Renewed protests in AJK are unjustified 

Despite the protest being violent in nature, the govt gave an answer 

AJK witnessed four day protests against high electricity bills, flour prices and taxes that began on 10th of May at the call of Awami Action Committee (AAC) which unfortunately turned violent claiming four lives including a policeman and injuries to hundreds of people including personnel of the law enforcing agencies besides damage to private and government properties.

The protest finally ended after the federal government in consultation with the AJK government and other stakeholders accepted the demands of the protestors. Consequently the price of electricity was fixed at Rs.3 per unit for usage between 1-100 units, Rs.5 per unit between 100-300 units and Rs6 per unit for units above 300 while the price of electricity for commercial uses was fixed at Rs.10 per unit. In addition to this the price of flour was brought down from Rs.3100 to Rs.2000 per 40 Kg.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahbaz Sharif also announced a package of RS.23 billion for AJK. It is worth noting that the consumer of electricity in Pakistan is paying Rs.22 to Rs.65 per unit under different slabs. It was indeed a drastic reduction in the prices of electricity and flour in AJK which reflected the nature of specials bonds of Pakistan with the people of AJK.

The Prime Minister also paid a visit to Muzaffar Abad and chairing special cabinet meeting assured that his government would work in collaboration with AJK leadership to ensure implementation of mutual understanding and seek a permanent solution of the issues faced by the people of AJK. He also Minister issued instructions for formation of a committee to discuss issues like water charge, Neelum-Jhelum project and others for the benefit of the people of AJK. Similarly he asked the AJK PM to also form a committee on his side for necessary consultation with the relevant Ministries and have personal ownership of the matter. He acknowledged that the people had raised their voice for their genuine demands. There were people who were playing their role in a democratic way but some elements among them tried to vandalize properties and fomented violence during the protests.

It has to be accepted ungrudgingly that peaceful protest is a fundamental human right. It forms the bedrock of democracy. This right is not a mere privilege granted by governments but an essential component of a free and open society. However during protests, the government has the responsibility to prevent violence and protect public lives, property and its own assets. It is also incumbent upon the protestors to maintain non-violent behaviour and exhibit respect for the rights of others. That element was surely missing during the protests in AJK.

The quick response by the federal government resolved the issue to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders including the leadership of AAC. It was hoped that there would be no recurrence of protests and violence in AJK. But to the dismay of all concerned the AAC has again given a call for protests from 27thin case the measures announced were not implemented by then.

Majority of the people of AJK are peace loving and are satisfied with the measures announced by the government of Pakistan and AJK. The AAC must erase its image of being flag bearer of the vested interests out to destroy peace and tranquility of the state.

I am of the firm opinion that it is unjustifiable on the part of AAC to re-launch the protest without giving sufficient time to the AJK and Pakistan government to implement the agreed steps. The Price of electricity and flour has been reduced immediately and rest of the issues will also be settled on priority basis as is evident from the steps announced by Prime Minister of Pakistan. Some of the problems are too complex to be resolved through quick fix solutions. As far as inflation is concerned it is a universal phenomenon and some of its contributory factors are beyond control of the Pakistan government. But it is really appreciable that in spite of the economic difficulties faced by the Pakistan government it has responded in a very positive manner to mitigate the sufferings of the people of AJK for whom the government as well as the people of Pakistan have special consideration.

The AAC therefore is well advised to act in a responsible manner and refuse to be hijacked by the elements which are bent upon achieving their nefarious designs as against serving the interests of the people of AJK. Majority of the people of AJK are peace loving and are satisfied with the measures announced by the government of Pakistan and AJK. The AAC must erase its image of being flag bearer of the vested interests out to destroy peace and tranquility of the state. They also have to realize that the protests organized by them have seriously jeopardized economy of the state including debilitating effect on tourism industry. The disturbances in the state are providing an opportunity to the ill-wishers of Pakistan as well as people of AJK to project a negative image about them.

I have been listening to the Indian media during the previous protests. It seemed to relish mentioning the incidents in

AJK out of proportion and the alleged excesses by the law enforcing agencies on the protestors with oblique reference to inability of Pakistan to ensure reasonable living for the people of AJK while it cries hoarse for the rights of the people of IIOH&K. That surely was a misleading message to the global community.

I am sure the leaders of the AAC would give a serious thought to the points that have been raised in this discourse and take back the call for re-starting the protests. They are well advised to maintain liaison with the AJK government and support its efforts in implementing the already agreed reforms instead of creating chaotic conditions in the state and disrupting the progression of the measures put in place for alleviating the grievance of the people. Instead of protests their peaceful engagement with the government would be a great service to the people of AJK.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Malik Muhammad Ashraf is an academic. He can be contacted at: [email protected].

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