The year 2021 is not going to pass quietly in Pakistan occupied Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (PoJK, PoGB).
On December 5, Gilgit-Baltistan Awami Action Committee conducted a sit-in at Etihad Chowk in Gilgit City. Their demands included to bring down the prices of basic necessities of life, abolishing the mining leases issued to non-residents, cancellation of Rs 40 crore worth of grant for ministers to buy executive cars, allocation of 4 per cent quota in federal government jobs, restoration of subsidies, withdrawal of recently added taxes on electricity bills and to reopen the Kargil-Skardu road that connects Indian Union Territory of Ladakh with PoGB.
On December 8 (today), a bigger protest has been scheduled in the capital city of Gilgit. This time Gilgit-Baltistan Awami Action Committee, the Metal, Mines and Gems Association and the Cable Operators Association have all come together to confront the PoGB puppet government. Their sole demand is that mining licenses issued to non-residents should be canceled immediately.
It is said that the Pakistan military uses middlemen to get their hands on mines in PoGB by engaging private contractors from the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. This demand made by PoGB rights activists could face repercussions in the form of political victimisation by the non-state actors (read Jihadists) sponsored by the state of Pakistan itself.
Talking to this scribe, the leader of GB People's Rights Movement, one of the many civil society campaign groups in PoGB, Ibrahim Nagri complained that Pakistan was sending 50,000 metric tons of wheat to the Taliban government in Kabul while people in GB are starving. He said that the subsidy on wheat has been cut down by 20 per cent and that now the Imran Khan government wants to get rid of the subsidy altogether.
Nagri said the wheat that is available in PoGB is substandard and not fit for human consumption. The 'roti', when cooked, turns black and hard and is not chewable. He reminded me that it was the wheat that was bought from Ukraine.
170 households in Kasoro in Kharmang district are left with only 90 bags of wheat and as winter sets in, snowfall will block the only road that goes in and out of the village. Protests are taking place demanding that at least three months of wheat should be made available to cope with the snowy winter.
At least 2,000 students who should have been in colleges have been refused admission due to lack of place. Similarly, 600 students await admission into the Baltistan University. Students have already begun to stage protests.
Students from Inter College in Nagar are protesting for the lack of transport since the only college bus that was transporting students from far flung areas has broken down and lack of funds to repair it has forced many to walk miles before they can reach college. Most of the time students arrive late and have to miss classes.
Former army servicemen have not been paid pension for months now and the curse of starvation haunts their families. Weekly protests have ensued.
Likewise, rescue 1122 emergency service employees have also not been paid salaries for six months and they have also raised their voice complaining of facing starvation in their households. Protests by the employees of Rescue 1122 will include strikes which will further hamper the emergency medical ambulance service which is in tatters already.
In Shagar parents are protesting against the lack of teachers, toilets, first aid kits, drinking water facilities and even classrooms and boundary walls. Foreseeing much protest in the area the Superintendent of Police has ordered a checkpoints to be erected all over Shagar!
On December 17, Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) is holding a three-day Islamic evangelist event in Chalas. The deputy commissioner has promised the TJ that they will be facilitated to the fullest. This can only serve one purpose and that is to deflect the attention of the masses in the region from their day to day struggle for the want of a bowl of rice, and force them to bury their heads in the sands of religious fanaticism.
In my next article, I will try to shed light on the social and economic issues in PoJK and the fight that we are putting up as an oppressed part of India living under the illegal occupation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
(Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK The views expressed are personal)