Protests in AJK

Will Rs 23 billion stop the riots?

In attempt to stop the protests in AJK against inflation, the federal government sanctioned an additional Rs 23 billion in subsidies. The AJK government promptly accepted all the demands of the Awami Action Committee, the body behind the protests. What may have turned the tide was the killing of an SHO while attempting to halt the protests. After an additional SHO, a police sub-inspector, was killed in Mirpur on Saturday. The protests showed no signs of ebbing though three days had passed since they started, and the marchers were determined to march on the ASJ capital of Musaffarabad. Protesters had also taken over, though intermittently, control of the Kohala Bridge, which is the main crossing point from Pakistan’s Rawalpindi district into AJK, and which links Rawalpindi and Muzaffarabad.

The protests, and how they were handled, showed the complex relations between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad. Residents of AJK are liable to pay Pakistani taxes. They receive a separate subsidy on electricity, to ensure that they are treated appropriately. AJK is not a province, which means that it does command such rights as a share in the National Finance Commission Award or electricity royalties on the Mangla Dam. It should not be forgotten that AJK is also heavily garrisoned, and its citizens like to speak of themselves as the base camp for the liberation of the whole of Kashmir. Mirpur has sent its sons to the UK in large numbers, and it cannot escape notice that the protests here coincided with fresh new anti-immigrant measures in the UK as protests mount against its support for Israel’s slaughter of the Gazans.

The problem with this grant is that those who originally recommended the power price hikes and the end to subsidies, are the ones who have got the government over a barrel, namely the IMF. The protests were not the result of administrative neglect or bureaucratic red tape, but because the IMF did not see the AJK subsidies as an essential expenditure, but as something which could be cut to reduce expenditures. That should make the government think. How will it handle such an explosion on a larger scale, perhaps even countrywide? As temperatures rise, electricity demand also does, and while loadshedding takes place, there are also vastly inflated bills to be paid. The government has faced power protests before; it should ready itself for more. With the IMF used to getting its way, the government should not expect it to show it any understanding.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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