Wheat, Electricity And Taxes: What Caused Protests and Clashes In Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir

Despite Pakistani PM Shehbaz Sharif announcing a drastic reduction the price of wheat through the 23 billion PKR package, tensions remain high in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

ANI on X
What Caused Protests and Clashes In Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir | Photo: ANI on X

As Pakistan's economic crisis deepens and tensions rise in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee has declared a "black day" on Tuesday over the killing of three people in the clashes with Pakistani paramilitary forces.

Over the past weekend, several protests and marches were planned by JAAC to address the rampant inflation in the region. However, these peaceful protests soon turned violent after a massive crackdown by Pakistani security forces. The clashes have left dead three, including a police officer and around 100 people injured.

What Caused The Protests?

On May 10, the Awami Action Committee announced a wheel-jam and shutter-down strikes in Samahni, Sehansa, Mirpur, Rawalakot, Khuiratta, Tattapani, Hattian Bala and other cities across the region, against the rising rate of inflation.

The protestors took to the street to demand for subsidised rates on wheat flour, tax-free electricity and the rising inflation. The protests also called for an end to the privileges enjoyed by the elite classes.

The call for the shut downs were also triggered by the arrest of 70 activists with JAAC last week.

Along with its economic crisis, Pakistan also reported a surge in prices for electricity petrol, wheat and flour. Kissan Ittehad Pakistan, a farmers group, announced a nationwide demonstration against the ongoing wheat crisis.

The wheat crisis came as a result of the ongoing economic crisis and private businesses being allowed to import wheat, pushing aside the domestic production across the country. Before the protests, 40kgs of wheat cost around PKR 3,100.

Meanwhile, the price of electricity in the region stood at 65 rupees per unit. 

How Did The Protests Turn Violent?

In response to these arrests, JAAC called for a shutdown over the weekend and announced a long march towards Muzaffarabad. However, in order to stop this march, Pakistani authorities and police officials resorted to teargas shelling and firing which caused major disruptions to the life there

In view of the clashes, the regional governments ordered the closure of all school, markets and offices across Azad Jammu and Kashmir (referred to as PoK in India).

As per local newspaper Dawn, the Paramilitary rangers were met with rocks and stone pelting from protestors which prompted them use teargas and bullets in response. . Several videos of Pakistani forces suing batons on protestors and demonstrators were also circulated on social media.

Was India Involved?

During the protests, several chants for "Azadi" and intervention from India were also raised. As per social media reports, 'Pakistan se lege Azadi' slogans were heard in PoK

Several Pakistani government officials have also hinted at "enemy propaganda" being used to stir up the protests in PoK. However, Islamabad has not blamed India for the crisis as of now.

Meanwhile, JAAC leaders have stated that they were not influence by New Delhi and have been protesting the rising prices since 2023.

"This is merely propaganda against our movement by the government. Our protest is purely for our rights and it does not have any nationalist agenda. We are asking for our development, for fairness and justice," Imtiaz Aslam, a senior JAAC leader told Al Jazeera.

JAAC leader Aslam also stated that their fight regarding the crisis is "not with the state of Pakistan but with the corrupt rule of the government" in PoK.

"This is what government always does, whenever anybody tries to raise voice, they allege an Indian connection,” he said.

As Tensions Rise, JAAC Vows To Continue Protests

In response to the strikes and protests, Pakistani Prime Minister Shezbaz Sharif approved a PKR 23 billion subsidy programme, which drastically reduced the price of wheat and flour in the region. As per Dawn, the price of wheat came down to Rs 2,000 for 40kgs and the tariff on electricity was also reduced to PKR 3, Rs 5 and Rs 6 per unit for up to 100, 300, and above, respectively.

However, despite the relief,, JAAC has announced it will continue to protest against the killing of three protestors.

"Our protesters were completely peaceful but the government’s decision to call in rangers meant that they wanted to use force against us, and now we see that three people were killed,” Shaukat Nawaz Mir, JAAC Chairman told Al Jazeera.

The committee has stated that they planned on celebrating Sharif's decision of the subsidy package. But after the killing of three people, JAAC has vowed to continue their protests against the regime in the region.