Pakistan: Traders begin 2-day nationwide strike

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan 

A two-day shutter down strike against the controversial tax reforms by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan began on Tuesday, bringing the commercial activities to a standstill across the country.

Most of the markets, shopping centers, and shops remained shut in the capital Islamabad, commercial capital Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad, and even several cities of Azad Kashmir.

The strike call is given by several traders associations coinciding with an anti-government march by Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) — one of the country’s mainstream religious parties — which is proceeding toward Islamabad to seek resignation of premier Khan.

“The government has destroyed our businesses and many traders have closed their shops due to high taxes and price hike”, Mehar Elahi, president of a trader association in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told Anadolu Agency on phone.

“This is a message for the government that we are not happy from their policies,” Gohar Ali, a shopkeeper in the capital Islamabad, told Anadolu Agency.

Khan’s cash-strapped government, which is already facing a tax shortfall of Rs 500 billion (slightly over $7 billion), says it will not retreat from its economic and tax collection policies.

The government has set an ambitious tax target of Rs 5,000 billion (over $70 billion) for the current fiscal year, which, according to economists, is less likely to achieve keeping the country’s ailing economy in view.

Khan has been under criticism over soaring prices of essential commodities, including gas and electricity, following a $6 billion bailout package for his country by the IMF during the last few months.

Opposition and traders accuse the two former IMF employees — Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh and Governor of Central (State) Bank Baqar Raza — of toeing the IMF’s agenda to ” destroy the country’s economy”.

Under the bailout package, the government will no longer control the dollar value against rupee (local currency). Instead, it will be dealt by the open market.

Also, the government is bound to withdraw exemptions offered in various taxes amounting to around Rs 350 billion in the budget for 2019-20.

Islamabad’s current external debt stands at over $100 billion — the bulk of it borrowed from the World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, the U.S., China, France and other countries.

The South Asian nuclear state has conceded a loss of $100 billion since 2002 after it joined the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

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