Since February, unnoticed by the world at large, the self-governed region of Gilgit Baltistan has been witnessing strong protests for basic rights and an equal share in development.
What started off as a resistance to the wheat subsidies being removed had snowballed into full-fledged protests in all seven districts, according to convener of the Awami Action Committee (AAC) Ehsan Ali, an advocate.
Mr. Ali told The Hindu on the phone from Gilgit that people were rising against the injustice and exploitation of this region and some of their demands were even partially accepted.
“We are now struggling for political and fundamental rights and protesting against this toothless government, which is a puppet regime,” he said.
About 13 political parties have come together to form the AAC, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Workers Party and regional parties, which has since two months mobilised support for its demands.
Mr. Ali said the people were very upset with rights to mineral deposits and industrial raw materials being given to outside companies, including multinationals. The region has vast deposits of iron, mica, marble and even gold and precious stones.
“We think these leases must be given to local people and used for their development,” he said.
He said the government was withdrawing subsidies on wheat and the AAC believes there can be no taxation without representation. The government was collecting taxes from the people of Gilgit Baltistan but it had no representatives in the Parliament. The AAC was demanding cancellation of leases to the companies and elimination of corruption and recovering of money looted from the public.
Another raging issue was that of the Diamer Bhasha dam and the people of Diamer district had formed an action committee to protest the project. They were demanding 80 per cent of the royalty from the energy generated from the dam along with better services and employment in the project. The people of Diamer have been agitating for over a year and during this movement two persons were killed in firing, Mr. Ali pointed out.
He said the AAC supported the Diamer agitation. The protests have elicited a response from the government and the Minister for Kashmir Affairs is expected to make a statement. The Prime Minister has assured the people of Gilgit that all their demands would be addressed.
“We are waiting to see what the government says,” Mr. Ali added.