Zahid Hussain, Journalist and writer
It is indeed a huge stride forward for Pakistani democracy that, for the first time in its chequered political history, power was transferred from one elected government to another. While this uninterrupted political process is a turning point in Pakistani politics, there is still a long way to go for the struggling democracy to take root.
Governance remains a major problem area in Pakistan’s quest for a sustainable democratic process. Worsening internal security, shrinking state authority and failing state institutions have undermined Pakistan’s political stability. The failure of elected governments to deliver on governance and economic stability has been a serious blow to the credibility of the democratic system among the populace, in turn strengthening undemocratic forces. Rising militancy and religious extremism are manifest in the inability of the government to deal with the twin menace, which is currently the biggest threat to the country’s security.
Non-state actors have gained space, filling the vacuum created by the failure of state institutions to deliver. There has been a marked increase in ungoverned space as administrative control – even in major towns – weakens. It is not only the semi-autonomous tribal regions where the state has nominal control: even parts of Karachi – the country’s biggest city and economic jugular – have become lawless as the administrative authority has receded. The situation in the insurgency-hit western province of Balochistan is even worse. A large part of the province still does not have a formal administrative structure.
The failure of tax collection is another example of the weakening of State authority and it leaves the government with few resources to develop the economic infrastructure. It also makes the country even more dependent on foreign aid. Tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has stagnated at 10 percent over the last decade and has been declining since 2009. The extent of tax evasion can also be assessed by the fact that just over one million entities (individuals and companies) filed their income tax retorns in FY2011. In the same year, of 341 sitting members of the National Assembly, only 90 were found to have filed tax returns. The Federal Board of Revenue has failed to institute legal proceedings in spite of this wealth of information.
Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and writer. He is a correspondent for The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal. He also has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for several other international publications, including Newsweek, the Associated Press and The Economist. He is the author of two books: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam (2007) and The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan (2010).