One police officer killed, over 100 injured in clashes during protest in PoK

Violent clashes erupt in PoK over high prices of wheat flour and electricity

Published - May 13, 2024 12:03 pm IST - Islamabad

File photo of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

File photo of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

One police officer was killed and more than 100 people, mostly policemen, were injured in violent clashes between security forces and protesters agitating against high prices of wheat flour and electricity in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, media reports said on May 12.

The region witnessed clashes on May 11 between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Mirpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kamran Ali told that sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in the town of Islamgarh, where he was deployed along with other police personnel to stop a rally for Muzaffarabad via Kotli and Poonch districts under the banner of the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC).

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Protesters demand subsidised wheat flour, lower electricity rates

The JAAC, which has traders at the forefront in most parts of the State, has been seeking the provision of electricity as per hydropower generation cost in the region, subsidised wheat flour and an end to the privileges of the elite class.

The regional government called in the Rangers and a heavy contingent of policemen to stop the demonstrations.

Mobile phone and internet services were suspended in different parts of the PoK on May 12, including Bhimber and Bagh Towns, Geo News reported. In Mirpur, all the mobile networks and internet service have been suspended, it added.

PM Shehbaz Sharif "deeply concerned"

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has called an emergency meeting related to the situation in the region at the President's House on Monday, said sources.

They added that the president instructed stakeholders to bring proposals to resolve the issue. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on May 12 said that he was "deeply concerned" about the situation in PoK.

"Unfortunately, in situations of chaos and dissent, there are always some who rush in to score political points. While debate, discussion and peaceful protests are the beauties of democracy, there should be absolutely no tolerance for taking the law in one's own hands and damaging government properties," he said in a post on X.

He said that he had spoken to PoK “prime minister” Chaudhry Anwarul Haq and directed his party’s office bearers in the region to talk to the leaders of the action committee. He called for peace and said, “Despite best efforts of detractors, the matter will hopefully be settled soon.”

Violent clashes rock PoK

On May 8 and May 9, around 70 JAAC activists were arrested by police during raids at their residences and those of their relatives in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions, triggering serious clashes in Dadyal on May 9.

The committee had subsequently announced a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on May 10, a day ahead of its planned long march towards Muzaffarabad Saturday.

Amid a crippling strike on May 10, violent clashes took place between police and protesters in different areas of Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK.

On May 11, authorities placed mounds of earth on arteries leading to Muzaffarabad, apart from making more arrests, to prevent people from heading towards the city.

Witnesses said that Muzaffarabad division and Poonch division observed complete strikes.

SSP Yasin Baig said at least one police officer and a young boy were injured as police resorted to teargas shelling and aerial firing in some neighbourhoods after stones and bottles were pelted by protesters.

Kotli SSP Mir Muhammad Abid said that at least 78 policemen were injured in the district in “attacks of miscreants under the guise of protest”.

The SSP said 59 policemen, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Ilyas Janjua, and two revenue department officials were injured in Rehaan Galli while another 19 policemen were injured in Sehnsa Baroiyan.

A press release from the District Headquarters Hospital Kotli said apart from the 59 wounded policemen, nine injured protesters were also brought for treatment.

Mr. Abid said some police officials were also reportedly injured in Doliya Jattan.

 A total of 29 protesters were injured in the clashes, according to Geo News.

JAAC spokesperson Hafeez Hamdani said that the action committee had nothing to do with violence. "It seems that such elements have been purposely planted in the ranks of protesters to bring a bad name to a struggle that aims nothing but the legitimate rights of the people,” he said.

PoK’s so-called Prime Minister Haq said that the government was ready to give related relief to electricity and wheat flour prices after violent protests in Mirpur killed one officer and injured over 70 others.

"The government held negotiations with the Awami Action Committee (AAC) and we reached an agreement which we are determined to implement," Geo News quoted Mr. Haq as saying.

Addressing a press conference on May 11, PoK Finance Minister Abdul Majid Khan said the government had exercised “maximum restraint and is ready for talks to peacefully address all contentious issues.

“Issues have to be resolved through dialogue and our doors are always open for negotiations. But the offer should not be misconstrued as a weakness of the government,” he said.

He said the government had accepted all demands of the action committee after which an agreement was signed between the committee and government negotiators, including the provision of targeted subsidy on flour and freezing the electricity tariff on June 2022 levels, but the committee later deviated from the agreement and announced a protest on new demands.

Authorities have banned public gatherings, rallies, and processions in all districts in the wake of protests, with Section 144 imposed in the entire region.

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