Pok Unrest Explained: Why Is Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir Burning, What Protesters Want & What Is India's Stance


(MENAFN- AsiaNet News) Tensions prevail in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as a comprehensive strike against soaring prices of wheat flour, exorbitant electricity bills, and burdensome taxes entered its fourth consecutive day on Monday. The Pakistani government intensified its efforts to defuse the situation in the aftermath of lethal confrontations between security personnel and demonstrators.

On Saturday, the disputed region experienced confrontations between law enforcement and activists from a rights movement, resulting in the death of at least one police officer and injuries to over 100 individuals, primarily policemen. Since Friday, a total strike has gripped the region, grinding daily life to a standstill. Protests have been ongoing various parts of PoK, including capital Muzaffarabad, Samahni, Sehansa, Mirpur, Rawalakot, Khuiratta, Tattapani, and Hattian Bala.

Why is PoK up in arms?

Last week, clashes erupted after police conducted raids in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions, resulting in the arrest of approximately 70 activists affiliated with the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JKJAAC).
In response to these events, the JAAC announced a large-scale strike scheduled for Saturday.

The JKJAAC, led predominantly by traders across the region, has been advocating for several key demands. These include access to electricity at rates aligned with hydropower generation costs, subsidized wheat flour, and an abolition of privileges enjoyed by the elite class.

Following the strike announcement by the JKJAAC, the Chief Secretary of PoK wrote to the Secretary of the Interior Division in Islamabad, requesting the deployment of six civil armed forces (CAF) platoons to bolster security measures.

Chief Secretary Dawood Muhammad Bareach expressed concern over the escalating situation, stating, "We are faced with calls for shutter down and wheel-jam strikes from May 11 onwards given by the sub-nationalists and other disgruntled subversive elements." He highlighted the intention of these groups to disrupt public services and create a law and order crisis by forcibly shutting down markets.

During Saturday's strike, violent clashes erupted between protesters and police in several areas of Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK. In response to stone pelting by demonstrators, police resorted to teargas shelling. However, this action inadvertently affected residents in their homes and mosques, exacerbating tensions in the region.

Protests unfolded across several towns in PoK, including Samahni, Sehansa, Mirpur, Rawalakot, Khuiratta, Tattapani, and Hattian Bala.

On Saturday, authorities in Muzaffarabad resorted to barricading roads leading to the state capital by placing mounds of earth, aiming to restrict access to the city. A press release from the District Headquarters Hospital Kotli indicated that nine injured protesters and 59 wounded policemen were admitted for treatment. Additionally, Geo News reported that a total of 29 protesters sustained injuries during the clashes.

The PoK government has enacted Section 144, resulting in the closure of educational institutions and offices across the region. Reports and images circulating on social media depict instances of police employing batons against protesters, resulting in approximately 100 individuals sustaining injuries.

Protesters' demands and call for Indian intervention

The JKJAAC is
at the forefront of protests against what they deem as "unjust" taxes imposed on electricity bills.
Notably, the committee had previously organized a similar shutter-down strike in August of last year, highlighting their persistent advocacy against the perceived unfair taxation policies.

The JACC
has demanded that electricity should be provided to consumers following the production cost of hydro-power in the state.
In December of last year, an agreement was reached with an official reconciliation committee. Subsequently, the government issued a notification on February 4.

However, in April, the committee declared plans for a long march on May 11, citing dissatisfaction with the government's failure to fulfill its written commitments.

In an interview with ANI, PoK activist Amjad Ayub Mirza called for an intervention by the Indian government.“India cannot remain aloof from the current situation in Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir. At the moment, our people are fighting. The whole of Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir has been shut down by peaceful protesters who are being beaten up and shot at by the Pakistan police, Punjab police."

"India now should focus all its attention on Pakistani-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and help and facilitate the independence of this occupied territory, including Gilgit-Baltistan," he added.

He further stated, "The situation is getting worse by the day. India must act. India has to act. India must not follow the footsteps of previous governments where they thought that by ignoring Pakistani-occupied Jammu and Kashmir it can be business as usual. It is not business as usual. And if today the Indian government does not step up their efforts to free PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan then this golden chance of our freedom will wither away.”

What is Pakistan government doing to de-escalate tensions

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is anticipated to chair a high-level meeting on Monday to address the current situation. Negotiations between the protesters and the state government have hit an impasse, prompting this discussion.

Expressing deep concerns over the violent clashes between the police and the protesters, Prime Minister Sharif on Sunday said that there should be 'absolutely no tolerance for taking the law into one's own hands'.

“I urge all parties to resort to a peaceful course of action for resolution of their demands. Despite the best efforts of detractors, the matter will hopefully be settled soon," he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari, in his efforts to alleviate tensions, has appealed to all stakeholders to demonstrate restraint and resolve issues through dialogue and mutual consultation. He emphasized the responsibility of political parties, state institutions, and the populace of the region to act responsibly, thwarting any attempts by hostile elements to exploit the situation for their gain.

The president stressed the importance of addressing the region's demands within the confines of the law, assuring that he would raise their grievances with Prime Minister Sharif to seek a resolution to the current impasse.

Expressing regret over the current situation, President Zardari extended condolences for the unfortunate demise of the police officer and offered prayers for the swift recovery of all those injured in recent clashes.

What is India's stance over PoK unrest

On Saturday,
Home Minister Amit Shah said PoK belongs to India and reiterated 'it will always be there'. During a rally in Raebareli, the BJP leader said, "Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar and INDIA bloc leader Farooq Abdullah are asking to respect Pakistan as it has an atom bomb. Why should we respect Pakistan? Congress leader Rahul Gandhi says don't demand PoK. Rahul Baba, if you are scared of atom bombs, then remain scared. We are not scared. PoJK is a part of India, and we will take it back."

On Monday, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar too
reiterated India's unwavering stance on the region, emphasizing that PoK has, is, and will always be an integral part of India.

"Modi government is clear and there is also a Parliament resolution that PoK is part of India, it was always a part of India and it will be a part of India. It is our intention that one day we will end the illegal occupation of PoK and merge it back with India. The opposition's thoughts on this are in the opposite direction. Be it Farooq sahib or Mani Shakar Aiyar, they are so scared of Pakistan's nuclear weapons that they think we should not talk about PoK," the EAM said.

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