demanding gold in a hurry or asking about those dollar-laden caravans.

In its first incarnation, Tabdeeli was about doing away with the need of paying taxes. All the needs of the nation were to be fulfilled by snatching the wealth of zalims and bringing back hundreds of billions of dollars that were stashed abroad. Tabdeeli even employed a Sherlock Holmes by the name of Shahzad Akbar to do just that.

Now Tabdeeli wants to copy the run-away-zalim Ishaq Dar who doubled tax receipts in five years and increased taxation by three percent of GDP. The alchemist told us that we were not paying taxes only because our leaders were dishonest and we knew that they gobbled up all the money collected through taxes. The formula went wrong as tax receipts in the first year of Tabdeeli went down by one percent of GDP, creating a historic gap of 450 billion rupees.

In the second year of Tabdeeli, the tax receipts are bound to go up by 1450 billion rupees. This is Tabdeeli’s promise to the hakeemni of the IMF. We know there are students who fail in their first year at university but get a gold medal in the very next year. Alchemy works in strange ways.

There is no tabdeeli in the taxation structure or the FBR. Take the example of the wealth tax, first introduced in Pakistan in 1963. The rates of taxes ranged from 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent on net wealth exceeding Rs2.5 million. The wealth tax was abolished and even the hakeemni cannot resurrect it. Imagine the amount tax you have to pay if your house is worth more than 4 billion rupees.

In the land of the biker prime minister of Denmark, gifts and inheritance are taxed up to 36 percent. We know that the Bani Gala residence was a gift to our prime minister from his former wife Jemima Khan, who was unrelated to him at the time of the gift. If we had arrived in Denmark, the state would have received more than a billion rupees in taxes, in terms of the current value of land.

Imagine how much Sharifs and Zardaris would be paying and how much all the angels with the brand new wings and hallows would be forced to cough up. Only one of the angels, who happens to be a sharecropper did not pay a penny in taxes on 1.6 billion rupees made in one year through sharecropping, because “a contractor of leased land is not liable to pay income tax on revenue generated from the land.” I am sure that, while the prime minister rides a bike in Denmark, share croppers fly in private jets.

So we are back to our old hakeem and the apprentice is so handsome. By God, this disease is not going anywhere anytime soon.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

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