Extending taxation network must be a gradual process

People of Malakand Division do not seem ready to follow the Customs Act 1969

Shamim Shahid April 10, 2016

PESHAWAR: Peshawar

The action of extending the Customs Act 1969 to the Malakand Division by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor has resulted in a hue and cry from locals who will be affected by the decision.

However, they are not the only ones as leaders of most political forces have opposed the move. It has been several days since people from far-flung areas have been protesting.

PATA’s inception

Malakand Division comprises seven districts. However, through an executive order issued in 1969, the three former princely states of Dir, Swat and Chitral, along with half of Kohistan, were included in Malakand which then had only four districts. The region was then declared as Provincially Administrative Tribal Areas (PATA).

Later, all these regions were included in Pakistan under Article 246 [about tribal areas] of the Constitution. However, recently Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra announced that the Customs Act 1969 will be extended to the Malakand Division, adding insult to injury for a region devastated by torrential rains in many parts.

In response to the criticism that came his way, Jhagra said the provincial government had recommended in October 2015 that his predecessor Sardar Mehtab extend the customs law to Kohistan and Malakand Division.

Jhagra added the then governor had sent the request of the provincial government to President Mamnoon Hussain for approval. “Therefore, in 2016, the president allowed the extension of the act to Malakand Division and Kohistan.”

Revoking reckoned

Besides the governor, K-P Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf also came under fire soon after the act was extended. But after the governor sent clarifications, PTI leaders from K-P also issued statements, denouncing the act.

PTI MPA Shaukat Yousafzai, who was elected from Peshawar, but belongs to Shangla, told The Express Tribune that extension of customs laws to Pata would be like taking revenge from these people. “We will raise the issue on every platform and will make sure the government gives it a second thought.”

Similarly, through Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Information Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani, the K-P government announced on April 5 that the government decided in principle to revoke the law.

Ghani said the CM was likely to send a summary to the president, requesting him to annul the customs act which was extended to Malakand. However, nothing seems to have been done regarding revoking of the act.

One of Ghani’s recent conversations with the media generated many questions. On the one hand, he said the government decided to revoke the extension of the act, while on the other, the decision to apply the law to Malakand was made unanimously.

“In fact, the provincial apex committee had decided about a year ago to extend the law to Malakand Division and impose customs duty on all non-customs paid items; particularly vehicles,” he said at the time. He added the provincial government had not taken the decision on its own. He justified the government’s choice by saying that the apex committee was informed so that non-custom paid vehicles were not used in acts of terrorism. Therefore, he suggested the government extend the law to PATA.

“After the attack on the Army Public School on December 16, 2014, the apex committee had taken a unanimous decision to extend the law to the region,” he said.

Interestingly, he was more recently of the view that there was visible improvement in the law and order situation all over Malakand Division. Therefore, the K-P government decided to approach the president to revoke the decision of extending the act.

Agitation persists

Leaders and stalwarts of different political parties are united against the act.

Protests have badly affected routine work. This, along with deaths and destruction caused by rain, has made life difficult for locals.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq called the extension of the act a “drone attack” on the people of Malakand.

Similarly, an Awami National Party K-P leader recalled that in 1960, rulers of independent princely states were promised exemption on all kinds of federal duties for 100 years.

Qaumi Watan Party zonal chairperson Fazlur Rehman Nono slammed the decision, saying, “It is time for the government to consider developing the area, but they are instead imposing taxes.” Similar are the views of people from trade and business circles.

Amid tensions

Revenue is essential for running the state, but the case of Malakand is different. Reactions confirm people from the region are not prepared to follow the act. They are economically weak. Therefore, Islamabad and Peshawar should work at a gradual pace for plans to extend the taxation network.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th,  2016.



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