Islamabad, April 24: A three-member delegation of the Awami Action Committee has reached Islamabad today to hold dialogue with the five-member committee formed under the leadership of Federal Minister Chaudhary Barjees Tahir.
The dialogue will focus on resolution of the strike that has paralyzed life in the Gilgit-Baltistan for the last 11 days.
The Awami Action Committee has mobilized around a hundred thousand people in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and currently two huge, and yet very peaceful, strikes are going on in Skardu and Gilgit, at the Yadgar-e-Shuhada and the historical Garhi Bagh. A couple of days back thousands of people from Diamer, Hunza-Nagar, Ghizar and Astore had marched into Gilgit to join the main strike camp. The camp in Skardu is also being attended by tens of thousands of people for the last 11 days. The Awami Action Committee is an alliance of almost two dozen religious and progressive organizations, including federal political parties.
The government committee, which has former Advisor Attaullah Shahab, GB Council member Amjad Hussain Advocate, Muhammad Ibrahim and Minister Bashir Khan, was formed on Wednesday to make recommendations for resolving the longest strike of the region’s history. People had cast doubts on the authorities of the committee to take decisions, but Attaullah Shahab yesterday told the media that the prime minister has given full authority to the committee.
The government committee held a meeting on Thursday to discuss the issues. The meeting was also attended by GB Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah and Federal Minister Chaudhary Barjees Tahir.
Barjees Tahir later addressed a press conference in which he said that compared to Punjab the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are getting cheaper wheat. He said that the subsidy has not been withdrawn. “73% of the subsidy still remains”, he said. The Federal Minister also said that the government plans to invest billions of rupees in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, which will usher into a new era of economic prosperity and development.
It is pertinent to note that the subsidy had been provided by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the early 70s on 19 items, including PIA fares and petroleum products. However, the subsidies have gradually been withdrawn and at the moment the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were getting subsidy on wheat only which is also gradually being withdrawn. There are reports that the government planned to increase the price of wheat to 26 rupees per kilogram in three years, according to an agreement signed in June 2011.
The Awami Action Committee emerged in reaction to the gradual increase of the wheat price between 2011 and 2014, when the price of wheat reached 16 rupees per kilogramme from 8 rupees. This hundred percent increase in the wheat price angered the people and they gathered on the platform of the Awami Action Committee, which developed a 9-point charter of demands and started a rigorous mobilization campaign throughout the region. Sensing the public pressure, the government decreased the price per kilogram of wheat to 14, reducing two rupees per kg. However, this did not resonate well with the Awami Action Committee and the movement started which is now at its peak.
In this background, the two committees will meet Friday to discuss the issues on the charter of demands and reach an agreement to end the situation in a peaceful manner.
Meanwhile, the Awami Action Committee has said that if their Charter of Demands is not accepted, they will announce the “fifth stage” of the movement after Friday prayers today. They have not clearly defined what the so-called “fifth stage” might be.