LAHORE: Barring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad, several businesses in markets across most cities and towns in the rest of the country remained closed for the day on Wednesday in response to a second call for a shutter-down strike in less than one week against extension in the scope and increase in the rate of withholding tax on all type of banking transaction for non-taxpayers.
The strike, called by the Khalid Pervez group of the All Pakistan Anjuman-i-Tajran (APAT), was more effective in Sindh and Balochistan, as well as in smaller, remoter towns of Punjab, than in its bigger urban centres where a large majority of retailers and wholesalers decided against pulling down shutters for yet another day within a week.
Take a look: Traders observe strike against new tax
The traders in most major cities, excluding Karachi, across the country had enforced a complete shutter-down on Saturday on the call of the rival Naeem Mir group of the APAT.
The protesting traders organised rallies and demonstrations against the banking transaction tax in different cities throughout the country and blocked the G.T. Road in Gujranwala for over an hour. But the strike remained peaceful as a whole.
The government, in the budget for the current financial year, extended the scope of withholding tax on cash withdrawals to all type of banking transactions, and doubled its rate from 0.3pc to 0.6pc (with a floor of Rs50,000 per day) to punish non-taxpayers and encourage them to come into the tax net.
In Sindh, majority of markets and commercial centres in Karachi, Hyderabad and other cities remained completely closed for the day. In Sukkur, however, a partial strike was observed as many traders chose to ignore the call. In Karachi, most businesses reopened in the afternoon “to facilitate the people”.
The Karachi Tajir Ittehad, a platform for the city’s nearly 300 market and traders’ associations, claimed the strike was a complete success and called for withdrawal of the controversial tax.
“This harsh [withholding] tax is not acceptable in any way,” said Ateeq Mir of the Karachi Tajir Ittehad. “Today’s successful strike reflects the trading community’s sentiments.”
A complete shutter-down strike was observed in Quetta and the district headquarters of Balochistan. Rice mill owners also observed strike. The protesting traders staged rallies in different cities and towns.
Traders’ leaders in Quetta, Abdur Rahim Kakar and Yasin Mengal, claimed that successful enforcement of the strike had proved that the traders would not pay banking tax.
In Punjab, the strike drew a mixed response in different cities and markets. Markets in cities like Lahore, Multan and Gujranwala, for example, remained partially closed. In Faisalabad, Sahiwal, Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Chakwal, Muzaffargarh, Gujrat and Sialkot the traders stayed away from the strike call on the plea that they already had enforced a complete shutter-down on Saturday and kept their shops open.
In districts like Okara and Toba Tek Singh, the traders nevertheless observed a total strike.
Later in the day, the Khalid Pervez group claimed that the strike had been a big success in Lahore, in particular, and across Pakistan in general. Its general secretary, Abdur Razzaque Babber, told Dawn that his group would not become part of any agreement with the government nor compromise on the demand for withdrawal of the punitive tax. “We will soon announce out future course of action to get our demand accepted by the government,” he said.
The rival group claimed that the ‘unsuccessful’ strike had damaged the traders’ cause and encouraged the government, which was under pressure after the successful countrywide shutter-down at the weekend.
It said the Naeem Mir group had called a meeting of all the trade bodies on Aug 10 to thrash out a future strategy, appealing to the Khalid Pervez Group to attend the meeting for the “greater cause of the business community”.
The rival APAT groups were divided on both the mode of protests against the banking transaction tax and the date for countrywide shutter-down strike from the very beginning. These differences intensified when the Naeem Mir group cut a deal with the government on the issue, resulting in reduction in the rate of tax for non-taxpayers from 0.6 per cent to 0.3pc till Sept 30.
The Khalid Pervez group rejected the pact and called a countrywide shutter-down and wheel-jam, forcing its rivals to backtrack on their agreement with the government and call for strike on Aug 1.