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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 716, 30 January 2024

Gilgit-Baltistan: In a state of continuous protest



GB witnessed a deepening of unrest as the region observed a third consecutive day of complete shutdown and wheel-jam strikes

Dhriti Mukherjee

In Focus

On 29 January, the Awami Action Committee (AAC), a coalition of political and religious entities, rejected the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) government’s decision to withdraw the increase in the price of subsidized wheat. While protesters in Nagar halted their march following this move, the AAC claimed that protests would only be called off once all 15 demands had been met. AAC representative Faizan Mir added that important stakeholders had not been consulted for this decision, while another representative, Najaf Ali, said that the protest had been “postponed for some days” but would resume in Baltistan if demands were not accepted.
On 28 January, GB witnessed a deepening of unrest as the region observed a third consecutive day of complete shutdown and wheel-jam strikes. 28 January also marked the 24th consecutive day of daily sit-ins held at Yadgar-i-Shuhada Skardu. The AAC’s earlier call for protests has evolved into a month-long sustained movement, paralyzing routine life in the region. The chief organizer of AAC, Ehsan Ali, pointed out that “GB residents have been facing a 22-hour electricity shortage in education, health, and other basic facilities.”
 
The demands of the protestors
While the roots of the protest lie in the government’s decision to increase the price of subsidized wheat, many other demands have been put forth by the AAC during the course of the demonstrations. Ali highlighted the “injustice” behind removing the subsidy on wheat, given that GB had subsidies on only ten products, which were being removed gradually since 1970. The AAC claimed that the protests would not end until their 15 demands were met. Some of the main demands include setting the price of wheat to the 2022 level, withdrawing taxes, giving locals land ownership rights, canceling leases to outsiders allowing them to explore minerals, and the allocation of Diamer-Bhasha Dam royalties to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The protests have been characterized by marches, demonstrations, strikes and gained momentum across various districts, including Hunza, Nagar, Skardu, and Ghizer.
 
Implementation of Plan B leads to an intensification of strikes
On 23 January, the AAC under Ali decided to implement ‘Plan B’ of the protest strategy, which called for an intensification of demonstrations. It involved a complete shutter-down strike in Skardu on 24 January, followed by region-wide protests starting on 26 January. The strike paralyzed life in GB, with closed businesses, disrupted transportation, and a significant impact on daily activities. On 28 January, thousands of protestors marched on the Karakoram Highway from Nagar to Gilgit. Ali highlighted that the movement expanded beyond the initial demands to incorporate improved electricity supply and the repeal of Finance Act 2022.
 
Response to the protests
The protests have received support from various quarters, including opposition members in the GB Assembly. Opposition leader Kazim Mesum and others expressed solidarity with the demonstrators, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the protesters’ demands. The President of Anjuamn-e-Tajeran Skardu,Ghulam Abbas Athar, highlighted that despite protesting for a month in harsh weather conditions, the government has not taken the issue seriously. The GB’s transporters association and drivers’ union leaders also participated in the sit-ins. An editorial in Dawn pointed out that while Pakistan’s government otherwise describes GB as an “integral part of Pakistan,” when any of the region’s issue are brought up, it conveniently becomes a “disputed territory of Kashmir under de facto control of Pakistan.” The editorial also commended the “resilience” of GB’s people, given that they face energy shortages and a “top-heavy governance structure.” Another editorial in Dawn questioned the government’s decision to focus on governance in GB instead of recognising its people as “full-fledged citizens of Pakistan.” This editorial asserted that the decision to do so despite GB acceding to Pakistan in 1947, its integration being “conditional to the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute,” and the region being “central to CPEC,” goes against Pakistan’s “national interests.”
 
Action taken by the government
Despite the prolonged protests and disruptions, the government’s response remains a subject of dissatisfaction among the demonstrators. Ali emphasized that the government’s reluctance to address their demands compelled the implementation of more robust protest plans. On 29 January, GB Chief Minister’s Secretariat said that the government’s decision to withdraw the increase in the price of subsidised wheat was a unanimous one. GB Assembly member Fathullah Khan added that the decision was made following consultations with both members of the GB parliament and representatives of protesters from Nagar, Baltistan and Diamer. On 26 January, GB’s Governor, Syed Mehdi Shah, engaged in discussions with President Dr Arif Alvi in Islamabad. The president acknowledged the gravity of the situation and conveyed that he had raised the issues, including the wheat subsidy matter, with the caretaker prime minister and finance minister. Despite the withdrawal of the price hike and these dialogues, the protesters remained resolute in their demands, emphasizing the need for concrete actions. An editorial in Dawn has urged the federal government to use “dialogue, conciliation, and participatory approach” to resolve the “chronic” issues of GB.
 
References
Jamil Nagri, “GB protesters’ key demand met, protests continue,” Dawn, 30 January 2024
Jamil Nagri, “Protests in Gilgit-Baltistan bring life to standstill,” Dawn, 29 January 2024
Jamil Nagri, “Pressure mounts on authorities as GB protests widen,” Dawn, 28 January 2024
Jamil Nagri, “Life in GB paralysed as protests over wheat price hike spread,” Dawn, 27 January 2024
Jamil Nagri, “GB wheat protests set to intensify from today,” Dawn, 24 January 2024
Sajjad Ahmad, “The crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Dawn, 20 January 2024
Jamil Nagri, “Protests erupt in Gilgit-Baltistan against increase in wheat price,” Dawn, 3 January 2024
Afzal Ali Shigri, “Social welfare for GB,” Dawn, 12 January 2024
Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, “Procrastination,” Dawn, 25 March 2023

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