GILGIT: Amid a shutdown and transport strike across Gilgit-Baltistan on Friday against the land reforms, imposition of taxes, wheat shortage and prolonged blackouts in the region, GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid blamed the federal government for the issues being faced by the people.

Sources said negotiations between the chief minister and representatives of the protesters were held as the ongoing protest in Skardu entered ninth consecutive day amid freezing temperatures, but the protesters refused to call off the sit-in.

Shops, markets and business centres in various areas of 10 districts remained shut while traffic was thin as thousands of workers from different political and religious organisations participated in the demonstrations held in various areas blocking roads.

Thousands of people protest at Yadgar Chowk in Skardu for the ninth consecutive day on Friday.— Photo by author
Thousands of people protest at Yadgar Chowk in Skardu for the ninth consecutive day on Friday.— Photo by author

They chanted slogans against both the federal government and GB government for not solving their demands and vowed to continue their protest till the acceptance of their demands.

Meanwhile, the chief minister, who was accompanied by health minister Haji Gulbar, minister for works Wazir Saleem, agriculture minister Kazim Mesum, and president of Anjuman Tajiran, Skardu, Ghulam Hussain Athar, told a presser at CM House that most of the issues were created by the federal government.

He blamed the federal government for an unprecedented cut in GB budget that he said was used by the centre as a “tool to put pressurise local government”. He said the PTI government in Gilgit-Baltistan had to allocate funds for wheat supply from its own budget after the federal government reduced the number of wheat bags from 1.6 million to 1.4m per year.

The GB government would convene a multi-party conference to discuss the issues, including budget cut, he said.

The chief minister said since land reforms was top priority of the PTI government, the GB Land Reforms Committee met on Thursday so that a comprehensive law related to land could be introduced to provide “actual ownership of lands to locals”. He pledged that the PTI government would protect “land rights of residents”.

Meanwhile, demonstrations were staged in Gilgit, Skardu, Nagar, Hunza, Ghizer, Ghanche, Shigar, Kharmang, Astore and Diamer, where leaders of political, religious and social organisations addressed the protesters and expressed their solidarity with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The protest call was given by Gilgit-Baltistan Awami Action Committee and Anjuman Tajiran, Skardu.

In Skardu, where temperature fell to minus 4 degrees Celsius, thousands people from all political, religious and local organisations participated in the protest, the organisers said, adding that they staged a sit-in for six hours at Yadgar Chowk on a daily basis since Dec 28, last year.

Opposing the recently approved GB Revenue Authority bill, the protesters criticised the government move to change land ownership. They said thousands of acres of lands in GB had been grabbed by government in the name of state land and colonial law. They demanded that GB government immediately abolish the black law, pointing out there is “no state land in GB, and the barren lands in GB are property of local people”.

Anjuman Tajiran, Skardu, President Ghulam Hussain Athar told Dawn that the imposition of various taxes in GB was unacceptable and said the constitutional status of the region was yet to be settled. Without settlement of the disputed status of the region, imposition of taxes in GB was illegal, he said.

Speaking to Dawn, Baltistan Awami Action Committee Chairman Najaf Ali said both federal and GB governments created crisis for local residents. He said abolishment of state land law was a longstanding issue of GB people, as every successive governments failed to resolve it.

GB Awami Action Committee (Fida Group) chairman Fida Hussain told Dawn people belonging to all political parties, including PPP, PTI and PML-N, as well as religious organisations were part of the protest across GB.

Published in Dawn, january 7th, 2023

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