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Photo Source: Pamir Times

Pakistan Reader# 505, 10 January 2023

Protests in Gilgit Baltistan: Different sections, different demands, single problem

Pakistan has refused to provide any political status to the occupied GB region and has been treating it as a colony

D. Suba Chandran

Yesterday’s editorial in Dawn (“GB Protests,” 09 January 2023) should have been the first major reference in a national daily on the ongoing protests in different parts of Gilgit Baltistan. Since December 2022, different parts of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, there have been protests in Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza and Ghizer. According to Dawn, “Massive protests held across Gilgit-Baltistan over the past several days have united the region’s geographically and religiously diverse communities, as well as supporters of different political parties. Moreover, traders’ bodies in the northern region have also backed the demonstrations. GB’s people have taken to the streets in freezing temperatures for a raft of reasons, which include questions about land rights, taxation, extensive power cuts as well as a reduction in the amount of subsidised wheat the centre provides the region.”

The reasons for these protests seem to be the following: taxation without representation, power crisis, land accusation by the Pakistan State, and the wheat crisis. Like in the ongoing Gwadar protests, there are different sets of demands by different sections of the people in Gilgit Baltistan. Different demands have made different sections of the people in GB come together.

Taxation without representation
The business community is agitated by the introduction of a new revenue bill. In December, the Pamir Times, (“Shutter-down strike observed in various parts of Gilgit-Baltistan in protest against tax imposition, khalsa sarkar law and other issues,” 28 December 2022) reported: “Traders and members of various political and social organizations observed a shutters-down strike in different parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, keeping markets closed and vehicles off the roads. The call for strike was given by Anjuman-e-Tarijraan (Traders Association) to register their protest against imposition of taxes in the Gilgit-Baltistan, to condemn ‘land-grabbing on the pretext of “Khalsa Sarkar”, a colonial era law, and to condemn the massive wheat and power crisis in the region.” Later in January 2023, the Voice of Vienna, (“Protests Intensify In Gilgit-Baltistan Over Land Grabbing And Heavy Taxes,” 4 January 2023): “GB traders are continuing to protest against the ‘Gilgit-Baltistan Revenue Authority Bill 2022,’ which was passed in October 2022 and imposed new taxes on 135 items.” Taxation has been a primary issue by the local people against Pakistan; the reference is, no taxation without representation. Pakistan has refused to provide any political status to the occupied GB region, and has been treating it as a colony.

Land grabbing by the State
The second issue that is agitating the local people is related to State led land acquisition. While acquisition by people outside the GB (from Pakistan) has been an issue for a long time, the CPEC projects in the region has added a new dimension. Like in Gwadar, the people of GB are unhappy with Pakistan acquiring land to implement CPEC projects. While the traders have been protesting against taxation, local communities have been against the land grabbing. For example, the Pamir Times reported in early December a protest in the Gilgit region; the news report, (“Locals of Minawar accuse Gilgit administration of land grabbing, protest,” 21 December 2022) read: “The protesters said that the administration is involved in snatching the locals’ land by declaring them “Khalsa Sarkar,” a term used to identify lands that the government says belongs to the state. Locals across Gilgit-Baltistan have been opposing the Khalsa Sarkar law, a reminiscent of times when the region was ruled by the Dogra and Sikh invaders and occupiers. Locals believe that the law is being used to deprive them of their common ancestral properties.” While the locals consider the land as a livelihood and their birthright, for Pakistan, GB and its geography is a CPEC gateway.

Continuing power crisis across GB from Chitral to Hunza
The third issue is over the recent wheat and power crisis. According to the Voice of Vienna report, which is widely referred by other news agencies, “GB is facing an unprecedented power crisis with daily 18-22 hours long load-shedding.” In December, the Pamir Times, one of the few news resources from GB referred to another protest in Chitral, where the people were “without electricity for the last one year.” (“Fed up of 22-hours long blackouts daily, residents of Koh, Chitral, protest,” 10 December 2022)

In an analysis (“Perenial Power Crisis in Hunza: Govt’s Failures and the Way Forward,” 25 December 2022) in the Pamir Times by Engr Abid Tashi in December 2022, wrote about the state of electricity in another sub-region of GB: “The Water and Power Department, since the last three to four decades, has miserably failed to fulfill the power demands of Hunza.”
Though the protests in GB has brought different sections with different demands together, the problem is the same. Dawn, in its editorial yesterday, nailed this: “Considering that the people of GB have united over these issues, the state has to engage with them, listen to their concerns and arrive at mutually agreed solutions. Ramming ‘solutions’ down the people’s throats will only aggravate matters.”

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