By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: A complete shutter-down strike was observed in Gilgit on Thursday as the protests over the imposition of tax on income and other commodities entered its second phase. Rallies were held in district headquarters across Gilgit-Baltistan.
Speaking at a protest held at Ittehad Chowk in Gilgit, G-B Contractors Association President Firdous Ahmed said, “[The imposition of taxes] is not acceptable to us and we strongly reject it.” According to Ahmed, the taxes are a form of “financial murder” for locals who have no representation in Parliament.
The protest was addressed by a large number of speakers from various groups and parties who criticised the government for working against the region’s interest. “Imposition of taxes without providing adequate representation to locals in Parliament is nothing short of deception,” one of the speakers said. Gilgit wore a deserted look. Markets and banks in areas where protests were held remained closed.
Then and now
The strike was initially announced on December 21, 2015 by the G-B Contractors Association after the federal government withdrew rebate on income and other tax in the region. With the rebate, the tax was 3%. The tax, which is now 7.5%, will be applicable to food items, transport companies, and print and electronic media.
The strike was temporarily called off a day later after the government vowed to settle their grievances regarding the withdrawal of rebate. However, the association resumed protests on January 14.
The protest was named the “anti-tax movement” after it was joined by political and religious parties. The tax rebate, which residents of G-B had been enjoying for a long time, was provided because of the disputed status of the region. It has now been withdrawn because the federal government plans to introduce reforms in the G-B Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, possibly changing its constitutional status.
A committee formed to introduce reforms has met a few times to suggest a possible way forward. G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rahman is also part of the committee, which is headed by Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2016.