THERE have been protests in recent days by the people of Skardu in freezing winter against the drastic surge in wheat prices. The federal government has been providing subsidised wheat for Gilgit- Baltistan since the 1970s in view of the dilapidated economic conditions that have been prevailing in the region.

As a mountainous region with only a small portion of land suitable for agri- culture, the harsh cold weather makes it impossible to grow anything for nearly half the year. So, a single crop on limited land represents the entire supply of grain for the year, which is insufficient for the more than two million people who happen to be living in the region.

Poor infrastructure and utter lack of industrial development compel the natives to rely entirely on imports for all nece- ssities from other regions of Pakistan. Subsidised wheat, in particular, was provided by the federal government, acting as a life support system for the people to sustain themselves, especially when the prices of all other commodities keep rising with each passing day.

The recent decision by the government to roll back the subsidy on wheat deprives the people of this life support, and is bound to prove disastrous for those already suffering from high inflation.

Instead of providing further relief to the people of the region, such an awful measure against the interests of the people is unfathomable. We should remember that the fate of the region is yet to be determined, and such a step will create negative sentiments among the youth of this sensitive region.

Before implementing any political and economic decision, we need to examine it through the security lens as well, as any unrest in such a sensitive area could be exploited by the enemies to carry out their plans. Despite the total blackout by Pakistani media, the media in India is busy spreading propaganda, depicting it as an anti-Pakistan protest.

The government and the country’s military establishment should consider the situation from various angles before making a final decision in this regard.

Arif Hussain
Skardu

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2024

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