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Situation in AJK calms down after 2 days of violent clashes

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MUZAFFARABAD: Following violent clashes over the last 48 hours, which left a policeman dead, the situation in Muzaffarabad seemed to have calmed down on Sunday, with a Rangers detachment that was sent to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) from Kohala having been withdrawn.

AJK witnessed violent clashes between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory on Friday and Saturday, which left at least one police official dead and more than 90 others injured, officials told Dawn.com on Saturday.

Mirpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kamran Ali had said that Sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in the town of Islamgarh, where he was deployed to stop a rally for Muzaffarabad under the banner of the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC).

The JAAC, which has traders at the forefront in most parts of the state, has been seeking the provision of electricity as per hydropower generation cost in AJK, subsidised wheat flour and an end to the privileges of the elite class.

They called for the strike following the arrest of at least 70 of their members in raids on Thursday.

Reports emerged in the wake of the protests on Sunday that three Rangers battalions had entered the territory through Kohala and were awaiting further orders.

However, AJK Minister for Rural Development Faisal Mumtaz Rathore confirmed that the Rangers, due to the intervention of President Asif Zardari, were “called back as soon as they entered Azad Kashmir” since the situation had calmed down.

Meanwhile, in Islamabad, former prime minister of AJK Sardar Abdul Qayyum Niazi slammed the deployment, calling it a “drama” and an attempt to score political points.

“First they send them, then call them back, what is this?” the ex-AJK PM said.

“Those fighting for their rights and engaging in protest are free to do so, but they must remain peaceful,” Niazi said in a press conference.

He added that they (the protestors) must not give the “enemy” a chance to sow discord within the territory and create infighting.

In a post on Facebook, Rathore acknowledged the public demands for cheap electricity, but admitted that addressing them was “out of his hands”.https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ffaisal.rathore.5%2Fposts%2Fpfbid037F4H3P2wBzjAkLwWRho2Hb29unsgNsn1GtwQa2eQBx3uC9YQNZWsn4iM9x3optjBl&show_text=true&width=500&is_preview=true

“The big demand of the people, the demand for cheap electricity and the end of loadshedding, falls under the jurisdiction of the Government of Pakistan,” Rathore said.

Urging the public to remain peaceful, he said, “In this one year [I have been in office], I have never been against the right to peaceful protest and [never] supported violence against people.”

In the aftermath of the protests, JAAC leader Shaukat Nawaz Mir reiterated that the committee is a peaceful organisation and willing to negotiate with the authorities to ensure the provision of cheap electricity and cheap flour. He also appreciated the withdrawal of the Rangers from the area.

“We have planned another shutter-down strike,” he told reporters on Sunday. “We have been peaceful for the last year and always will be a peaceful movement. This territory and its institutions and police are our own.”

Mir maintained that the JAAC is advocating for the rights of the public in AJK, “but it is the bureaucrats who do not understand the public’s needs that are doing the damage”.

The JAAC is peaceful and open to negotiations, Mir added, requesting to be notified by the authorities about decisions taken. “We do not want to hurt anyone.”

He also slammed the federal government for not cutting down spending while at the same time claiming they have no room in the budget to subsidise electricity or flour.

“The government claims they can’t provide cheap electricity and flour because they have no budget, but they have the money for watches and cars,” Mir said, adding that the federal government and the prime minister should be “ashamed”.

“I don’t want my forum to be controversial,” Mir said. “We are made up of respectable politicians … the local council is standing with us”.

The JAAC leader added that the movement was successful since members of multiple parties and councils “are on our side”.

“Our nation is conscious now. There is no politics here, we just want our rights and identity.”

PM’s response

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has taken notice of the situation in AJK and urged PML-N leadership and AJK prime minister Chaudhry Anwar-ul-Haq to pursue negotiations with the JAAC.

Posting on X, he said, “While debate, discussion and peaceful protests are the beauties of democracy, there should be absolutely no tolerance for taking the law in one’s own hands and damaging government properties.”

He added that amidst situations of chaos and dissent, “there will always be people who rush in to score political points”.

The prime minister said that he was in contact with PML-N leaders and the AJK government, urging them to talk to the JAAC and “resort to [a] peaceful course of action for resolution of their (JAAC’s) demands”. Shehbaz added that despite the efforts of “detractors”, the issue will be resolved soon.