Wheat subsidy issue gaining momentum in Gilgit-Baltistan

Gilgit, February 11: The decision of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federal Government to gradually reduce subsidy on the sale price of wheat is gradually creating a political storm in the region . The decision, reportedly taken in 2011 at a meeting attended by Senior Minister Muhammad Jafar, the then Chief Secretary Saifullah Chattha, Secretary Muhammad Ali Yougvi, among others, is very unpopular among the masses and the political parties, including segments of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. During the 2011 meeting held at the cabinet division in Islamabad, it had reportedly been decided to gradually reduce the amount of subsidy given by the federal government on wheat by 70%. The federal government was going to continue paying 30% of the sales price as subsidy.

The efforts of the Gilgit-Baltistan government to implement the decision has been triggering resistance. At one point late last year, even the Gilgit-Baltistan government had risen against the decision, refusing to raise the price of wheat in the region despite of insistence by the federal government.

The issue has again gained momentum. Recently, an “Awami Action Committee” was formed in Gilgit, comprising 30 members from different political parties and schools of thought, including leftist and nationalist groups. The  AAC today announced at a press briefing that they will launch a region-wide movement to challenge the reduction of subsidy in the price of wheat. A couple of days back, the Majlis-e-Wehdatul Muslimeen, an emerging regional political force, had also announced to launch a movement against the withdrawal of the subsidy.

Yesterday, the region’s finance minister Muhammad Ali Akhtar, also supported the call for resistance against the withdrawal of wheat subsidy. He said that the wheat subsidy was a gift by PPP Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and it should not be withdrawn. He also announced to join the protesters if the decision was not reversed.

A political figure from Yasin Valley, Raja Jahanzeb, has played an instrumental role in generating the movement by meeting with different religious and political leaders to gain their support and confidence. He had also claimed having the support of Qazi Nisar and Agha Rahat, two influential prayer leaders based in Gilgit city.

It is pertinent to note that two years back a similar protest had been started in different parts of Gilgit-Baltistan region. A “Long March” had been started from the Yasin Valley which had reached Gahkuch and was moving towards Gilgit. However, the Long March had been cut short by government’s decision to withdraw hike in the price of wheat.

The nationalist forces are looking at the issue as an opportunity to raise awareness about the region’s disputed constitutional status within the state of Pakistan. A press release shared with the media had stated that the government of Pakistan cannot withdraw the subsidy on wheat and other commodities till resolution of the region’s constitutional issues.

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