AJK protests

Published May 14, 2024

SINCE last week, Azad Jammu & Kashmir has been roiled by protests, fuelled principally by a disconnect between locals and their administration, as well as the government of Pakistan. Strikes and marches have been held in different parts of the territory, led by the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee, with the situation turning ugly on Saturday when a police officer lost his life during the protests. On Monday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif attempted to quell the discontent by announcing the transfer of Rs23bn to AJK on Monday, along with meeting many of the protesters’ demands, such as increasing the wheat flour subsidy and revising power rates. AJK’s people had taken to the streets mainly due to inflation, as well as wheat flour and power rate issues. Moreover, many protesters feel that the AJK government is oversized, and that the small territory does not require an army of ministers and bureaucrats to run its affairs. They are of the view that very few funds are left for development after costs of running the AJK government are subtracted. Meanwhile, there is also criticism of local lawmakers, many of whom, observers say, rarely visit their constituencies after being elected. It remains to be seen whether the government’s steps satisfy the people in the long term.

At the heart of the protests appears to be lack of service delivery on the part of the AJK administration, as well as Islamabad’s apparent indifference to the local people’s plaints. The centre and the government in Muzaffarabad should have addressed these long-festering issues before the people’s anger led them to the streets. Sadly, it is the norm across the country to address issues only when they have ballooned into a full-blown crisis. In Gilgit-Baltistan, only a few months ago, the local population had staged protests along similar lines. The AJK prime minister said the changes made on Monday regarding wheat flour and power rates are “permanent” arrangements. Similarly, the AJK administration should trim its expenditures and focus only on essentials, while allocating enough funds for the people’s welfare. Lawmakers and ministers also need to make themselves available to constituents to resolve outstanding problems. Good governance demands that the administrations in both Islamabad and Muzaffarabad keep an ear to the ground and address AJK’s legitimate issues in a democratic manner.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2024

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