One or two descent crops and the blinkered non-visionary reaction of PMs Adviser on Finance and lavish globetrotter at the taxpayers expense, Shaukat Tarin, is to tax agricultural sector income; the very farmers and the rural poor of Pakistan who the PPP leadership repeatedly claim to have voted them into power. Yet another classic case of biting the hand that feeds you. On the one hand, Tarin has been dancing to the tune of IMF and stating his dislike for the poverty-stricken farmers of Pakistan - who he recently described as Holy Cows and his intentions to punish them by imposing income tax on the agricultural sector. On the other hand, he has been busy exposing the failures of the Federal Board of Revenues (FBR) to tap the full potential of the existing tax base of the country; having collected just Rs898 billion in taxes in 10 months (July-April 2008-09) of the current fiscal year, the board will be required to bag the remaining Rs282 billion or 23.9pc in the remaining two months for meeting a target that was already reduced from Rs l,360 billion to Rsl,300 billion to Rsl,180 billion under the IMF programme. With the 2009/10 tax collection target set at Rs l,400 billion, it begs the question, under what rational and national interest does Tarin propose to justify his quest to tax the agricultural sector at a time when he is busy exposing the failures of his FBR to tap the existing tax base and to meet the existing tax collection targets? For the benefit of Tarin and his team, let me try and put the current contribution of his Holy Cows into perspective. Our agricultural sector contributes 19pc to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs over 44pc of the total labour force of the country. It helps sustain the 180m population of Pakistan of which 67.5pc still live in the rural area, including 80pc of the poor. Although its contribution to GDP has declined from over 25pc in 1990 to 19pc in 2008, the agricultural sector still contributes over 60pc to national exports, is the second largest foreign exchange earner for the country and has propelled Pakistan to become the 6th largest exporter of food and beverages in the world. The irrational and anti-national interest PPP policy of high energy prices and stratospherically disproportionate loadshedding in Faisalabad has already left the largest foreign exchange earner, the textile sector, in a state of stagnation. Now let me put the future potential contribution of the farmers of our country into perspective. Pakistan has a total agriculture base of 79.6m hectares with only 22m hectares of land under cultivation; 18m through irrigation system and 4 million exclusively on rain. The availability of vast areas of cultivable wasteland, a local agricultural market increasing at 29pc, a large easily accessible regional market (Middle East, Afghanistan, China and Iran) and an internationally competitive unit cost of production for all major crops, fruits and vegetables present an enormous untapped potential for expansion of our agriculture base. To date, the only government vision for un-tapping this vast national potential appears to be to tax it - a vision that will discourage future investment and development because it fails to see beyond today. Why do we need visionaries who can see tomorrow today? The population has increased five fold since 1951 from 34 million to 180 million and the percentage of urban population has almost doubled from 17% to 32% today. UN projections indicate the population will grow to a stratospheric 250m by 2025 and 335m by 2050. It begs the question; under what rational and national interest does Tarin propose to justify his quest to open up agricultural sector as a new front of tax collection without first explaining how he plans to provide food for our future generations? For our future generations, we need to propel development in agriculture to new levels by bringing in people who can vision tomorrow today, formulate holistic strategies and introduce paradigm shifts; people who can formulate and promote initiatives, incentives and remove hurdles to long-term investments to realise sustainable, self-managed agricultural and rural development. We need to move away from heavy dependence on fossil-fuel form of energy and invest in the R&D of small efficient motors that can be driven on alternative renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. We need to devise incentives to increase the yield per acre and bring under cultivation the remaining 57.6m hectares of our agriculture base. Such initiatives should be good for local R&D into alternative renewable sources of energy, good for generating investment, good for jobs creation in both rural and urban areas, good for checking the migration of people from the country side to the already crowded cities, good for eradicating poverty, good for enhancing household food security and good for sustainable economic growth. Taxes on agricultural income that will hinder investment are not what Pakistan needs at this stage. Those ministers and advisers being pied piped by the international lenders and in a hurry to implement cross-the-board elimination of subsidies should remember that China, India and Indonesia alone will spend over $16 billion in subsidies on oil alone during 2008/9. Electricity tariffs for farmers in India amount to less than 10pc of the cost of supply. That means an annual power subsidy for the agricultural sector of an estimated US$6 billion. It begs the question, under what rational and national interest is Tarin in such a hurry to eliminate subsidies under the conditions of the IMF loan at a time when electricity and diesel to farmers in India is 90pc subsidised and helps check food based inflation? By accepting the conditions of the emergency IMF loan agreement, Tarin has plunged Pakistan into a catch-22 scenario. On the one hand, he continues to insist that the interest rates cannot be cut until inflation comes down. On the other hand, he persists in maintaining in parallel an artificially high fuel and energy price policy to help ensure that inflation cannot possibly come down The 12-month moving average for the overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) is over 20% and the average for CPI Food Group component is over 28pc. Lighting & Fuel and Transport & Communication components of the CPI recorded a hefty inflation rate of 27pc and 18pc respectively for March 2009. Whilst inflation in Pakistan stands at historical high, our regional neighbours, the Eurozone, UK and the US are all harvesting the fruits of near-zero inflation because they passed on the benefits of plummeting international energy prices to consumers. Taxing the agricultural sector will only guarantee an increase in the CPI and exacerbate efforts to bring down interest rates and kick-start the economy. It begs the question, under what rational and national interest does Tarin propose to justify his quest to tax the agricultural sector at a time when the economy is facing stagflation as a direct result of his other failed economic policies? It also begs the question, why is Tarin least bothered to tax undocumented speculative transactions in real estate and stock market where billions of rupees are being made on daily basis? In a true democratic set up, tax proposals are prepared through parliamentary processes and are implemented after thorough public debate. If a bill is tabled to tax the agricultural sector during 2008/9, the parliamentarians must not show the same national apathy that enabled the Finance Bill for 2007/8 to sneak in under the radar a provision for NEPRA to review energy prices monthly and gifted the nation with unidirectional spiraling of energy prices - up, up and up. As a result of the follies of consecutive governments, Pakistan remains a land of lost opportunities. The increase in international commodity prices, as a result of increased international demand for agricultural and livestock products, has driven China and the Middle East to make investments in agriculture in countries with potential in this sector. At a time when few countries offer the same potential as Pakistan, it begs the question under what rational and national interest does Tarin propose to justify his quest to tax the agricultural sector when the sector is ripe for commercialisation, ripe for attracting local and foreign direct investment, ripe for developing new lines of products and markets, ripe for introducing new (bio)technologies to increase production, ripe for boosting exports and the economy and becoming the largest foreign exchange earner for the country within 3-5 years. It is the duty of each parliamentarian to each man, woman and child of Pakistan to ensure this opportunity is fully exploited and not lost. Taxation at this stage will discourage both local and foreign direct investment and ensure Pakistan sustains its image of a land of lost opportunities. The writer, Advocate (LL.M UCL, UK), is an MNA of PML-N.