KARACHI: The federal government’s decision to charge 0.6 per cent withholding tax on each bank transaction of Rs100,000 on Tuesday triggered protests by traders in different towns and cities of the country. Incensed traders staged noisy demonstrations to protest against implementation of the tax with many markets closed as part of the agitation.

Although levied on non-filers, the protesting traders argued that even the tax filers would not be spared. They have warned of extending the protest if the decision is not withdrawn.

“Why should I pay withholding tax of Rs600 on every Rs100,000 I earn?” asked Khalid Mehmood, a cloth merchant in Karachi, where the Sindh Tajir Ittehad (STI) and the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, along with other businessmen, vent their anger in front of the Karachi Press Club.

Carrying banners and placards, they shouted slogans against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former president Asif Ali Zardari and the country’s foreign ministers. “We don’t accept these unlawful taxes,” said one of the protesters.

Mehmood said: “There are more than 70 other taxes that we pay.” He said the government was implementing all the taxes because it had taken loans worth billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and “now they are increasing taxes just to fill their bank accounts”.

Terming the withholding tax ‘extortion’, STI chief Sheikh Habib said if the government didn’t withdraw the tax, then the protests would be expanded to a country-wide shutdown of markets.

Pak Abbasia Federation Information Secretary Noor Ahmed Abbasi said the government should take money from politicians’ bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland to pay the IMF back.

The government’s decision also angered the traders’ community in Sukkur and other parts of upper Sindh. Traders’ organisations in Sukkur staged a protest rally from Tajir Secretariat in Sarafa Bazaar to Minara Road. Shouting slogans against the government, they termed the tax an ‘anti-trader policy’.

Demanding immediate withdrawal of the tax, Sukkur Small Traders President Jawed Memon warned of a complete shutter-down protest.

In a demonstration in Hyderabad, Ziauddin Ahmed of the Hyderabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry said: “The banks don’t have the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR)’s data of taxpayers. Even the FBR’s data on tax filers is incomplete.”

Abdul Waheed Sheikh of the Anjuman-e-Tajran Hyderabad said the tax would promote the Hundi culture, especially with regard to remittances. Traders’ bodies in Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan also rejected the government’s tax decision. They blocked roads and caused traffic jams for about two hours. “We reject this unfair tax,” said a businessman, while another termed it “economic murder of traders”.

Meanwhile, while talking to the media at the Multan Press Club, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf national organiser Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his party would stand shoulder to shoulder with the traders’ community. “The tax would have an extremely adverse impact on the national economy.”

While the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called upon the government to immediately withdraw the advance tax, fearing adverse effects on the business activities across the country, different chambers of commerce and industry in Balochistan have warned of a province-wide strike.

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