Perhaps for first time in the history of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), the people of the region have threatened to form a government in exile if their demands are not met by 5 February 2024. This assertion was recently made by human rights activist Dr. Amjad Ayub Mirza who added that it was not enough to only reduce the taxes on electricity bills in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) or reduce the prices of wheat in Gilgit Baltistan but demanded that Pakistan withdraw its troops from POK and allow the legislative assemblies of occupied territories to become fully sovereign. The announcement is a beacon of hope for those living under Pakistani occupation for the last 75 years. The backdrop to this announcement are the continuing wheat protests across POK, mostly in Gilgit Baltistan, and the Awami Action Committee has warned the Pak Government of further intensification of protests if the wheat price increase is not withdrawn.
Dr. Mirza told ANI (20 January) that “by the look of it, this strike is going to happen and it’s going to leave a massive impact in terms of the change of narrative that Pakistan has been instilling in the minds of the people of POK. Pakistani Occupied Kashmir has been a colony of Pakistan for the past 76 years. But we are not going to remain silent, and we declare that if by February 5, our demands, the demands of the people are not met, then they will leave us with no choice but to form a government in exile of PoK and Gilgit Baltistan,” he said. The call for a strike across the region has been made by the Awami Action Committee. Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir are two areas illegally occupied by Pakistan, which together constitute POK.
Notably, for the first time in the history of POK, the Joint Awami Action Committee has announced that on 5 February 2024, they will observe a People’s Rights Day. Mirza noted that up till now, every year for the past 33 years, Pakistan has been observing Kashmir Solidarity Day on 5 February which has been used to muster and gear up hatred towards India. “So, Pakistan is obviously very upset with this new development because this time, after 33 years, people of POK are going to observe a protest day with a strike across this occupied state against Pakistan. And all the puppets of Pakistan in PoK, including all the former prime ministers, have come out in against this strike and they are asking to postpone this strike so that the February 5 can be observed as Kashmir Solidarity Day,” the human rights activist added.
Dr, Mirza, who is chairman of the Tehreek-e Itefaq-e-Rai chairman said, “For eight months, the people of Pakistani-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan have been protesting, taking out protest rallies, and observing protest sit-ins against the increase in the tariff of electricity in POK and against the cuts and increase in the prices of wheat.” He added “However, up till now, several sets of negotiations have taken place, but to no avail. The government of Pakistan and the puppet governments in Gilgit Baltistan and POK are not confirming that they are going to reverse the electricity tariff or the increase in the prices of wheat.”
Dawn newspaper reports (21 January) that protest demonstrations and sit-ins have continued across Gilgit Baltistan for the 25th consecutive day, protesting the government’s decision to increase the price of subsidised wheat. Protesters gathered at various locations in Gilgit Baltistan, seeking to put pressure on the government to accept their demands. Protest rallies from different areas joined the sit-in held at Yadgar-i-Shuhada in Skardu. Meanwhile, a sit-in continued at Gari Bagh in Gilgit. Demonstrators blocked the Karakoram Highway at three points in Nagar district. Similar demonstrations unfolded in the Yasin Valley of Ghizer district, and a rally unfolded in Kharmang district. Earlier, demonstrations had been staged in Diamer, Astore, Ghanche, Shigar, and Kharmang districts.
Protesters have pledged to persist until their demands are met, asserting that the GB government has failed to address their genuine concerns despite their ongoing protests for the past four weeks. They warned that the next phase of the protest would be ‘dangerous’ if the government did not show flexibility. Ehsan Ali Advocate, the chief coordinator of Awami Action Committee (ACC), told Dawn that if their demands were not met in the coming days, the ACC will decide to start protest marches to Skardu and Gilgit from other areas. GB Council members, through a letter, also requested the caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq, who is also the chairman of the GB Council, to suspend the recent increase in wheat prices.
The letter was sent by GB Council members Ayub Shah, Hashmatullah Khan, and Shabiul Hasan. It stated that the current increase in wheat prices had created a severe financial burden on the region, affecting the livelihoods of the people. It urged the government to re-examine its decision to increase in the price of wheat and to continue the subsidised wheat policy.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mirza claimed that he had the popular support of the people of PoK as well as among the diaspora. He added that if a government in exile is formed, it will fight for the civil, social and political rights of POK. Mirza claimed that if popular demands are not met by 5 February, his party will have no choice but to consider calling for a universal uprising against Pakistan in POK. “Therefore, Pakistan has time up till February 5 to reverse the tariffs on electricity bills and to reverse the price hike of wheat in Gilgit Baltistan. There will be no negotiations before Pakistan or its puppet governments in PoK and Gilgit Baltistan take action,” he added. “I repeat, there will be no negotiations with Pakistan on this matter. February 5 is our deadline. It’s the deadline of a nation, of a nation that has come out in protest and has said that no more. We are going to take no more insult, no more exploitation, and no more atrocities are going to be allowed upon our people,” he stated. The international community should take note of the popular sentiments across POK. For the people of the region, long used to living under the Pakistani jackboot, it is time break the shackles and unite with the Indian Union. This would rid the region of the illegal occupation by Pakistan and make completely irrelevant the UN Resolutions. Recall that the 13 August 1948 Resolution in fact called for the total withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the said territories. This never happened. Dr. Mirza is right in seeking the withdrawal of Pak troops from POK. What lies ahead is probably is more street protests. The question is, will the Pak government listen? Unlikely! Change will only come when there is external intervention.