ISLAMABAD, Jan 28: The Northern Areas traders have asked the government to reopen the Skardu-Kargil and Astor-Srinagar roads and wind up operations of the Customs Department in the region. They also called for allowing access of the Northern Areas to Tajikistan via Wakhan Corridor to harness the trade potential of the area to the full.These demands were submitted by a delegation of the Northern Areas Chamber of Commerce and Industry to the federal government.
A delegation of the chamber, headed by its president, Javed Hussain, called on Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs (KANA) Qamar Zaman Kaira and presented to him a list of demands that includes keeping the KKH open round the year and calling back the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) staff from Northern Areas.
Javed Hussain told Dawn that in principle Pakistan government could not impose any tax without giving representation to the people of Northern Areas in its parliament. He cited a Supreme Court of Pakistan verdict of 1998 according to which the government could not levy tax on the people of the region without giving them basic democratic and other rights as enjoyed by other citizens of Pakistan.
The FBR was not authorised to collect taxes or levy any duty in Gilgit-Baltistan which was a disputed area, had its own assembly and did not fall under the ambit of the Constitution of Pakistan.
“We demand complete withdrawal of FBR from Gilgit-Baltistan in the same way as in Azad Jammu and Kashmir where there was no FBR because it was also a disputed and autonomous region,” Mr Hussain said.
Mr Hussain said that under the Kohistan Development Fund the government was charging one per cent duty on all import goods at Sost Dry Port, which belonged to Northern Areas.
He said all the duties and FBR taxes now in force in Gilgit-Baltistan dated back to the days of two military dictators, Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf.
He said Mr Kaira had been informed that reopening of the two roads between Indian-held Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan would greatly contribute to the economic development of the region, and also to the cause of peace.
He said it was beyond the comprehension of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan why the Karakuram Highway was closed every year from December 31 to April 30. The closure was very harmful for the region’s trade.
The chamber has also demanded the government to link the KKH with an existing road made by China that connected Northern Areas with the Wakhan Corridor and could be further extended to Tajikistan.
“This is a historic route and can be the backbone of regional trade if utilised properly,” Mr Hussain said.
He said that president Musharraf had announced that Northern Areas would remain as “energy and trade corridor” but no practical steps had so far been taken to ensure that. The chamber demanded that Gilgit-Baltistan be declared a tax-free zone to attract international investment for harnessing the area’s huge potential for power generation. Dawn