Islamabad: In a contrast that may seem cruel, Pakistan’s snow-bound north is feeling the heat of shortages — of food, fuel and finance — and frustration among the people of the tourist paradise is causing angry protests.
Long years of neglect are showing. Angry demonstrations have dotted Pakistan-governed Kashmir and the remote Gilgit-Baltistan provinces where people find even wheat flour, a basic daily necessity, getting out of their reach. The provincial administrations are running short of funds allotted for wheat purchases.
People from all walks of life in several parts of the two Himalayan regions have been blocking highways and burning tyres to express their resentment against the government.
One of the world’s larger granaries when it comes to wheat, Pakistan is having to import the commodity thanks to last year’s floods. This has been worsened by severe financial stress. The wheat flour shortage led to hoarding and black marketing that is being witnessed across the country. The remote north feels the heat since it has to worry about the delays caused by the transportation of goods amid fuel shortages.
Protesters said they were unable to make ends meet owing to the government’s policy failures, which resulted in a sharp rise in wheat price.
Appeals to the federal government brought forth some positive responses from Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal. He ordered the release of funds, but it would take some time before they actually reach the north and its starved people.
Informed sources told Dawn (January 26) that the federal government had not released the annual financial development grant of the GB although the region depends heavily on the financial grant of the federal government.
The federal government provides Rs 8 billion annually to GB to purchase subsidised wheat for the people. But fewer quantities could be procured within that amount as flour prices have risen nationally.
In such a situation, Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Khalid Khursheed is telling his people that the ‘real’ problem is that the federal government is busy fighting the opposition and alleges that funds are being diverted to keep the flock of the ruling alliance lawmakers under control.
The anti-federal talk resonates amid all-round shortages faced by the people in the remote, usually-neglected areas, and is fuelling protests, media reports said quoting the region’s political leaders.
Khursheed has alleged that the federal government is cutting the development budget for Gilgit-Baltistan and delaying the releases by using the difficult economic conditions facing the country “as an excuse”, while distributing “billions of rupees as political bribes to its MNAs”.
The Chief Minister said that the federal government first reserved “Rs 70 billion for its members, then last month, it increased the amount by another Rs 17 billion to Rs 87 billion, and now it has increased it by another Rs 3 billion to Rs 90 billion,” Urdu Point newspaper reported (January 25).
Khursheed is compelled to divert public anger with this talk as he faces heat from the opposition in the province. The Awami Action Committee has warned his government that unless flour and fuel supplies are normalised, “anyone becoming an obstacle in the flour supply would be smashed”.
The AAC has alleged that 150,000 bags of wheat had “gone missing” and has demanded that the government must act to catch those responsible, Baad-e-Shimal said in Daily K2 newspaper.
Pakistan’s north is feeling the ripple effects of the crisis at the national level. People of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan here have felt discriminated against historically.
Observers have time and again blamed the government for being both negligent and systematically discriminatory towards the people of PoK.
They say Islamabad has ensured over the past seven-and-a-half decades that the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir remain marginalized. Islamabad has also been accused of meting out second-class citizen treatment to the people of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.