On the sixth consecutive day of their protest against the imposition of taxes on Gilgit-Baltistan’s residents, a large number of traders, transporters and other people of the region began a march on Tuesday towards Gilgit from Skardu in a bid to mount pressure on the federal government for withdrawal of the taxes till provision of a constitutional status to the region.
The strikes begun on Dec 21 in 10 districts of the region and sit-ins at Skardu’s Yadgar Chowk and Gilgit’s Etihad Chowk have been attracting thousands of people despite harsh weather conditions.
Travelling in around 500 vehicles, protesters taking part in the march included members of political and religious parties of the region. The protesters are scheduled to arrive in Gilgit on Wednesday where they will join the sit-in going on in the city.
According to sources, several rounds of talks between officials of the GB government and the protesters since the beginning of the protest, have remained unfruitful.
Leaders of the protesters have accused the GB government of trying to foil the protest against the imposition of taxes.
Addressing the protesters in Gilgit, Leader of the Opposition in the GB Legislative Assembly Muhammad Shafi Khan said that the people of the region had never opposed the taxes. But, he added, they wanted the federal government to give a constitutional status to the region if it wanted to collect taxes from its people.
He said the GB people had been paying taxes like those living in other parts of the country, but they did not enjoy all rights of a citizen of the country. “We are patriotic people and we have rendered many sacrifices for Pakistan, but unfortunately we are the most ignored people of the country.”
He said the protest would continue in the region till the acceptance of their demands.
Mr Khan accused the GB chief minister and members of his cabinet of deliberately trying to turn a peaceful protest into a violent movement.
Fatullah Khan, secretary general of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s GB chapter, called upon the Pakistan Army to play its role in resolving the issue.
GB Administration Action Committee leader Maulana Sultan Raees said that GB was a disputed territory and imposition of taxes on its citizens was unlawful and unconstitutional. “When the government wants to collect taxes from GB people they are declared citizens of the country and when they demand equal rights it is said that the region is a disputed territory. The government is trying to blackout media coverage of the protest,” he added.
Markazi Anjuman-i-Tajiran president Muhammad Ibrahim accused both the federal and GB governments of cheating the people of the region. “Many promises have been made with GB people, but no one is serious about taking any practical step,” he added.
GB assembly member Javed Hussain asked “why GB people have been waiting for their constitutional rights for decades”.
Addressing the protesters in Skardu, GB council member Syed Abbas said the GB people would not pay taxes until a constitutional status was provided to their region.
Meanwhile, the GB administration has decided to take some security measures for maintaining law and order in the region.
According to a press release, the decision was taken at a meeting attended by the commandant of Force Command Northern Areas, GB Chief Minister Dr Kazim Niaz, IGP Sabir Ahmed and representatives of intelligence agencies.
In a late night development, negotiations between the protesters and the authorities succeeded, leading to the possibility that the march would be called off, the sources said.