GILGIT: The ongoing protests against a hike in the subsidised wheat prices in Gilgit-Baltistan are set to intensify, with the Awami Action Committee (AAC) announcing the next phase of demonstrations involving a complete shutter-down strike in Skardu today (Wednesday) and region-wide protests from Friday.

 Protesters chant slogans during their sit-in in Nagar, on Tuesday.—Photo by the writer
Protesters chant slogans during their sit-in in Nagar, on Tuesday.—Photo by the writer

Under the strike, shops, markets, trade centres, hotels and other businesses will remain closed from 2pm onwards, creating a standstill in the area’s commercial activities.

Residents have already been facing challenges in buying essentials due to the closure of stores. Thousands of people have participated in three-hour daily sit-ins at Skardu’s Yadgar-i-Shuhada.

The protesters have vowed that their demonstrations would continue until the decision to hike subsidised wheat prices is revoked. They have also demanded the government improve the electricity supply and repeal the finance bill.

On Tuesday, a protest march started from Hoper Valley in Nagar and is directed towards the Gilgit district. The participants, carrying banners and chanting slogans against the government and in favour of their demands, were on foot, with many protesters joining them on the way.

Awami Action Committee announces region-wide protests from Friday

The protesters passed through Nagar Khas and entered the Karakoram Highway, reaching near Gulmat, Nagar, near the Rakaposhi viewpoint by evening. The group planned to stay at Ghumat for the night before continuing their march towards Gilgit on Wednesday.

Protesters from Sikandar­abad, Chalt and other villages blocked the Karakoram Highway at Harspodas, the district headquarters of Nagar.

Sit-ins were also observed in Garibagh, Gilgit, with additional demonstrations taking place in the Yasin Valley of Ghizer, as well as in Shigar and Ghanche districts.

Meanwhile, the Awami Action Committee has outlined the next phase of its protest strategy. At a core committee meeting in Gilgit on Tuesday, led by AAC chief organiser Ehsan Ali Advocate, the members decided to implement ‘Plan B’ of their movement.

Mr Ali, addressing the protesters in Garibagh, announced a region-wide shutter-down and wheel-jam strike across all 10 districts of Gilgit-Baltistan on Jan 26 (Friday) and Jan 27.

He emphasised that massive protest demonstrations are scheduled across the region on these dates, with a central protest planned at Garibagh. He also cautioned that if the government fails to retract its decision, a more intensified ‘Plan C’ will be announced on Saturday.

The GB’s transporters association and drivers’ union leaders also participated in the protest sit-ins.

Protesters, braving harsh weather, have been on the roads for over a month, expressing frustration over the government’s reluctance to address their demands. They warned that any delay in meeting their demands would lead to an expansion of the protest movement. Furthermore, they held the government accountable for any adverse incidents that might occur during the demonstrations.

The protesters have also highlighted that the current demonstrations in Gilgit-Baltistan are being organi-sed on a bigger scale than the gatherings by political parties in other parts of the country.

They expressed disappointment over the lack of response from both the caretakers at the helm in Pakistan and the GB’s government, emphasising that their demands are not limited to the reversal of the wheat price hike but also include the fulfilment of other critical needs.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2024

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