Category: Budgeting
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One does not expect Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to announce a radically different budget for the next fiscal year. Most likely, the balance sheet would be a repeat of what Pakistani governments -- no matter what kind -- have been presenting year after year all these years. The overwhelming emphasis would once again be on growth with a lot of rhetoric about equity but without a single measure aimed at introducing even a facade of equity.

The widening inequity in income is likely to continue widening further, along with inequity in access to affordable education, affordable heath cover, affordable transport and affordable housing. Once again, the mantra of growth taking care of equity would be repeated justifying proposals for the rich to become even richer.

Stagnating allocation for social sectors would be attributed to the chronic resource shortage for which the haves would be squarely blamed for not contributing their due to the national treasury but making no efforts to bind them to pay their taxes strictly in accordance with the law of the land.

However, there has been another reason why the national economy has continued to refuse to respond to the measures envisaged in successive national budgets.

We have been at war since the early 1980s without a break. But every annual budget that we have prepared since has been framed for a country at peace within and without. Our economy has remained so focused on war all these years that it has continued to fail to add to our depleting social and physical infrastructure.

It is, indeed, not possible to carry out a 36-year-long war effort without any financial cost to the nation. Being at war all these years has seriously and adversely impacted our economy. We need to stop deceiving ourselves and start budgeting up front for the ongoing war efforts.

Perhaps, that is the main reason why despite having had the good fortune of being the most allied ally of the US since the mid-1950s until 1988, and then once again having been adopted as the Non-Nato ally since 9/11, presumably to date, our economy has continued to refuse to respond to any of the policies framed for a country mistakenly believed to be at peace within and without.

Even so, until about the time we became involved in wars in the early 1980s, our budgetary allocations for development work would always be more than the allocations shown as defence budgets. But since the mid-1980s, the allocations under the two heads had reversed although we were receiving heavy injections of unencumbered assistance, both military and civil, during this period from almost the entire 'free world' plus China.

As we entered the decade of the 1990s, we found ourselves deeply involved in two, almost 10-year-long, low-intensity wars, one between the Taliban-ruled Kabul and the Northern Alliance, and the other between Indian troops and freedom fighters who had launched a 'jihad' against occupying troops in Indian-administered Kashmir.

And we are now involved in a war within since around 2005 when the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) started challenging our own armed forces. They have been attacking security installations since. Even the GHQ did not escape their assault.

Finally losing patience, our armed forces have hit back by launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014 and went after the TTP. Since then, the war within has engulfed the entire country. The TTP are said to have fled across to Afghanistan and are now mounting their attacks against Pakistani targets from across the Durand Line with support from the Afghan Taliban, who too are said to have been uprooted by the Operation Zarb-e-Azb campaign from the safe sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal belt. Some of the elements within the Afghan government who are said to be hostile towards Pakistan are also said to be helping the TTP in their war against Pakistan.

The ongoing war within and the war-like situation at the eastern, north-western and western borders, plus the heavy burden of rehabilitating and resettling millions of internally displaced persons are all likely to bring the annual budget for 2016-17 under a heavier burden but which, again, is expected to ignore the elephant in the room for lack of will to call a spade a spade.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2016.

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