Voices from the Other Side 

Recent footage from Muzaffarabad, the capital and largest city of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), depicts huge protests. Thousands of people protest against the high prices of essential goods like flour and frequent power outages in the area. 

The violent protests in PoK have resulted in the death of a police officer and over a hundred injuries. The unrest began after approximately 70 Joint Awami Action Committee members, led by local traders, were arrested during a strike protesting the increasing food, fuel, and utilities costs. Pakistan’s economic crisis and high inflation have brought about hardships for its citizens, and some traders have suffered further due to the halt in trade with India. The paramilitary Rangers were deployed to safeguard government buildings such as the legislative assembly and the courts.

Several reasons collectively were brewing the frustration, which resulted in violent protests in the streets of Muzaffarabad. 

The Unfair Distribution 

Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) supplies Pakistan with abundant electricity. Nearly 23 projects generate a total installed capacity of 2 370 MW, a significant portion of the country’s total installed capacity of 10 852 MW as of 2022. The projection of further generation is even greater. 

When considering the PoK’s hydropower potential together with Gilgit Baltistan, approximately half of the total is accounted for. There is a noteworthy irony—despite this potential, Gilgit witnesses around 20 power outages while Muzaffarabad, though slightly better off, still faces roughly 12 outages on good days. Adding to the frustration, a petition from Kashmiris abroad highlights the disparity in electricity pricing, with Pakistan buying electricity from Kashmir for Rs 2.59 per unit and selling it back to Pakistan-administered Kashmir for Rs 59 per unit. Understandably, locals are outraged and exhausted by this situation. Additionally, it’s worth noting that central government employees receive free electricity. 

Furthermore, the vulnerability of the electricity supply becomes most evident during the winter months when temperatures dive to minus ten degrees Celsius or lower.

Taxation without Representation 

The issue of taxation without representation arises in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, its tax system was integrated with the national tax system in an attempt to expand the tax base in a constricting economy. While this integration seems logical, the problem lies in the fact that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is not officially part of Pakistan. It lies beyond Pakistan’s constitutionally established borders yet is subjected to taxation by the occupying country. This is the primary grievance fueling the current violent protests. Although distant from American history, the demand for ‘no taxation without representation,’ which underpinned America’s independence from British rule, mirrors the desires of the locals in this region.

In theory, there exists a ‘President,’ currently Barrister Sultan Mehmood, and a ‘Prime Minister,’ Anwarul Haq, who was conveniently expelled from Imran Khan’s party and subsequently elected unopposed with 48 votes from the 52-member assembly. However, the region operates as a fiefdom under the Federal Minister of Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. Major decisions are routed through a Council chaired by the Pakistan Prime Minister, significantly diminishing the authority of the ‘Prime Minister’ and his supposed cabinet, rendering them weaker than a district magistrate in India. Adding to the frustration, the National Finance Commission allocates 57 per cent of direct taxes to other provinces, leaving the allotments to these ‘independent’ states unspecified and subject to the minister’s whims in Islamabad. Since individuals from ‘Azad’ Kashmir cannot hold seats in Parliament, the problem becomes glaringly evident.

Trade with India Stopped 

The collapse of trade between India and PoK was a significant blow to traders in the region. This decline was triggered by India’s decision to increase customs duty to 200% on Pakistani goods like dry dates, rock salt, cement, and gypsum in response to the Pulwama terror attack in 2019. According to Dawn, Pakistan’s exports to India decreased from an average of $45 million per month in 2018 to just $2.5 million between March and July 2019.

The situation worsened when Pakistan halted all trade following constitutional changes made by India in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. Over the past five years, bilateral trade between India and Pakistan has declined to around $2 billion annually, a mere fraction of the estimated $37 billion trade potential projected by the World Bank.

A Clearer Hypocrisy 

Pakistan has often presented itself as a defender of the rights of Kashmiris, frequently bringing up the Kashmir issue on different global platforms. However, its constant talk of supporting Kashmiris’ rights on the international stage sharply contradicts its harsh treatment of Kashmiris within its jurisdiction. Pakistan’s hypocrisy becomes glaringly obvious when you look at its actions and policies in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

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