BUDGETS are a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't affair. Regardless of what a government does, there is going to be a government department, interest group or a demographic resenting a perceived criminal lack of interest in their particular sector. Even if an alchemist were to miraculously bring about just the right mix, there will be a general, resigned feeling that funds appropriated are not going to be spent properly. The former is a problem that can be attributed to the sometimes unreasonable expectations of the public. The latter can undeniably be attributed to the far from ideal behaviour of our ruling class. Still, it is what governments do and it was the Minister of State for Finance, Hina Rabbani Khar's lot to present the budget document on the floor of the house. A cheap shot it might (or might not) be but it was interesting for her to refer to problems that her government has "inherited from the previous government" considering Ms Khar was an economic advisor in the Shaukat Aziz regime. Ms Khar, and the government's finance czar, Shaukat Tarin, are undoubtedly steering the economy at a rather tough time. The mass exodus of the residents of Swat alone is going to cost the government a packet. The government has set aside Rs. 50 billion for the IDPs and their resettlement. The necessity of spending this amount was not the government's fault. If this cost could have been avoided by not initiating the operation, then we're better off with it, damned be any part of the polity that thinks otherwise. But from within the advocates of action against the militants comes criticism of the manner of the operation, which has displaced 3 million people, unheard of even in those other two blighted nations, Iraq and Afghanistan. But that isn't the political government's fault. It should be realized that this is a consequence of our armed forces' rather unique style of combat. One that should, in an ideal, academic construct, be questioned and cause heads to roll. But, in our republic as it stands, alas..... To segue into the forces' pound of flesh, the not so Spartan lot have gotten an increase of about 15.3 percent. Though they almost invariably get what they want in any case, the running images on TV present an arresting advert this time. By the time the republic matures on from its penchant for praetorian rule, we can retrospectively assess this increment, and all of the ones past, correctly. On a similar front, however, the far more transparent Public Order and Safety Affairs head has been increased and should be increased even further. This is a war we just cannot to fight without a viable, respected and effective police force. More policemen, by far, have gotten killed in the line of duty in the war against terrorism than army soldiers. In times like these, the most hardened of cynics shouldn't begrudge any betterment of our boys in charcoal and their families. This being our first IMF-guided budget in several years, there was a lot of concern about the withdrawal of subsidies. That concern was not unfounded. Across the fiscal outlay, there has been a cut of more than Rs 120 billion in subsidies. Industrial electric cost increases, however, due to cut in cross subsidies, are going to be a smaller percentage than the domestic costs. A wise move in the light of the dismal performance of the manufacturing sector in the previous fiscal. The Fund's target for the fiscal deficit as a percentage of the GDP, however, is going to be transgressed. Already hiked up to 4.6 percent from the IMF's initial demand of 3.5 percent, the government is going to outspend itself by 4.9 percent of the economy. That can only mean two things: a deviation from the budget or a series of explanations to the IMF later on. A Rs. 1.5 trillion revenue target has been set, with the same unfortunate tilt towards indirect taxes. If, at the end of this government's term, Mr Tarin tilts the balance right without reducing the receipts, he will be remembered fondly. By way of relief, the government is continuing with the BISP and has raised government salaries and pensions by 15 percent, the debatable level at which the government has pegged inflation. Inflation is a serious concern. According to a recent survey, more Pakistanis placed it higher on their list of woes than terrorism, which, given the latter's terrifying, in-your-face nature, is saying something. The budget is unremarkable; but it's not supposed to read like poetry. From this June to the next, the paper wishes the government and households across the nation well.