Thousands march on Gilgit as protests over wheat price hike intensified
GILGIT: In a continuation of the month-long protest against the Gilgit-Baltistan government’s decision to hike subsidised wheat prices, thousands from Hunza, Nagar, and Ghizer districts marched towards Gilgit on Saturday as part of ‘Plan C’ of the ongoing protest.
For the second consecutive day on Saturday, a complete shutter-down and wheel-jam strike paralyzed the entire region.
The strike, organized by the Awami Action Committee (AAC) in collaboration with traders, transporters, and hotel owner associations, brought normal life to a standstill. Private and government offices and educational institutions saw small attendance due to transport unavailability, causing hardships for people in accessing essential goods and services.
The protest march from Yasin Valley in Ghizer towards Gilgit saw participants carrying banners and chanting slogans against the government while demanding their rights. Similarly, a large gathering in Aliabad, Hunza, marched towards Gilgit, joined by many protesters en route.
Meanwhile, a protest rally originating from the last village of Nagar, Hoper Valley, which had turned into a sit-in at Harspodas, blocking the Karakoram Highway, continued its march towards Gilgit.
Protest rallies and demonstrations were also held across all districts of Baltistan, with thousands participating in sit-ins at Skardu’s Yadgar-i-Shuhada for the 34th consecutive day. Despite the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a sit-in on Siachin Road in Ghanche district continued unabated.
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The protesters, enduring harsh weather conditions, expressed frustration over the government’s indifference towards their demands. They warned of expanding the protest movement if their demands were not met promptly and held the government responsible for any adverse incidents during the demonstrations.
Highlighting the scale of the ongoing protests in Gilgit-Baltistan, the protesters emphasized that their movement surpassed the gatherings organised by political parties in other regions of the country.
Expressing disappointment over the lack of response from both the caretaker government in Pakistan and the Gilgit-Baltistan government, the protesters reiterated that their demands extended beyond the reversal of the wheat price hike to encompass other critical needs of the region.
Caretaker PM Snubs G-B Council’s Meeting Plea
Member of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, Ahmed Ali Nori, disclosed that despite efforts to engage with the caretaker Prime Minister, Anwarulhaq Kakar, regarding the issue of the subsidized wheat rate hike, their requests for a meeting have been ignored.
Nori explained that they had met with President Dr Arif Alvi, who assured them of addressing the matter through relevant channels. However, despite the President’s efforts, the caretaker Prime Minister has not allocated time for a meeting, despite the escalating situation. Nori further revealed that despite calls from Gilgit-Baltistan, the caretaker Prime Minister has cancelled the pre-scheduled meetings twice, indicating a lack of willingness to engage on the issue.
Charter of Demands
The protesters have put forth a comprehensive 15-point agenda of demands, encompassing various aspects of governance and development in Gilgit-Baltistan. These demands include fixing wheat subsidy rates to those of 2022, repealing the GB Finance Act of 2023 to abolish all taxes, and ending the government’s forced acquisition policy of unpopulated and barren lands.
Additionally, they seek measures such as granting industry status to hotels and transport, revoking leases on mineral resources, abolishing existing administrative orders, and establishing engineering and medical colleges in the region.