Islamabad: Not many are trying to openly defend the decision of income tax imposition in Gilgit-Baltistan. At least not the elected representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan, mostly belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party!
In fact, the GBLA deputy speaker, Jamil Ahmed of PPP, has gone a step ahead and asked the people to “not pay taxes”, because, “it is illegal and unconstitutional”, in his words.
GB Council member Professor Ibrahim and Amjad Hussain Advocate, both from PPP, independent candidate MLA Rizvi, MLA Janbaz, MLA Mirza Hussain, Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehan of PMLN, Karakoram National Movement, Jamat – e – Islami, Balawaristan National Front, PPP, workers and leaders, and a vast majority of the general public have rejected and condemned the news regarding imposition of income tax in the region.
The GB Chamber of Commerce has also threatened to launch a movement if the tax imposition bid is not withdrawn.
GBLA Speaker Wazir Baig, known for his independent opinions, has openly supported the taxation idea, terming it to be vital for the government’s self-reliance and sustainability of development initiatives in the region. He has said that without generating revenues through taxes, the GB government will never be able to realize the dream of empowerment and decision making.
Those opposing the taxation bid are saying that since Gilgit-Baltistan is not a constitutional part of the country so taking taxes from the region is tantamount to exploitation of the local population. Absence of the GB representatives from the Pakistani parliament is also being cited as a reason for opposition.
Some are also saying that the Pakistan government has been getting billions of rupees every year from Gilgit-Baltistan, in lieu of General Sales Tax and taxes on the telecommunication companies, which are deducted in advance. The people are maintaining that without giving constitutional rights and status to the people, the government of Pakistan’s collection of taxes from the region is illegal.
Supporters of the taxation regime are using more utilitarian views; including the oft repeated argument that without generating own resources the GB government will always remain dependent on Islamabad, which has economic and political repercussions for the region.
It was expected that the people governed without taxation for decades would refuse to share their hard earned monies with a government which is highly unpopular, because of charges of corruption, nepotism, fiscal fraud and many other ills, real or perceived.
Many are also arguing that since the GB Council is not an elected body, it should not have the authority to make vital decisions related to the region’s future. The proponents of this argument seem to be ignorant of the Empowerment Order, which has concentrated most of the vital powers and legislative sectors under the authority of GB Council.
It is this realization, at some levels, perhaps, that recently led to fissures and friction between GBLA members and some members of the GB Council, most of them being non-locals, headed by the country’s prime minister who is not directly answerable to people of Gilgit-Baltistan, having his electorate elsewhere. Similar is the case with Mian Manzoor Wattoo, the federal minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan affairs, who has little or no personal political stakes in this region.
There are reports that Islamabad has been pressing GB to generate own resources, instead of asking for money, every now and then.
If nothing, this taxation episode has exposed the deeper fault-lines in the region’s governance mechanism. Whether the GB Council will be able to have its way, by imposing income tax, or the people’s reaction will force it to withdraw the decision, only time can tell. For the time being the political stakes are too high for any party to support the taxation bid openly.