The streets of Gilgi-Baltistan (G-B) wore a deserted look on Monday as markets were shut down and roads were empty due to a strike by the Awami Action Committee (AAC). Attendance in educational institutions, and public and private offices also remained low.
In an attempt to restore the wheat subsidy provided by the federal government for G-B, AAC had appealed to residents of G-B to observe a complete wheel-jam strike. AAC is an alliance of various groups and parties formed to pressure the government into accepting their demand of restoring the subsidy that was originally put in place by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
“This has been the most successful strike in the history of G-B as all seven districts observed it and for that we are thankful to the people as we have made a unified demand to the government,” said Ehsan Ali, chairman of the committee, while talking to The Express Tribune.
Ali termed the strike a referendum against the subsidy’s withdrawal and said it has left the federal and G-B governments with no choice but to lower the rate of wheat to the subsidised value in 2009.
“The government should accept the public’s decision and lower the prices of wheat,” he said.
According to Rafiullah Afridi, a journalist based in Astore Valley, there was a complete strike in the area and some people even organised protests in favour of their demands.
Similarly, reports from Skardu also suggested the strike was a success as people refrained from opening their shops and running public transport vehicles on the roads.
Lawyers’ bodies in G-B also lent their support to the strike and boycotted the courts. G-B Supreme Court Bar Association President Shahbaz Khan said the strike was held to show solidarity with AAC. Following in the public’s footsteps, the private school association of Gilgit also closed their institutions while attendance remained low in government schools.
The issues of subsidy also came under discussion in the G-B Assembly on Monday and legislators showed their support for AAC’s strike.
Amina Ansari, a Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid legislator from Baltistan, raised the wheat subsidy issue and drew the house’s attention towards the strike. She said the subsidy was the right of the people so the government should not play with it.
“This august the house should be informed on whose directives the subsidy is being withdrawn and why,” said Ansari. She demanded that rates should be reversed to those of 2009 when a 40 kilogramme bag of flour was available for around Rs500 as opposed to its current price of Rs850.
Her stance was supported by lawmakers from the treasury benches including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Pakistan Peoples Party.
Deputy speaker Jamil Ahmed conducted the session in the absence of Speaker Wazir Baig while Chief Minister Mehdi Shah was absent from the house as he is not in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2014.