Pakistan-Occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (POGB) region is witnessing a surge in political tensions following the occupying government’s decision to implement a “targeted subsidy” on wheat prices. The move, aimed at restructuring the subsidy system, has ignited fresh waves of discontent in a region already grappling with political complexities.
Illegally occupied and administered by Pakistan and entwined in the broader POJK issue, POGB has long experienced a sense of political disempowerment. The latest trigger for discontent stems from the occupying POGB government’s resolution to introduce a “targeted subsidy” on wheat prices, a decision met with skepticism and resistance.
Subsidy withdrawal is violating international law
Until now, the federal government in Islamabad had been providing subsidized wheat to the people of POGB as the territory is disputed and is under its control. However, faced with national financial constraints, Islamabad has been contemplating the withdrawal of this subsidy, which is a sheer violation of UN rules. The regional government, which is a puppet at the hands of the Pakistan Army in POGB, also views the subsidy as a hindrance to development projects, as approximately 10 billion rupees are allocated annually for providing subsidized wheat.
A recent announcement by a cabinet member of the occupying POGB government revealed that henceforth, only individuals earning below a specified income threshold will qualify for subsidized wheat. While the announcement came recently, the deliberation to do so were ongoing for past many months.
The occupying POGB government defended its decision of targeted subsidy, asserting that the cost dynamics of wheat procurement are becoming unsustainable. According to official statements, a 40kg bag of wheat grain costs the government around 4,900 rupees, while imported wheat stands at approximately 6,200 rupees per bag. In contrast, the local populace in POGB has been accustomed to acquiring a 40kg bag of wheat grain for nearly 1,100 rupees. The government contends that the rising cost of wheat has strained its ability to meet the demand.
In response to the decision, government officials above Basic Pay Scale 17, including those in constitutional positions, will no longer receive subsidized wheat. Moreover, subsidized quotas for government departments, dignitaries, and special institutions have been rescinded.
Concerns of people in POGB
The decision has encountered fierce opposition from the Awami Action Committee, a coalition of civil society organizations and political parties. They have announced plans for mass agitation if the decision is not reversed. Opponents argue that POGB, classified as a disputed territory has a limited per capita landholding. The situation is more aggravated as Pakistan Army has illegally acquired large portion of land of the inhabitants using Land Reform Act, leaving inadequate cultivable land. And so after illegal occupation of region and illegal land capturing, it is solely the duty of Pakistan to provide subsidized wheat and other basic amenities.
Also due to political and constitutional disempowerment, Pakistan has a duty to provide wheat subsidies to the region. The subsidy serves as a crucial support system for a population grappling with poverty and a lack of constitutional rights. And in case Pakistan is incapable to provide the subsidized wheat to the people of POGB while thriving on its resources, it should vacate the region with immediate effect.
Pakistan has, time and again, withdrawn the subsidy in the past, resulting in organizations like the Awami Action Committee mobilizing significant protests and compelling the federal government to reconsider its decisions. Through consistent withdrawals, Pakistan tests the situation so that the burden of subsidies can be eliminated once and for all, rendering POGB a mute spectator of its own deterioration, similar to other states in Pakistan.