Customs law’s extension to Malakand causes outcry

Political parties threaten to agitate, move court of law for relief Under the rules, a summary in such cases is submitted to the governor through the chief minister.

Among the districts in Pata are Swat, Chitral, Buner, Shangla, Malakand, Lower Dir and Dir Upper and some parts of Kohistan district. As the extension of the customs law to Pata is an unpopular step, the KP governor has tried to distance himself from it.

A spokesperson for the governor said on Saturday in a handout that the provincial government had moved a summary in Oct 2015 asking the then governor for extending the Customs Act to Pata and that the summary was forwarded to the president for approval. He added that after the president’s approval in 2016, a notification was issued for extension of that law to Pata.

Before the issuance of the notification, three major taxation laws, including the Customs Act, 1969, Sales Tax Act, 1990, and Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, were not applicable to Pata. In May 1974, the Customs Act was extended to Pata through the Pata (Applications of Laws) (Second) Regulation, 1974. However, the move was reversed after public protests in August next year. While rejecting the extension of the Customs Act to Pata, the Tahafuz-i-Haqooq Malakand Committee, which represents the people of Malakand division, announced on Saturday that it would hold protest rallies across the region against the government’s move besides challenging it in the court of law.

The committee members, including Malik Liaquat Ali, Malik Mohammad Rasool Khan and Malik Zahir Shah, told reporters at the Peshawar Press Club that all political parties and civil society organisations had decided to take out rallies across Malakand division against the customs law’s extension to Pata on April 10. They said if the federal government didn’t withdraw the relevant notification, the people from across Malakand setting aside their political affiliations would march on Islamabad and observe a sit-in outside parliament.

The committee members said the people of the region had the copies of the agreement the federal government had made with them to declare that Malakand division is a tax-free zone until 2060 and that no tax will be levied there until the end of the agreement. “We will also move the Supreme Court against the extension of the Customs Act to Pata. No one in the entire region is ready to pay that tax,” Mr. Liaquat said.

Also in the day, PPP provincial general secretary Humayun Khan protested the extension of the Customs Act to Malakand and declared it a sheer violation of the agreement between the government and Malakand people. He said his party would strongly react if the government didn’t withdraw the move. In a statement, the PPP leader said the PML-N ruling the centre should remember the sacrifices rendered by the people of Malakand for the restoration of peace in the country, including vacation of their houses during the military operation against militants.

He said it was the government’s duty to compensate the people of the violence-hit areas instead of imposing new taxes on them. Also, Qaumi Watan Party leader and MPA Bakht Baidar Khan condemned the federal government for extending the customs act to Malakand division and said his party would make an effective policy to get it reversed. He said all political parties and civil society organisations were on the same page against the federal government’s move and would announce a unified stand and strategy on it soon.

The QWP leader said the federal government collected huge sums of foreign funds in the name of Malakand floods, terrorism and earthquake but didn’t offer them to the local residents and instead, it had enforced the customs law in the region, which was unacceptable. Similarly, ANP central additional general secretary Wajid Ali Khan said the government should honour the agreement on tax-free status for Malakand division. He said both federal and provincial governments were responsible for the extension of the customs law to the region and that the law could not be extended through an executive order of the governor unless people were taken on board.

In Mingora, a multi-party conference took place against the extension of the Custom Act to Pata. Besides the representatives of all political parties, traders and transporters were in attendance as well. Participants said Swatis had rendered great sacrifices for the country against militancy but the government had gifted them with ‘financial burdens’. Miangul Shahriyar Amirzeb, member of the Swat royal family, said the Swat ruler had handed a prosperous and peaceful state to Pakistan but the government had pushed it into backwardness.

Other participants said the Custom Act would cause factories and industries to close down in the region and thus, causing massive unemployment. In Shangla district, political leaders and traders threatened to stage a sit-in against the customs law.–Published in Dawn on April 3, 2016.

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