Though the New York Times is a valuable source of information, its tone and content sometimes betray its mainstream liberal bias to an embarrassing degree. This Monday’s front-page piece, titled “Pakistan’s Elite Pay Few Taxes, Widening Gap” well illustrates the point.
Published in sync with Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan, the report says that the absence of an equitable tax system is helping to “[create] conditions that have helped spread an insurgency that is tormenting the country and complicating American policy in the region.”
Tongue-clucking about Pakistan’s failure to do its part in America’s war, it describes “a sorry performance for a country that is among the largest recipients of American aid, payments of billions of dollars that prop up the country’s finances and are meant to help its leaders fight the insurgency.”
Nowhere in the article, however, does the Times offer any evidence, statements of fact, expert commentary, or testimony from ordinary Pakistanis to substantiate its claim that its tax policy has “created the conditions” for the insurgency.
It is doubtless true that inequality is rampant in Pakistan, and it is equally true that its ruling elite is corrupt, parasitic, and stunningly myopic. But that is not unusual in a poor country, and it does not explain the rapid rise of the blistering Pakistani Taliban insurgency.
A more methodical tax collection effort would certainly bolster state revenue, but most uncollected taxes would be drawn from major cities like Karachi, which lies far to the south, and from the playgrounds of the rich that pepper Islamabad, the country’s capital.
The insurgency, on the other hand, is burgeoning in the North Western Frontier Province that lies north and borders Afghanistan. The government exercises little administrative control there because of the fierce Pashtun tribalism that prevails on both sides of the border. That has been the case since the country’s founding more than sixty years ago.
So how could a long history of unfair wealth distribution explain an insurgency that has sprung up only recently? If mere poverty were a kindle for political violence, wouldn’t the populations of, say, Bangladesh or North Korea be engaged in mass revolt? And if taxation policies benefiting the rich were responsible for the violence, shouldn’t America have been in the throes of an insurgency after G.W. Bush enacted massive tax cuts for the country’s richest citizens?
To find the real catalyst for the insurgency, the Times ought to have looked a little closer to home. Before the United States launched its invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistani extremists were either working with the state or lying low. Indeed, it is only very recently—when the U.S. woke up from its neoconservative-induced coma in Iraq and shifted focus back to Afghanistan—that Pakistani cities, mosques, shrines, government centers, and military installations have regularly become scenes of bloody militant attacks.
Though the Pakistani Taliban have certainly exploited the poverty of the rural masses, their rallying cry has not exactly echoed the slogan of “no taxation without representation”; it has instead homed in on the Pakistan’s support for the U.S. led war along the “Af-Pak” border. Its bloodiest assaults, including the cowardly massacres at an Ahmadi mosque and a Sufi shrine, came only after Pakistan launched a 2009 summer offensive in parts of the NWFP.
Of course, the American-led war in Afghanistan is not the only reason for the insurgency, even though the Pakistani press, reflecting the impotence of the people, has heaped all blame on America. The Pakistani elites have themselves been playing a cynical and myopic double-game with militants, hoping to leverage ties with extremists such as the local Haqqani network and even the Afghan Taliban to shape Afghanistan once the United States exits the stage. According to one recent report, the ties are even more extensive than previously believed.
The Pakistani military, blind to the pernicious effects of empowering illiterate and backward Pahstun tribal elements who imagine themselves to be pious Muslims, thinks it can harness the extremists’ violence against Indian interests in Afghanistan—even though these Pakistani “Islamists” have so far succeeded only in killing Muslim civilians and Pakistani soldiers at an unprecedented pace.
The Times’ fixation on Pakistan’s tax policies is curiously off the mark, blaming Pakistan for the insurgency without pointing to either of the actual reasons to blame. It is the presence of thousands of American troops in neighboring Afghanistan and the Pakistani state’s tacit support for extremism, not an absence of tax collectors, that is most responsible for kindling the flames of the insurgency.