In the mid-1760s, the establishment of Vice-Admiralty Courts and enactment of Stamp and Revenue Acts for the Thirteen American Colonies of British Empire are precursors for American War of Independence. A year after the end of Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) British parliament decided for the first time to impose direct taxes on the American Colonies under their occupation requiring all printed documents used in the colonies to bear an embossed revenue stamp in addition of taxes on Sugar and Tea production under Revenue Act 1764 and Stamp Act 1765. Similarly, the establishment of Vice-Admiralty Courts were juryless courts with jurisdiction over local legal matters such as disputes between merchants and seamen. These courts were run by judges that were appointed by the British Kingdome who were receiving a 5% award when they found someone guilty. The decisions were made solely by the judge without the use of trials by jury, which was a fundamental right of Englishmen enshrined under the provisions of Magna Carta.
The students of American history may acknowledge the facts that during the course of American revolutionary era (1750-1783), arguments pursued by American people under British colonies were mostly based on resolution of disputes surrounding self-governance, representation, parliamentary sovereignty and taxation. The Opposuit Natura steps taken by the British Crown and Parliament outraged the colonists because they created taxes without their consent since they had no representation in Parliament; they eliminated trial by jury and put judges appointed by the Crown in charge of trials, rather than local judges; they created a new regime of commissioners to implement and enforce the regulations and prosecutions.
Colonial assemblies condemned the laws considering them to be against the principles of natural justice, nemo iudex in causa sua (for the rule against bias) and audi alteram partem (the right to a fair hearing) claiming the taxation was unlawful based on the fact that they had no representation in Parliament. “Taxation without representation is tyranny” was a phrase, generally attributed to James Otis, reflecting the resentment of American colonists at being taxed by a British Parliament to which they elected no representatives which later became an anti-British slogan before the Revolution. The Declaration of Rights and Grievances was a fourteen-point resolution passed on October 19, 1765 by the Stamp Act Congress, declaring that taxes imposed on British colonists without their formal consent were unconstitutional. Contrary to the demands, The British supported the concept of virtual representation, which was based on the belief that a Member of Parliament would virtually represent them in the empire and there was no need for a specific representative from the colonies. They were also manically pained at being denied the right to a trial by jury. Violent protests throughout the colonies were observed setting the stage for the American independence movement.
The situation in Gilgit-Baltistan is of no difference with that of the American revolutionary era, having Vice-Admiralty Courts, taxation with virtual representation. Complete shutter down strike was observed across Gilgit-Baltistan during Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s visit to Skardu on October 25, 2017 against imposition of taxes on local people by federal government without determining the constitutional status of the region. Central Traders Association (Anjuman E Tajran) of Gilgit-Baltistan supported by the top crop of the area’s opposition parties joined hands with the GB’s main traders’ association to take on the GB government over taxation and representation issues. The message by the people was wide clear as the ruling PML (N) could only gather 150 individuals for public address of the Prime Minister and due to non-participation of public, the Prime Minister was forced to cancel his speech. Similar protests were also called in the past and are now became the main slogan against the imposition of taxes, against the removal of subsidy, negligence of the region for its due share in CPEC and for the constitutional representation.
The Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 extends to the whole of Pakistan specified in Article 1(2) of the Constitution whereas the territories Gilgit-Baltistan do not constitute a part of Pakistan in terms of Article 1(2) of the Constitution and therefore are not federally administered territories as mentioned in the agenda. As such, the Income Tax Law in Pakistan does not extend to these areas which are treated as foreign territories as far as application of Pakistan’s tax laws are concerned. “No Taxation without Representation” is the slogan of the youth, traders and political activists in Gilgit-Baltistan. Amjad Hussain Advocate Provincial President of PPP, a federalist party in Gilgit-Baltistan says taxation should be compatible with political rights.
Similar discontent is felt by Bar Councils and lawyers’ strikes have paralyzed the entire judicial system of Gilgit-Baltistan. The GB lawyers’ associations are on strike against the vacant posts of judges in the chief court, supreme appellate court and election tribunal in the region as the government failed to appoint members of Supreme Appellate Court. Similarly, judges of the election tribunals have left the jobs without concluding the election related matters due to non-payment of perks and privileges and non-extension in their tenures. Hundreds of cases of the government and public had been pending in the court due to vacant posts of judges. The lawyers’ leaders alleged that the Chief Justice of Supreme Applied Court Rana Shamim wanted to pick non-local judges in violation of governance order 2009.
Gilgit-Baltistan is the gateway of CPEC, guarantor and reservoir of Pakistan’s water and energy requirements. Lessons must be learned from the history of British administration of American colonies and similar mistakes may not be repeated. Leadership in Islamabad is engaged in power-politics and political brawls of each against all neglecting a volcano up in the mountainous region. Issues of political, constitutional, representation, taxation and judicial importance must be considered and amicable resolution be sought by the civil-military leadership of the country addressing the righteous demands of the local populace.
The writer is an Assistant Professor at the Karakoram International University Gilgit and former Secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan Local Council Board. Email. email@example.com