Decoding The Unrest In Azad Kashmir – OpEd


Azad Kashmir, administered by Pakistan, has become a hotspot of recent unrest. Public protests ignited by the Public Action Committee (PAC) have escalated into violent clashes with law enforcement. While the initial demands centered around necessities like electricity and flour prices, a closer look reveals a more complex situation simmering beneath the surface. This article delves into the factors fueling the unrest, separating genuine grievances from unrealistic demands and external influences.

The PAC’s initial demands raise serious questions about their feasibility. Firstly, the claim that the United Nations mandates Pakistan to subsidize 48 essential items for Azad Kashmir residents is demonstrably false. The UN has no such mandate. While the UN advocates for promoting economic development and alleviating poverty, national Governments are responsible for determining and implementing subsidy programs. The Azad Kashmir Government, along with the Pakistani Federal Government, already allocates a significant portion of its budget towards subsidies for essential goods. However, these resources are finite, necessitating careful prioritization. The second demand, asserting a written agreement guaranteeing free electricity to the region upon the construction of the Mangla Dam, lacks evidence. Large infrastructure projects like the Mangla Dam involve complex cost structures, including operation, maintenance, and transmission expenses. These costs necessitate charging consumers a reasonable rate to ensure the project’s long-term sustainability.

On the surface, the PAC’s demand to provide electricity at production cost appears reasonable. However, this fails to consider the significant additional expenses required to deliver electricity to consumers. The cost of transmission infrastructure – including maintaining and repairing power lines, transformers, and grid stations – is substantial. Additionally, salaries for the 15,000 employees of the electricity department must be factored in. If electricity were priced solely at production cost, the Azad Kashmir government would face a funding gap of 20-25 billion rupees annually. This shortfall would cripple the electricity department’s ability to function, jeopardizing the entire power grid and potentially plunging the region into darkness.

The demand for making the Azad Kashmir Bank a scheduled bank is equally impractical. Scheduled banks require a minimum capital of 10 billion rupees, a colossal sum beyond the government’s capacity. Deposits alone cannot fulfill this requirement; it necessitates significant capital investment.

However, not all PAC demands are unreasonable. Their call for improved telecommunication and mobile services resonates with the public yearning for better connectivity. Furthermore, the demand to eliminate income, property, and GST taxes, while seemingly outlandish, reflects a concern over the burden of taxation.

The economic realities of Azad Kashmir must be considered. With a total budget of Rs 232 billion, the Government allocates a significant portion – 30% of the non-development budget – to pay salaries for education department employees and another 10% for healthcare staff. Eliminating taxes would leave the government with a gaping hole in its revenue stream. Without these funds, essential services like education and healthcare would be severely impacted, potentially leading to a shutdown. This raises a critical question: where would the Rs 232 billion needed to run the government come from if taxes ceased to exist? While the desire for tax relief is understandable, the complete abolishment of taxes is simply not a feasible solution neither a reasonable demand.

The PAC also seeks the restoration of student unions, which already exist and operate in colleges and universities. Their request for funding for municipal representatives seems more plausible.

The composition of the PAC’s 25-member negotiating committee further muddies the waters. Individual members are pursuing personal agendas, while local politicians are also adding fuel to the fire by exploiting the situation for their political gains. This lack of a unified purpose weakens the legitimacy of the protests and unveils the nefarious agenda of state enemies.

The violent events of May 9th, 2023 serve as a stark reminder of the dangers of escalation. Despite the Azad Kashmir government’s concessions on electricity and flour prices, along with the withdrawal of Rangers, a group of protestors resorted to violence. The violence in Azad Kashmir wasn’t merely a protest gone wrong; it was an escalation into barbarity. The brutal torture of a government official, the public humiliation through his clothing being displayed as a trophy, and the cold-blooded murder of a sub-inspector leave an indelible stain on this movement.

These actions raise a critical question: where is the accountability for such horrific acts? Silence in the face of such brutality only emboldens those who commit them. A swift and impartial investigation is essential to bring the perpetrators to justice. This will not only ensure that such violence doesn’t become the norm but also reaffirms the state’s commitment to upholding the law and protecting its citizens. A swift and firm response on May 9th could have deterred further violence and sent a clear message that attacks on law enforcement will not be tolerated.

While the PAC’s demands and internal conflicts deserve scrutiny, a more prominent threat looms large: India’s opportunistic interest in the unrest. Recent statements by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, highlighting the oppression in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and hinting at an easy takeover of Azad Kashmir, raise serious concerns and unmasks India’s disregard for other states’ domestic issues and its jingoistic designs.

India’s involvement and exploitation of the situation, adds a dangerous dimension to the situation. Residents in Azad Kashmir, particularly those dependent on tourism, have already borne the brunt of the protests through lockdowns and disruptions. Their yearning for a swift resolution is understandable. However, extremist elements seem intent on prolonging the turmoil for their own nefarious purposes. This only serves to benefit India’s designs in the region.

The Pakistani federal government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, along with state institutions, must act with urgency. Addressing legitimate grievances, finding common ground with genuine representatives of the people, and restoring normalcy are crucial to prevent further suffering and thwart India’s opportunistic motives.

The May 9th violence exposed the dangers of extremists manipulating legitimate grievances for their agendas. Finding a lasting solution requires a multi-pronged approach. The government must prioritize dialogue with genuine representatives to address economic concerns while ensuring law enforcement remains vigilant against those inciting violence. Ultimately, the vast majority of Azad Kashmiris desire peace and stability. By prioritizing open communication, responsible leadership, and upholding the rule of law, the path towards a more prosperous and secure future can be paved.

Manahil Khan

Manahil Khan is a graduate of Masters Political Science from Punjab University, She is associated with international think tanks and development sector as a writer and consultant.

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