The roads and ports, and other infrastructure that the Chinese are building in Pakistan principally benefit China. Pakistanis are an afterthought. The Chinese obtain contracts on favourable and profitable investment terms, use their own employees, and contribute little to the local economy, ultimately to build projects which facilitate the movement and sale of cheap (but also dangerous and poorly crafted) Chinese goods and products into and through Pakistan.
It is a sad fact that China uses Pakistan for its foreign policy aims as well. It provides Pakistan nuclear assistance and large amounts of military assistance to purchase sub-par military platforms in hopes of sustaining Pakistan’s anti-status quo policy towards India. By encouraging Pakistani adventurism towards India, Beijing hopes that India’s massive defence modernisation and status of forces remain focused upon Pakistan, not China. China wants to sustain the animosity between India and Pakistan, but it certainly does not want an actual conflict to ensue as it would then be forced to show its hand again — by not supporting Pakistan in such a conflict.
What about Saudi Arabia? The increasingly broke US citizens provided more assistance to Pakistan’s flood victims than Pakistan’s Islamic, oil-tycoon brethren in Saudi Arabia. While the US government has not figured out how to give aid in a way that minimises corruption and maximises benefit, Pakistanis should note that at least America tries to do so in contrast to Saudi Arabia, which simply abdicates.
Saudi Arabia does fund madrassas, albeit of a highly sectarian variety. Yet, Pakistan does not need more madrassas. In fact, the educational market shows that Pakistani interest in madrassa education is stagnant, while interest in private schooling is expanding. Unfortunately, those madrassas and Islamic institutions that Saudi Arabia does support have contributed to a bloody sectarian divide in Pakistan that has killed far more innocent Pakistanis than the inaccurately reviled US drone programme.
In short, Saudi Arabia, too, uses Pakistan to isolate Shia Iran and to promote the dominance of Wahhabism over other Sunni maslaks and over all Shia maslaks. Pakistan has paid a bloody price for Saudi Arabia’s assistance.
There is no such thing as ‘friends’ in international relations. Any country will help Pakistan if it expects that doing so will advance its interests, not necessarily those of Pakistan and its citizenry. Pakistan will never be free from the dictates of donors until it raises its own revenue from its own domestic resources.
There is another important reason why all Pakistanis should pay local and federal taxes according to their means: It is the bond that ties the governed to the government. When the state extracts taxes from its citizenry, the citizens demand services in return. When the government fails to perform at either local or federal levels, the citizens have the opportunity to vote the miscreants out of office. The incoming elected officials learn, over the course of several electoral cycles, to be responsive to the voters. Within constitutional democracies, payment of taxes is the most important mechanism by which citizens exert control over their government.
If Pakistanis genuinely want to toss off the yoke of financial servitude and gain a genuine stake in their government, they should stop howling at the US government. Instead, the street power mobilised to support a flawed law and a murderer should be redirected to policy issues that are critical to the state’s survival. And rest assured, financial sovereignty is one such issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2011.
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