Why ‘bans’ are worse than futile

Welcome to BanistanOur proclivity for banning things for one reason or another resulted in the hastag #Banistan appearing on social media a few years ago. During this time, YouTube was banned, though it was easily accessible to almost everyone with a little work around. This caused many to note the futility of our obsession with ‘banning’ things that we don’t like. However banning is often worse than just futile, as was noted in an excellent letter to Dawn on Monday.

APROPOS the letter ‘Liquor Shops’ (Nov 23). The writer maintains that liquor shops in Sindh should remain sealed because alcohol is bad for health.

What our perpetual sermonisers do not take into consideration are the following: 1) alcoholism in Pakistan after prohibition was imposed in April 1977 has always remained higher than what it was before prohibition; 2) the curbs have given birth to bootlegging mafias, or worse, those selling tainted alcoholic beverages; and 3) very rarely have any serious crimes been reported in which consumption of alcohol was involved.

Third, many Hindus and Christians known to me are forced to buy alcoholic beverages on the black market since the court ordered the sealing of the licensed wine shops. Interestingly a non-Muslim friend tells me that people meet their needs by driving to Hub, where the sellers are making hay while the sun shines.

The Sindh government must make a more realistic law regarding the sale of alcohol as the current law was made in 1979 and has lost its relevance. Last but not least, should we not be more concerned about the bad health effects of things like extremism, bigotry and domestic violence?

M.M.D.D. Karachiwala

As this person correctly points out, a ban can not only be worked around, but there are also unintended consequences from the workarounds that may make the cure worse than the disease.

Same can also be said not only about bans on alcohol but Bollywood films also. Some argue that such bans will not only protect Pakistani culture but Pakistani film industry also. But does banning Bollywood films actually get rid of them? Obviously it does not, it only takes them out of the legal economy and pushes them into the illegal economy of bootleggers and pirates.

‘Black economy’ of Pakistan, or the informal economy of goods and services that escapes the eye sight of authorities, is estimated over $100 billion. This is where criminal gangs and militant groups get much of their funding. So when we ‘ban’ alcohol or foreign movies, we are really just pushing them into the black economy and providing more funds for terrorists and mafias. In other words, we not only fail at the stated goal of stopping the thing we are banning, we are actually making our society worse by funding the worst criminal and extremist elements.

Good news from CPEC…but is it enough?

CPEC jobSome good news from CPEC which has finally started to pay dividends in the form of economic benefits. At a recent economic summit in Hong Kong, Shaukat Aziz announced that the project has added 6,000 new jobs for Pakistani workers. This is good news, and noting that that statistics are incomplete means that the number could even be higher. However, even though this is good news that should be appreciated, one has to ask whether it is enough.

Institute for Policy Reforms (IPR) released a fact sheet earlier this year that pegged the number of unemployed in the country at approximately 5.3 million. Official government statistics put the number at 3.6 million, but as IPR explains those are probably under-reported. Even if the official numbers are correct, though, it means that so far CPEC has had virtually no immediate impact on employment in Pakistan.

 

Decline in FDI a reflection of world’s faith in Army?

Corps CommandersForeign Direct Investment (FDI) appears to be in free fall, down over 14 pc. Even inflows from China, supposedly our great hope, are dragging.This is serious economic crisis as the FDI has been falling for years. During the previous cycle, FDI declined by 58 pc. That this negative trend is continuing even after the $46 billion CPEC agreement was signed is extremely worrying, especially since Chinese investments are also declining. All signs point to global investors seeing Pakistan as a risk not worth taking. The question we must be asking is why?

Sticking to his script, Imran Khan has blamed corruption, particularly referring to the Sharifs involvement in the Panama Papers scandal. However, the PTI chief may be half-right. Fears of corruption may be a factor, but it is not likely to be because of the Sharifs simply because they have faced corruption charges since long before coming to power in 2013. Any investors would have been able to factor the costs of doing business with the Sharifs. What is it then? It could be the Army.

Earlier this year, Gen Raheel removed six Army officers including 2 generals for corruption. This was actually not a surprise. Recently, Auditor General of Pakistan discovered billions being lost to corruption in the defence sector. Last year, 81 officers were found guilty of stealing billions more. Former COAS Gen Musharraf is well known to have billions in unaccounted for funds, and now his replacement former COAS Gen Kayani is finding his family embroiled in another corruption scandal along with other former senior military officers.

A corruption investigation has looked into senior retired officers, including relatives of the army’s former chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who for many years was the most powerful figure in the country.

Also under examination are three former managers of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), a wing of the army that builds developments to house senior retired officers and also makes enormous profits selling homes to civilians.

Army has usurped more and more power in the country. While carefully avoiding a coup, the military has been placing its own men in civilian positions, and working to seize control of CPEC, the most important economic project the country has even seen. Admitting this, how can we ignore the frightening possibility that growing unwillingness of global investors to do business in Pakistan is a direct reflection of their lack of faith in a state that is being controlled behind the scenes by the military establishment?

Army has expanded its reach into every corner of the state, and is now the single most powerful institution not only in national security but the economy also. As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”. If the Army wants the power to dictate the country’s terms, it has to take responsibility for the country’s failures.

Rising Pakistan (Costs)

CPECChina’s $50 billion investment in Pakistan was hoped to be the game changer that would save the country from the brink of economic disaster. However we are not only still awaiting to see the good effects, the economy seems to be very badly managed creating serious questions among economists about whether any benefits will be squandered.

Last week, National Assembly was informed that external debt has soared by $5.3 billion since the last three years. Last month, Bloomberg warned that Pakistan is risking default on billions in debt. Ahsan Iqbal announced that Pakistan needs 7-8 per cent growth for next 10 years in order to accommodate the population growth, but since 2011 Pakistan has not achieved even 5 per cent growth.

Will CPEC be able to turn this around? Economists are privately expressing worry as they are seeing important indicators that all is not well. In power sector which is closely linked with CPEC, circular debt continues to rise despite rising costs imposed on consumers.

Many had hoped that even though much of the CPEC investment would actually be spent on contracts with Chinese companies, Pakistan would benefit from the taxes. However, this too appears to have been a pipe dream as China has demanded exemptions from taxes paid to Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan is spending countless sums to provide security for Chinese workers.

CPEC may be a game changer for Pakistan, but only the future will tell if it is a change for the better or for the worse. So far, the only thing rising in Pakistan are the costs.

Who knows what is true in this country?

What is fact? What is fiction? In our post-modern democracy it is hard to know sometimes what is black and white. Knowing the reality made even more difficult after listening to statements of officials.

Foreign Affairs adviser to PM Sartaj Aziz has admitted that he has no idea about Pakistan’s role in Saudi military alliance. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denied any presence of Daesh in the country, then piled confusion on top of confusion by denying that he denied anything. Meanwhile intelligence agencies admitted there is not only a presence but it is growing. After Bloomberg warned that Pakistan is facing dangerous risk of defaulting on $50 billions in foreign debt, Finance Ministry rejected the report as ‘not based on facts‘, however the only point that the Ministry argued was the scale of the default, not the default itself.

Analysts believe that Chaudhry Nisar’s refusal to accept the presence of Daesh in Pakistan is attempt to keep the public in the dark in order to prevent panic. This has become the standard trait of official statements, lying to the public ‘for our own good’. However this is not how a democracy works. If officials worry that the people will panic if they know the truth, how will they react once they realise that they have been lied to since long and have no idea of the truth?