Every year we welcome the summer and the budget with the same degree of distaste, frustration and a helpless toss of the hands. Like the weather, the budget is inescapable, will make us deeply uncomfortable and wonder why our Maker chose to send his vengeance upon us in this way. While the summer is alleviated by mangoes, hosepipe adventures and staying too long inside an ATM booth there is no remedy for our incredibly confusing, logic-defying budget. If there were a Lucky Irani Circus for fiscal documents, our budget would be the Well of Death.

Our Ramzan gift is for everything to become more expensive. Never have we had the good fortune to have a budget that actually made life easier in some real, tangible way—unless you’re an importer, of course, of finished goods. The only thing the government wants to facilitate is the import of awful Chinese and Taiwanese, dime-a-dozen cheap, flimsy and ugly finished goods. Local manufacturing is evidently some kind of hobby for businesspeople all over the country, whether they are making shoes or colour pencils. It’s so much fun to wrangle with corrupt everyone, to operate entire factories on generators because there’s no electricity or gas, and to swear yourself blue to foreign investors that Pakistan is actually safer than before and God-promise no bombs will go off when they come to visit factories they are interested in seeing to ensure you aren’t employing bonded labour. Because between that and the Sialkoti children sewing footballs and Bangladeshi women sewing t-shirts, nobody wants to engage with the third world in manufacturing anyway, because now people find out about your secret South Asian sweatshops and stop buying your product. In spite of all that, there are still people who want to produce locally, who have spent generations of time and money in setting up industries that have created a skilled workforce over decades. Pakistani exports enter at a global level of competition, and there is so much world-class, top-notch products—from cloth and clothing to stationery—coming out of the country that you would be surprised, and proud.

Just living in Pakistan is difficult enough: it’s expensive, it’s physically challenging, it’s mentally rough. There is uncertainty about everything, from the gas to security. Something as basic as getting an identification card or a passport means spending an entire day standing in line after claustrophobic line, being growled at by surly officials. Just existing is complicated enough. Now imagine actually doing business. When you’re the boss, there’s no off-time. There’s no five o’clock respite from the pressure and drama of the workplace. When the electricity is gone, you can’t run factories on a UPS. When cities shut down after bomb blasts, you can’t tell clients in Brazil to wait, because a terrorist has made it too unsafe for your employees to get to work that day. The market is incredibly tough: if you can’t step up, they will look elsewhere.

We keep talking about the people who leave, the brain drain, how terrible it is when our educated, motivated and talented Pakistanis end up living abroad and doing really well for themselves. We look at the scientists, the entrepreneurs, the runners of hedge funds and say, “If only they could bring that back here and change things!” The pity of it all is that the government keeps endorsing budgets that make it impossible for any sane person on the outside to even think of coming back. It’s also making it next to impossible for the ones who did come back to survive. Consider this budget: it proposes making the import of raw material—previously zero-rated for tax—incredibly expensive, while the import of finished goods remains untaxed. In a linguistic move positively Machiavellian, this tax is being called exemption! With an additional customs duty on inputs also proposed, the only exemption seems to be that of common sense. How on earth are local manufacturers expected to actually be able to make anything if they can’t import raw material at a competitive rate? Pakistan doesn’t make basic plastic, or have timber forests, or even halfway decent coal. We have limited local resources, so the obvious thing is to import that material so you can get your factories going, and provide Pakistanis quality products, made by Pakistanis.

This strange and dangerous approach is one very unexpected from a government run by businessmen. You’d think the PML-N would have made sure of a dynamic environment for industry and trade, because they understood what kind of support businesses need from governments. Unfortunately, they either don’t know or just don’t care. They also have no problems in contradicting themselves either: in their Pakistan Vision the government included a parha-likha Pakistan. The Prime Minister has even gone so far as to declare education a national emergency, implying that all measures should be employed post-haste to further the cause of education for all. That’s fantastic. Too bad that they give with one hand and take with the other, because if these tax proposals in this year’s budget go through, most people won’t be able to afford basic stationery. A ten rupee ballpoint will cost fifteen, and if you buy a cheap Chinese knockoff, you’ll be spending more than fifteen rupees replacing it because it will keep drying out or breaking. How can you go to school if you haven’t got pencils, pens, ink or notepaper? How will printers publish affordable textbooks if ink and paper becomes twice the price? Tax changes are always shifted to the consumer, and the consumer is already struggling to keep her head above the water. My cook can’t afford to pay twice as much for his children to go to school. Quite honestly, neither can I. So kids are going to be dropping out of school, factory workers are going to be laid off, delinquency will be on the rise and once more the dream of parha-likha Pakistan will be sent down the gutter by the parha-likha people who were supposed to make it happen. Foreign factories will be making money off of us, while our factories slowly shut down. If this is the kind of ‘paasbaan’ the government wants to be, I’d rather have the British back. At least then one wouldn’t be betrayed by one’s own.