SKARDU: Locals hold a sit-in at the Yadgar-i-Shuhada against the increase in the subsidised price of wheat, on Saturday.—Dawn
SKARDU: Locals hold a sit-in at the Yadgar-i-Shuhada against the increase in the subsidised price of wheat, on Saturday.—Dawn

GILGIT: Demonstrations in Gilgit Baltistan (GB) have heightened in opposition to the increased subsidised wheat rates and other grievances, as thousands flooded the streets, with protests entering into the 12th day on Saturday in Skardu.

The Awami Action Committee, a coalition of political, religious and local parties in the region, has decided to hold protest for an indefinite period, following unsuccessful negotiations with the government.

For a month, GB residents have been protesting against the rise in subsidised wheat prices, jumping from Rs20 to Rs36 per kg.

Demonstrators, including several political groups, civil society organisations, trade unions, and transport and tourism sectors representatives, expressed discontent with the GB government on Friday, as they took out a rally from Jamma Masjid to Yadgar-i-Shuhada in Skardu.

Similar protests took place in Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar, Ghizer, Ghanche, Diamer, Astore, Shigar, and other areas, emphasising widespread opposition to the increased subsidised wheat rate through placards and previous demonstrations.

“We have decided to persist until our demands are met. The government’s reluctance to resolve the issue has compelled us to continue,” remarked one protester.

The protesters contended that the rationale behind the subsidised wheat rate hike — increased transportation costs and other factors — is unjustified.

They alleged that the members of GB Assembly had augmented their salaries and privileges by 200 times last year, allocating billions of rupees for luxurious activities, while not allocating a significant budget for providing subsidised wheat to the impoverished.

Daily sit-in

Awami Action Committee chief coordinator Advocate Ehsan Ali told Dawn that a call has been issued for two-hour-long protests on a daily basis in all districts until their demands are accepted.

“Many rounds of negotiations were held with government representatives to settle the matter; however, the government appears confused in handling the situation. Decisions are made without taking the stakeholders into confidence, further exacerbating the situation,” he said.

“Since the start of the protest, the participation of local people in the movement has been growing with each passing day,” Mr Ali remarked.

Another representative of the committee, Faizan Mir, expressed frustration of the region’s residents with the government’s apathy towards addressing their issues. He cautioned that if the government delays the resolution of the issue, a more substantial movement will emerge in the region. Mr Ali emphasised that the people of GB are demanding their basic rights, rejecting the imposition of taxes without representation in parliament.

Ghulam Hussain Athar, president of the Anjuamn-i-Tajeran Skardu, reported that protests at Yadgar-i-Shuhada continued for the 12th day, highlighting the fact that people from diverse background are taking part in the protest.

Demands

Their demands include reverting the subsidised wheat price to the 2022 level, suspending the Finance Act 2023, withdrawal of taxes on people of Gilgit Baltistan, addressing electricity crisis, and ensuring GB’s share in the NFC award.

The charter also advocates for an 80 per cent royalty for Diamer-Bhasha Dam net hydel profit, industry status for the hotel, transportation, and tourism sectors, establishing medical and engineering colleges, a women’s university in GB, and restoring traditional routes.

GB Finance Minister Mohammad Ismail informed journalists about ongoing coordination with the federal government to settle the issue. He expressed optimism about announcing a “positive news soon”.

Despite the government’s efforts, GB residents continued their street protests amid freezing temperatures, rejecting the increase in subsidised wheat rates.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2024

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