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Constitutional status: Shutter-down strike over taxing Gilgit-Baltistan

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: Shutters were down and the breaks were on in Gilgit-Baltistan on Thursday in protest against the imposition of tax on income and other commodities in the region. The call for a strike was announced by the G-B Contractors Association over an increase in taxes from 3% to 7.5% which was a result of the G-B government’s withdrawal of a rebate on income and other tax applicable in the region.

Thursday’s strike was endorsed by traders, nationalist, political and religious parties.

Locals told The Express Tribune reaching markets and offices in Gilgit was difficult as public transport remained suspended in Skardu, Ghanche, Astore and Diamer valleys. The protesters call it the “anti-tax movement” after other stakeholders also joined the struggle.

Riaz Ali, a resident of Gilgit, said members of the anti-tax movement forcefully closed shops and stopped traffic in parts of the town.

Demand for fifth province

“This is injustice against the residents of the region,” G-B Contractors Association President Firdous Ahmed told The Express Tribune on Thursday. “If the government wants to levy taxes on us, it should first give us constitutional rights by making G-B the fifth province,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.

Sporadic protests have been going on for the past few weeks; the G-B government withdrew a rebate which resulted in an increase in taxes from 3% to 7.5%. The rebate had been put in place due to the region’s ambiguous constitutional status. Given that the disputed constitutional status of the region has not changed, protesters refused to comply with the new order, said another contractor.

Govt’s response

Parliamentary Secretary on Law Aurangzeb Khan recently told The Express Tribune the decision to raise income tax and other levies was taken by the previous government in 2012 through the G-B Council at that time.

“These are not new taxes,” Aurangzeb said. “The government just implemented what the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government did during its tenure.” According to the parliamentary secretary, the government wou ld look into options to revert this decision.

A committee headed by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz is working to devolve more rights to the residents.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2016.

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