ISLAMABAD: The trader community observed a shutterdown strike throughout the country on Tuesday to protest measures in the budget designed to document their transactions, with wide swathes of urban markets heeding the strike call.
During the day talks between the government and the trader community broke down, ending hopes of an early end to the strike.
The markets are expected to largely remain closed on Wednesday (today) too, as a cluster of five traders’ associations has called for a two-day protest against the recently introduced measures aimed at widening the tax net and ensuring that retailers pay their taxes.
The strike coincided with the launch of the anti-government ‘Azadi march’ by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl.
The strike call was given after the failure of a round of negotiations between the traders’ leaders and the authorities, led by the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Federal Board of Revenue chairman Shabbar Zaidi.
PM’s financial adviser asks businessmen to stop avoiding paying taxes as latter warn of more strikes
After the inconclusive talks, Dr Shaikh criticised traders for not paying their taxes, pointing out that out of 3.5 million traders, only 392,000 were in the tax net.
Islamabad saw patchy observance of the strike, but traders in Rawalpindi were able to give a powerful message of unity as all main commercial hubs there kept their shutters down throughout the day.
By and large Punjab responded well to the strike call as traders kept their businesses closed in most of the markets and shopping centres on the call of All Pakistan Anjuman-i-Tajiran (APAT).
“We straightaway reject the ‘IMF’s agenda in the country’. Since the government is playing ‘meeting-meeting’ with us, we warn it to either accept our demands or face more shutterdown strikes in the near future,” said Ashraf Bhatti, APAT’s president, at a protest camp in Lahore. Businessmen kept their shops closed in a majority of the markets.
In Multan, most of the markets remained closed and in Faisalabad traders observed strike in the cloth, jewellery, hosiery and yarn markets. However, there was a partial strike in all eight bazaars of Clock Tower.
Traders’ representatives reported that the strike was observed in most markets in Vehari, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha, Muzaffargarh, Okara, Sialkot, Toba Tek Singh and Gujranwala.
In Sindh, trade centres, main markets and bazaars, shopping malls and business establishments remained closed in all big and small cities, except Karachi where various trade associations’ representatives, who on Monday had claimed to have come on the same page over closure of the markets, suffered a setback as some major markets remained open throughout the day.
In Karachi, the majority of markets observed the strike as the hub of wholesale and retail trade all along M.A. Jinnah road remained shut.
But markets in Korangi, Landhi and Malir only partially answered the strike call.
Anis Majeed, patron-in-chief of the Karachi Wholesale Grocers Association, said traders had never wanted to close their businesses, but were now forced to shut them down due to the cumbersome method of tax collection through a documentation process which cannot be done overnight.
Neighborhood markets, such as the Hyderi Market in North Nazimabad, and two main markets of F.B. Area, (Water Pump and Karimabad), and most of Liaquatabad markets were doing normal business.
A large portion of Saddar around Empress Market as well as Clifton and Defence areas were also open.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, businessmen observed the strike in the provincial capital Peshawar and other districts of the province.
All shopping centres in Peshawar remained closed as the traders’ leaders frequently visited different areas to ensure success of the protest.
A partial strike was observed in other cities of the province where some shops and markets were closed while others remained open.
Meanwhile, a complete shutterdown strike was observed across Balochistan, including Quetta, where all bazaars, shops, business centres, plazas, markets and business establishments remained closed throughout the day.
The shopping areas of the provincial capital presented a deserted look as most vehicles remained off the roads.
The strike was also observed in Dera Murad Jamali, Sibi, Hub, Dera Allahyar, Khuzdar, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai, Chaman, Pishin, Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur, Dalbandin, Noshki and other cities of the province. However, on the outskirts of Quetta city some shops opened in the afternoon.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019