1 police officer dead, over 90 injured in AJK clashes

Published May 12, 2024
Protesters in Muzaffarabad on Saturday. — Photo by author
Protesters in Muzaffarabad on Saturday. — Photo by author

Azad Jammu and Kashmir witnessed violent clashes on Saturday between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory, leaving at least one police official dead and more than 90 others injured, officials said.

Mirpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kamran Ali told Dawn.com that Sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in the town of Islamgarh where he was deployed along with other police personnel to stop a rally for Muzaffarabad via Kotli and Poonch districts under the banner of the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC).

The JAAC, which has traders at the forefront in most parts of the state, has been seeking the provision of electricity as per hydropower generation cost in AJK, subsidised wheat flour and an end to the privileges of the elite class.

On Wednesday-Thursday night, around 70 JAAC activists were arrested by police during raids at their residences and those of their relatives in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions, triggering serious clashes in Dadyal on Thursday.

The committee had subsequently announced a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on Friday, a day ahead of its planned long march towards Muzaffarabad today.

Amid a crippling strike on Friday, fierce clashes between police and protesters were witnessed in different areas of Muzaffarabad.

On Saturday, Dawn.com’s correspondent reported that authorities had placed mounds of earth on arteries leading to Muzaffarabad, apart from making more arrests, to prevent people from heading towards the state capital.

Witnesses said that Muzaffarabad division and Poonch division observed complete strikes.

SSP Yasin Baig said at least one police officer and a young boy were injured as police resorted to teargas shelling and aerial firing in some neighbourhoods after being pelted with stones and bottles by protesters.

Kotli SSP Mir Muhammad Abid said in a statement that at least 78 policemen were injured in the district in “attacks of miscreants under the guise of protest”.

The SSP said 59 policemen, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Ilyas Janjua, and two revenue department officials were injured in Rehaan Galli while another 19 policemen were injured in Sehnsa Baroiyan.

A press release from the District Headquarters Hospital Kotli said apart from the 59 wounded policemen, nine injured protesters were also brought to for treatment.

SSP Abid said some police officials were also reportedly injured in Doliya Jattan.

JAAC spokesperson Hafeez Hamdani made it clear while talking to Dawn.com that the action committee had nothing to do with violence.

“It seems that such elements have been purposely planted in the ranks of protesters to bring a bad name to a struggle that aims nothing but the legitimate rights of the people,” he said.

Addressing a press conference, AJK Finance Minister Abdul Majid Khan said that the government had exercised “maximum restraint and is ready for talks to peacefully address all contentious issues.

“Issues have to be resolved through dialogue and our doors are always open for negotiations. But the offer should not be misconstrued as a weakness of the government,” he said.

He regretted that AJK was an ideal region in terms of peace and security and by “destroying its peace, not only problems have been created for the locals but the tourism industry has also been badly affected”.

The minister said three vehicles of government officials in Kotli and Mirpur districts were torched while an assistant commissioner was beaten in Dodiyal town by “miscreants” and police officials were also made hostage at different places that “prove the vested interests behind the protest call”.

He said the government had accepted all demands of the action committee after which an agreement was signed between the committee and government negotiators, including the provision of targeted subsidy on flour and freezing the electricity tariff on June 2022 levels, but the committee later deviated from the agreement and announced a protest on new demands.

He said the law would take its course against the “miscreants” and the government would bring out all its capabilities and resources to maintain order and peace in the region and the safety of the life and property of the people would be ensured.

PML-N regional president Shah Ghulam Qadir termed the entire situation “inappropriate” and called on all actors to play their role in establishing peace. He said he had talked to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and alerted him about all demands of the protesters.

“He expressed concern and I request all PML-N officeholders to talk to the leaders of the action committee … so this movement for their demands can remain peaceful,” he said.

Qadir also urged the AJK government to open the door for negotiations.

PML-N regional secretary general Chaudhry Tariq Farooq said: “If the powerful and responsible circles in Pakistan have any concern about the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, they should pay immediate attention before it’s too late.”

Former AJK premier and senior PML-N leader Raja Farooq Haider urged the demonstrators to protest peacefully for resolution of their demands and not take the law into their hands and damage government properties.

He also offered his condolences for the sub-inspector’s death and called for an end to the “lawlessness”.

Former president Arif Alvi said the imagery coming out of AJK was the “real brutal input of those who think, believe and act on their rudimentary idea that: ‘Force is the only solution to all human problems.’”

PTI senior leader Omar Ayub said: “The situation in AJK is extremely serious. It has been created due to the mishandling of Shehbaz Sharif and the PML-N government.”

The PTI said that the “continuous harassment and violence against peaceful protesters in AJK is absolutely unacceptable and condemnable”, adding that “such [policies] are dangerous for Pakistan and represent a direct threat to democracy”.

The party also shared videos, unverified by Dawn.com, of clashes between police and protesters.

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