Situation in AJK calms down after 2 days of violent clashes

Published May 12, 2024
JAAC leader Shaukat Nawaz Mir addresses the media in Muzaffarabad on May 12. — Dawn
JAAC leader Shaukat Nawaz Mir addresses the media in Muzaffarabad on May 12. — Dawn

Following violent clashes over the last 48 hours, which left a policeman dead, the situation in Muzaffarabad seemed to have calmed down on Sunday, with a Rangers detachment that was sent to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) from Kohala having been withdrawn.

AJK witnessed violent clashes between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory on Friday and Saturday, which left at least one police official dead and more than 90 others injured, officials told Dawn.com on Saturday.

Mirpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kamran Ali had said that Sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in the town of Islamgarh, where he was deployed to stop a rally for Muzaffarabad 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.

They called for the strike following the arrest of at least 70 of their members in raids on Thursday.

Reports emerged in the wake of the protests on Sunday that three Rangers battalions had entered the territory through Kohala and were awaiting further orders.

However, AJK Minister for Rural Development Faisal Mumtaz Rathore confirmed that the Rangers, due to the intervention of President Asif Zardari, were “called back as soon as they entered Azad Kashmir” since the situation had calmed down.

Meanwhile, in Islamabad, former prime minister of AJK Sardar Abdul Qayyum Niazi slammed the deployment, calling it a “drama” and an attempt to score political points.

“First they send them, then call them back, what is this?” the ex-AJK PM said.

“Those fighting for their rights and engaging in protest are free to do so, but they must remain peaceful,” Niazi said in a press conference.

He added that they (the protestors) must not give the “enemy” a chance to sow discord within the territory and create infighting.

In a post on Facebook, Rathore acknowledged the public demands for cheap electricity, but admitted that addressing them was “out of his hands”.

“The big demand of the people, the demand for cheap electricity and the end of loadshedding, falls under the jurisdiction of the Government of Pakistan,” Rathore said.

Urging the public to remain peaceful, he said, “In this one year [I have been in office], I have never been against the right to peaceful protest and [never] supported violence against people.”

In the aftermath of the protests, JAAC leader Shaukat Nawaz Mir reiterated that the committee is a peaceful organisation and willing to negotiate with the authorities to ensure the provision of cheap electricity and cheap flour. He also appreciated the withdrawal of the Rangers from the area.

“We have planned another shutter-down strike,” he told reporters on Sunday. “We have been peaceful for the last year and always will be a peaceful movement. This territory and its institutions and police are our own.”

Mir maintained that the JAAC is advocating for the rights of the public in AJK, “but it is the bureaucrats who do not understand the public’s needs that are doing the damage”.

The JAAC is peaceful and open to negotiations, Mir added, requesting to be notified by the authorities about decisions taken. “We do not want to hurt anyone.”

He also slammed the federal government for not cutting down spending while at the same time claiming they have no room in the budget to subsidise electricity or flour.

“The government claims they can’t provide cheap electricity and flour because they have no budget, but they have the money for watches and cars,” Mir said, adding that the federal government and the prime minister should be “ashamed”.

“I don’t want my forum to be controversial,” Mir said. “We are made up of respectable politicians … the local council is standing with us”.

The JAAC leader added that the movement was successful since members of multiple parties and councils “are on our side”.

“Our nation is conscious now. There is no politics here, we just want our rights and identity.”

PM’s response

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has taken notice of the situation in AJK and urged PML-N leadership and AJK prime minister Chaudhry Anwar-ul-Haq to pursue negotiations with the JAAC.

Posting on X, he said, “While debate, discussion and peaceful protests are the beauties of democracy, there should be absolutely no tolerance for taking the law in one’s own hands and damaging government properties.”

He added that amidst situations of chaos and dissent, “there will always be people who rush in to score political points”.

The prime minister said that he was in contact with PML-N leaders and the AJK government, urging them to talk to the JAAC and “resort to [a] peaceful course of action for resolution of their (JAAC’s) demands”. Shehbaz added that despite the efforts of “detractors”, the issue will be resolved soon.

“We mishandled this”

PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, adviser to the prime minister on political and public affairs, said that the situation in AJK had been “mishandled” and that the damage could have been mitigated, had both parties chosen the path of negotiation in the first place.

Speaking on Geo News programme ‘Naya Pakistan’, he said, “This situation was mishandled. The PM has called the JAAC to the table with respect. If this had happened earlier, it would have been better and the damage would not have been done.”

Sanaullah said that people wanted to march to Muzaffarabad, but expressed faith that the government and the JAAC would resolve the matter through negotiations, thus rendering the planned marches redundant.

When asked about the JAAC’s demands, he said, “Demands need to be discussed and cannot be granted at face value. There are some demands that we cannot constitutionally fulfill, and some that are financially complicated. This is why we need to sit down and talk, to see what is possible.”

The ex-minister added that the government will consider requests that are feasible and possible.

“This is a law and order situation, not a political one. The AJK assembly is competent and its members have the ability to bring about a change,” Sanaullah said.

Zardari calls for all stakeholders to show patience

President Asif Ali Zardari said all stakeholders should show patience and try to resolve the issues through dialogue and mutual consultation.

While meeting a PPP delegation from the AJK legislative assembly, the president said that political parties, the establishment and the people have to act responsibly so the hostile elements cannot take advantage of the situation.

A delegation of members of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, belonging to Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians, called on President Asif Ali Zardari, at Aiwan-e-Sadr, on May 12.—Photo courtesy: PID
A delegation of members of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, belonging to Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians, called on President Asif Ali Zardari, at Aiwan-e-Sadr, on May 12.—Photo courtesy: PID

“The demands of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir must be met according to law,” Zardari said, adding that he would talk to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to find a solution.

He said that the socio-economic development of the region should be given priority including health, education, tourism and infrastructure.

The president emphasised the need to bring remote areas at par with other developed areas of the country, expressing regret over the current situation in AJK.

The president also expressed his condolences on the tragic death of the policeman and prayed for the speedy recovery of all those injured.

Opinion

Editorial

Kindness needed
Updated 20 Jun, 2024

Kindness needed

This year’s World Refugee Day theme — solidarity with refugees — includes keeping our borders accessible and addressing the hurdles they face.
Fitch’s budget note
20 Jun, 2024

Fitch’s budget note

PAKISTAN’S ongoing economic crisis is multifaceted. At one end, the government must pursue stabilisation policies...
Cruelty to animals
20 Jun, 2024

Cruelty to animals

TWO recent incidents illustrate the immense cruelty many in this country subject voiceless animals to. In the first...
Price bombs
Updated 18 Jun, 2024

Price bombs

It just wants to take the easy route and enjoy the ride for however long it is in power.
Palestine’s plight
Updated 17 Jun, 2024

Palestine’s plight

While the faithful across the world are celebrating with their families, thousands of Palestinian children have either been orphaned, or themselves been killed by the Israeli aggressors.
Profiting off denied visas
Updated 19 Jun, 2024

Profiting off denied visas

The staggering rejection rates underscore systemic biases in the largely non-transparent visa approval process.