KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Markets and wholesale merchants across Pakistan closed on Saturday in a strike by businesses against measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund to crack down on tax evasion and bolster the country’s depleted public finances.
In Karachi, the country’s main commercial city, around 80% of markets dealing in bulk goods were closed, said Atiq Mir, president of the All Karachi Traders Alliance, which represents hundreds of markets in the city.
"Government policies have created mistrust in trade and industry,” said Mir, who added that traders were already struggling with corrupt tax officials demanding bribes.
Similar strikes were called in other big business centers including the eastern city of Lahore, Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, and Multan, home to a celebrated ceramics industry.
Not all business associations joined the strike but the move underlines the pressure facing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which came to power last year promising millions of new jobs and welfare measures to help the poor.
Instead, like so many of its predecessors, it is having to impose tough austerity measures having been forced to turn to the IMF for Pakistan’s 13th bailout since the late 1980s.
In Karachi, calm prevailed around the main electronics market in the old city that would normally be bustling on a Saturday with traders selling everything from mobile phones to televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners.
A popular textiles market on Tariq Road in another part of the city was also closed as traders, already struggling to attract customers hit by a sliding rupee and inflation running at around 9%, shut up shop for the day.
Under the IMF bailout, signed this month, Pakistan is under heavy pressure to boost its tax revenues to plug a fiscal deficit which has ballooned to around 7% of its gross domestic product, as well as avert a looming balance of payments crisis.
*******A worker reads a sign on a closed shop during a shutter down strike called by the traders and business community against, what they say is harsh federal budget for the fiscal year 2019-20, and imposition of taxes by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in Peshawar, Pakistan July 13, 2019. Sign reads in Urdu: "countrywide shutter down strike against the IMF sponsored budget and economic murder of businessmen".