• Protest leaders accuse govt of delaying tactics; offices, schools to remain closed today
• Zardari, Shehbaz urge restraint, back action committee’s ‘genuine’ demands; PM calls meeting today

MUZAFFARABAD/ISLAM­ABAD: As President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif vowed to address the ‘genuine demands’ of protesters in Azad Kashmir, a possible agreement between the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee and the AJK government remained elusive, with the protest movement resuming its march on Muzaffarabad.

A day after clashes between the protesters and the police claimed the life of a policeman, the situation remained relatively calm in the region. The business centres remained shut with public transport suspended in Muzaffarabad and Poonch divisions. In Mirpur, there was a partial strike.

The movement announced its march on the state capital after the talks between the JAAC core committee and AJK Chief Secretary Dawood Bareach in Rawalakot ended in a stalemate, prompting a protest leader from Rawalakot to accuse the government of resorting to evasive tactics.

In the meeting, Shaukat Nawaz Mir, councillor Anjum Zaman, Raja Amjad Ali Khan and Mujtaba Banday from Muzaffarabad, Sardar Umar Nazir Kashmiri from Rawalakot, Imtiaz Aslam from Kotli, Ghulam Mujtaba from Bagh among others participated.

In a video clip which followed the meeting, Sardar Umar Nazir Kashmiri said the meeting had failed to make any headway. “There was no single notification on any issue…. There was evasion, delay tactics, lies, fraud, and deception,” he alleged. After the video clip, loudspeakers in Rawalakot called upon the protesters to resume their journey towards the capital.

In light of the protests, the government offices and educational institutions will remain closed on Monday (today).

In an earlier video message, Mr Kashmiri did not mince any words when he said the JAAC would not be charmed by “mere promises” as only proper notifications regarding the acceptance of their demands would be heeded to.

Prior to the announcements, the JAAC representatives told Dawn on the condition of anonymity that they had expected a positive outcome from the talks with the government. In light of these expectations, public was asked not to organise rallies or confront the police.

In the afternoon, some essential businesses in the state capital also remained open for three hours, from 3pm to 6pm but there were hardly any vehicles on the rock-strewn roads.

Similar scenes were reported from Rawalakot, where a few cars were seen on roads except for the vehicles carrying activists from Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimber, Sudhnoti districts and parts of the Poonch district.

As per the schedule announced by the rights movement, rallies from Mirpur and Poonch division would assemble in Rawalakot for an onward journey to Muzaffarabad and people were seen welcoming the visitors by forming queues on both sides of the roads.

Tempers had flared when reports coupled with video clips went viral on social media that three battalions of Rangers had entered the AJK territory from Kohala to rein in the protesters, but the paramilitary force was withdrawn.

Shaukat Nawaz Mir, who was on his way to Rawalakot at the time, had welcomed the return of Rangers as the “most commendable move”. However, late-night reports claimed that the Rangers had re-entered the AJK territory, but this report could not be confirmed as the relevant authorities remained unavailable for comments.

Zardari, Shehbaz urge dialogue

The president and premier urged all the stakeholders to exercise restraint and resolve the issues through dialogue in separate meetings held to take stock of the situation in AJK.

President Zardari urged the stakeholders to resolve the issues through dialogue and mutual consultation, according to a statement issued by the Presidency.

He added that the political parties, state institutions and the people of AJK should act responsibly so that “hostile elements” could not exploit the situation.

The president expressed these views during a meeting with a delegation of members of the AJK Legislative Assembly belonging PPP, who called on him at the Presidency.

‘Peaceful course of action’

Meanwhile, PM Shehbaz expressed deep concern over the ongoing situation in AJK, urging all parties to adopt a peaceful course of action to resolve their demands.

He has also summoned a meeting today to discuss the ongoing situation in AJK.

PM Shehbaz also spoke to the prime minister of AJK and directed the PML-N leaders in the region to engage with the action committee, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

In a post on X, the PM expressed deep concern over the ongoing situation in AJK, urging all parties to adopt a peaceful course of action to resolve their demands.

The premier said there would be no tolerance for taking the law into one’s hands and damaging government properties.

“Unfortunately in situations of chaos and dissent, there are always some, who rush in to score political points,” he said on X.

“Despite the efforts of detractors, the matter is expected to be settled soon,” he claimed.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2024

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