Govt subsidy fails as three killed in AJK violence

Published May 14, 2024
MUZAFFARABAD: Rangers personnel take positions on the Western Bypass shortly before the clashes with protesters, 
on Monday.—Dawn
MUZAFFARABAD: Rangers personnel take positions on the Western Bypass shortly before the clashes with protesters, on Monday.—Dawn

• ‘Charged’ protesters clash with Rangers exiting territory
• Price of flour reduced by Rs1,100 per 40kg; substantial dip in power tariff notified
• Rights movement to ‘legally examine’ notification due to ‘non-serious’ attitude of govt

MUZAFFARABAD: A government decision to dole out a Rs23 billion subsidy to placate violent protests in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) failed to pacify the region after three people were shot dead and six sustained injuries due to firing and teargas shelling by the paramilitary Rangers in Muzaffarabad on Monday.

Shortly before the violence, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and AJK PM Anwarul Haq after a meeting approved the release of Rs23 billion for AJK on account of power and wheat subsidies.

The subsidised rate for 40kg flour will be Rs2,000, down from Rs3,100. The electricity tariff was reduced to Rs3, Rs5 and Rs6 per unit for up to 100, 300, and more than 300 units, respectively. The AJK government also issued notifications to this effect for the satisfaction of protesters.

Rangers, called in to maintain law and order in the state, were supposed to return to the Pakistani territory after the PM’s announcement. Instead of moving out of the territory via Brarkot — the village bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — they chose to exit the region from Kohala. As the 19-vehicle convoy, including five trucks, reached Muzaffarabad in a “charged atmosphere”, it was pelted with rocks near Shorran da Nakka village, to which they responded with teargas and firing.

A social media clip verified by Dawn showed three Rangers vehicles ablaze on the Muzaffarabad-Brarkot road.

After entering the city through the Western Bypass, the Rangers were welcomed with rocks again, prompting them to use teargas and bullets. The shelling was so intense that the entire neighbourhood reeled from it.

Tear gas shelling

This correspondent saw two local elders approaching the Rangers and escorting them to safety via a link road. However, witnesses said that the Rangers had resorted to teargas

shelling and firing in the air in another area as well before the administration drove their vehicles to safety.

Divisional Commissioner Muzaffarabad Sardar Adnan Khurshid told Dawn that at least three persons had died in firing by Rangers and another six had suffered wounds. The commissioner identified the deceased as Saqib, son of Shabir from Plate; Waqar, son of Babu from Dara Batangi; and Azhar, son of Majeed from Chehla Bandi areas of Muzaffarabad.

After the talks’ failure on Sunday night, the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) had asked the protesters to resume their march on the state capital.

The rallies made a stopover in Dhirkot, about 80km from the capital, where the administration eng­aged their leaders on Monday until the conclusion of the meeting convened by PM Shehbaz in Islamabad.

After the subsidy was announced by the government, the movement leaders said they would decide about it after the issuance of notifications.

Subsequently, the AJK food department issued a notification, bringing the price of flour/40kg to Rs2,100 and that of electricity to Rs3, Rs5, and Rs6 per unit for up to 100, 300 and more than 300 units, respectively.

The notifications immediately went viral on social media and preparations were underway to welcome the JAAC leaders in Muzaffarabad and to celebrate the victory.

According to witnesses, some rallies clashed with the police in Chattar Chowk, where police had to resort to teargas shelling to disperse them.

Cautious JAAC leaders

Speaking to a gathering in an open space along Eidgah in the evening, Shaukat Nawaz Mir, one of the key JAAC leaders, said their legal team would “legally examine” the notifications issued by the government.

“If these notifications do not fulfil legal requirements in accordance with our charter of demand, we, the joint action committee members will unanimously decide our next course of action tonight,” he said.

He alleged that the AJK government had previously extended them a “non-serious and irresponsible” attitude which was why they could hardly believe its actions. According to witnesses, the arrival of rallies from the Poonch division had not stopped even after 9:30pm.

On the other hand, the bodies of two of those who were killed in the violence had been taken by their kin to the ground adjacent to Eidgah, where slogans were heard against the government and the civil armed forces.

“There is tension and anger in the air,” said Adil Hameed, a resident of the old city of Muzaffarabad. Reports received from other AJK towns said that people had staged demonstrations to express wrath and indignation at the killings in Muzaffarabad.

AJK PM’s presser

Earlier, AJK PM Chaudhry Anwarul Haq addressed a press conference in Islamabad, expressing gratitude to PM Shehbaz for the immediate relief package of Rs23 billion. “Both these issues which had been pending for a long time were linked with the federal government. And on the instructions of the Prime Minister of Pakistan these have been resolved in minutes for which I am grateful to him,” he said, adding that the relief announced would be made part of the next budget.

Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2024

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