Protest concessions

A protest in Muzaffarabad Kashmir seen in this photo from May 10, 2024.— Screengrab/X/HamirMirPak

LAHORE: When we are on the other side of the table, we try to find faults, even in the best government policies. This government is by no means operating flawlessly but has certainly succeeded in stopping the rot we were facing.

Pakistan is still highly vulnerable to the slightest political or economic disturbances. The desires of the electorate do not match the resources available currently or, for that matter, for a long time to come. When pressure to do more is exerted by opposing forces, the government deviates from its stated policies and encourages its detractors to ask for more.

The government recently surrendered to the demands of demonstrators in Kashmir by lowering power tariff and atta rates to less than half the rates at which these are available in any other part of the country. In fact, it was news to the entire nation that the people of Azad Kashmir were already getting wheat flour at much lower rates than even in Punjab, and its power tariff was less than the tariff of lifeline power consumers elsewhere in Pakistan.

How can a cash-starved country afford to offer these concessions? Would it not open Pandora’s box as people of other regions might resort to such protests? Why is our government so weak as to be unable to stop protests as soon as they erupted? People in other areas would now be encouraged to make unrealistic demands.

There was no justification in accepting the unrealistic demands of the protestors. Currently, the power rates in Kashmir are perhaps the lowest in the world, and the atta rates are also the lowest on the globe. Across the road in Punjab, the power rates are one of the highest in the world, and atta prices are also the highest in the Sub-continent. The prices are the same in other provinces of Pakistan.

The good work done by governments in the past three years would go down the drain if the government continued to show such weaknesses. It must restore its writ. It must be made clear to every segment of society that they have to operate within the boundaries of the law.

The detractors of the constitution must be told in clear terms that protest is their right, but they would not be allowed to infringe on the rights of other citizens. They should not be allowed to block the free movement of ordinary people and deny them the right to get medical care or any other need.

Roads must not be allowed to be blocked, nor the protestors allowed to move traffic at a snail’s pace on paths used by ordinary citizens. Moreover, the Prime Minister should not enjoy powers to sanction huge amounts to pacify protestors. The subsidies provided in Kashmir would deprive the other regions of the country of development and welfare needed there.

This concession would be a blow to the demands of many industrial sectors that are demanding concessions on power tariffs. The government has refused to entertain their demands, and rightly so. But the government has set a wrong precedent by providing concessions to the people of Azad Kashmir on their protest.

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