Massive protests rocked Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (POGB) during the first fortnight of this new year when thousands of locals braved sub-zero temperatures shouting slogans against the Paki regime. And then these protests were called off. Abruptly. The restive crowd pacified and sent back to their cozy homes. Why and how? Because the protests, sloganeering and subsequent grants were all stage managed by GHQ Rawalpindi.
The Panjabi generals, brigadiers and colonels have placed their proxies across Pak-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan who can organize and call-off protests at their whims. These Pak Army officers may have never proved their mettle in the battlefield but they have indeed mastered chicanery. Local residents of Gilgit, Skardu and other parts of Baltistan division are dispensable pawns for the Pakistani ‘establishment’ that uses them as tissue paper in the larger gambit.
So, at a time when celebrations began across the world to welcome the new year 2023 rumours flew thick and fast across Gilgit-Baltistan that people would soon go hungry as wheat price is set to hit the roof and that the electricity bills will skyrocket. At the behest of GHQ Rawalpindi the proxies in POGB stirred up local people’s sentiments about the possibility of sleeping empty stomach and freezing during icy cold winters. Rawalpindi sent instructions to a select few ‘leaders’ in the Awami Action Committee, Aman Committee Gilgit and Anjuman-e-Tajiran Skardu (trader’s union) to give a clarion call for protests.
Agha Ali Rizvi, a local Shia Sheikh, put his weight behind these protesters offering the much needed Islamic ‘sanction’ as no demonstration can be deemed successful unless backed by Islamist clerics. Interestingly, Shia cleric Agha Ali Rizvi’s relations with Pakistan Army goes back several years and the cleric unabashedly invokes Karbala and Hussain to stir up passion amongst the predominantly Shia population of Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. In return Rawalpindi rewards Agha Ali Rizvi with government contracts, projects and doles of cash.
All this meant that people stepped out from their homes even when temperature hovered around minus eight to minus ten degrees Celsius. The emotive issues had struck a chord with the populace and people staged a sit-in at Skardu. Soon protests and demonstrations started in other parts of Baltistan division and in Gilgit; the protesters demanded restoration of subsidy on wheat and tax breaks on electricity bills. As the protesting crowd grew bigger it brought in the contentious demand that Paki forces stop illegal land grabbing.
Slyly, the Paki regime let these protests reach a crescendo so as to let the masses feel that they could force the ‘Paki regime’ to bow down and thence accept their demand to stop illegal land grabbing. Almost for a fortnight these protests continued to fester in Gilgit, Skardu and other parts of Baltistan.
A fortnight later GHQ Rawalpindi pulled the strings. Khalid Khurshid, the alleged chief minister of Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (POGB) called the ‘protest leaders’ for talks. Agha Ali Rizvi and the coterie of local stooges projected this as people’s victory that brought the ‘Pakistani establishment’—euphemism for Pakistan Army—to its knees. In reality the timing was ripe for Pakistan Army to offer their sugar-coated poison pill to the masses and reward the proxies for their efficient services. Mining deals, government contracts, plum government positions and hard cash were given to these proxies for their ‘services’.
Of the protester’s set of demands, illegal land grabbing by Pakistan Army in Gilgit-Baltistan was the most contentious. Nothing changed on this. Earlier Pakistan Army grabbed land across Gilgit-Baltistan in the name of erstwhile Khalsa /Khalistan Sarkar (the name Khalsa/Khalistan Sarkar continued to be used in official documents since Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time). Khalid Khurshid gleefully announced the name change from ‘Khalsa/Khalistan Sarkar’ to ‘Government Land’. Apart from the nomenclature gymnastics this effectively means no changes on the ground. The implicit meaning of the verbal skulduggery means illegal land grabbing will continue unabated across Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan but it would now be called ‘Government Land’ (read Pakistani land). The naked loot of natural resources and demographic engineering of settling outsiders in POGB will also continue.
Even the protester’s demand for wheat subsidy was given a raw deal. Khalid Khurshid said a committee would be formed to decide on the finer details for continuation of wheat subsidy and the recommendations of this committee would in turn be sent to Islamabad for ratification. As expected, no timelines for the said committee’s workings and/or recommendations were laid out.
The only saving grace for the POGB protesters was the withdrawal of newly introduced electricity tax (Electricity Line Rent) of sixty rupees per family, a grant deceptively designed to give an impression to the protesters that their campaign was not in vain, rather the Rawalpindi establishment had indeed bowed down.
A few protesters did point out Rawalpindi’s hogwash but their murmurs were drowned in the loud cacophony of victory claims made by Agha Ali Rizvi and other leaders of Anjuman-e-Tajiran and Awami Committee. Yet again the Shia cleric Agha Ali Rizvi and the coterie of selected leaders put their weight and called off the protests.
GHQ Rawalpindi uses popular protests and demonstration as a tool to continue its loot and land grabbing in Gilgit-Baltistan by planting stooges amongst the masses. The obvious question is why should Paki ‘establishment’ go to such great lengths to continue its illegal land grab and loot of natural resources when the network of proxies runs deep within Gilgit-Baltistan.
“The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves,” the Communist dictator Lenin had explained. Despite all efforts to turn local residents of Gilgit-Baltistan into zombies there is a surge of nationalism, especially amongst the younger population. This younger lot has begun questioning and opposing Paki regime at all forums. Rawalpindi doesn’t want to budge and wants to rein these restive teenagers and youngsters from metamorphosing into a formidable opposition. Pakistan Army was only following Lenin’s words in letter and spirit when it let the opposition against itself to fester for a fortnight in Gilgit-Baltistan.