The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which left the government’s coalition this past Sunday has returned. As a result, the PPP-led coalition has once again a majority in the 342-strong National Assembly. However there was a price to be paid for their return in that the prime minister scrapped fuel price increases and plans for changes to the tax system. This may have furnished the PPP with a reprieve from a possible no-confidence vote but United States and the International Monetary Fund have expressed their concern over much-needed economic reforms being put on hold.
Pakistan’s economy has been labelled as "collapsing" and many in the international community are of the opinion the country needs to make some hard choices to ensure its solvency. The PPP may have dropped some of those choices to remain in power but will this bankrupt the nation? Pakistan remains dependent on international assistance including billions in military and civilian aid from the United States. All this when it has been reported that less than 2 percent of Pakistanis pay income tax, including many wealthy members of government, which makes Pakistan’s tax revenues among the lowest in the world.
Increasing tax revenues is one way of ending costly subsidies for energy which is strongly promoted by American officials and the International Monetary Fund and of closing gapping budget shortfalls. Reforms are not just a question of economics but an important way for the government to expand services and increase its presence in the lives of all Pakistanis as the country faces a surge of militancy.
Does Pakistan have what it takes to make it work? The assassination of Salman Taseer shows a remarkable division between secular and religious forces in all levels of Pakistan’s society including the government. As his death continues to be cheered by the ordinary Pakistani, there is a perceived slide into extremism reflected by in a growing contempt for free speech and for the partnership with the U.S. Without better controls on its economy, Pakistan will eventually lose control of its people if it hasn’t already, and whatever links it does have with the Western world will become more and more fragile.
The assassination, which was carried out by an elite police officer who was assigned as a body guard of the governor, has raised the spectre of more trouble to come. The United States has expressed concerns about possible infiltration of extremists in the country’s security forces as well as the extremist drift of the country. The 26-year-old assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who proudly confessed to the police, has been welcomed by eager crowds who showered him with rose petals before court appearances this week.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle