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'We will end the illegal occupation of PoK': Jaishankar amid violent protests in Muzaffarabad

Jaishankar reiterated India's stand that Pakistan-occupied was, is and always will be a part of the Indian territory. His remarks came amid high tensions in Muzaffarabad with clashes between police and protesters demonstrating against high taxes and inflation, resulting in a policeman's death.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Mumbai Published on: May 13, 2024 16:27 IST
EAM, S Jaishankar, PoK
Image Source : ANI External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar

Mumbai: As intensified protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir's Muzaffarabad against high prices of wheat, flour, electricity bills and taxes enter their fourth day, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reiterated India's stand that the region is an integral part of Indian territory and "one day we will end the illegal occupation of the PoK".

The disputed region witnessed clashes on Saturday between the police and activists of a rights movement, leaving at least one police official dead and injuring over 100 people, mostly policemen. A complete strike has also been observed in the territory since Friday, bringing life to a halt. Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will convene a high-level meeting on Monday to discuss the ongoing situation as the negotiations between the protesters and the state government ended in a deadlock.

Dramatic scenes unfolded in Muzaffarabad as police launched a violent crackdown on protesters demonstrating against high inflation and heavy taxation, resorting to teargas shelling and aerial firing. The police had conducted overnight raids and arrested various leaders and activists. The violent protesters damaged multiple vehicles, including a magistrate’s car on the Poonch-Kotli road. 

What did Jaishankar say?

During a media interaction at a seminar on Indian Capital Markets 'Roadmap for Viksit Bharat' at the National Stock Exchange (NSE) in Mumbai, Jaishankar said, "These days, a lot of things are going on at the PoK. You must have seen some incidents happening there. Now, Modi government, we are very clear on this. Parliament's resolution, we are very clear that PoK is a part of India. It is part of India, it was always part of India, it will be part of India."

"And we definitely have this intention. that one day we will end the illegal occupation of the POK and the POK will join with India. Now you see that the opposition is in the opposite direction," he added. The External Affairs Minister also underscored the Modi government's achievement in abrogating Article 370, saying its priority is to develop the Union Territory.

Attacking former J-K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah on his recent remarks that Pakistan is "not wearing bangles", Jaishankar said, "Farooq Abdullah reminds us not to talk about PoK because Pakistan has nuclear weapons. We are proud of India's nuclear weapons. On the contrary, Pakistan's nuclear weapons seem to be more important," he said.

"If it is Manish Shankar Iyer or Farooq Abdullah, they are so afraid of Pakistan's nuclear weapons that they think that we should not talk about PoK. So I will say that whatever the issue of security, we are on the side of CAA, our intention is to take CAA forward. They are the prisoners of the vote bank," he further said.

Why are people protesting in PoK?

The Jammu Kashmir Awami Action Committee (AAC) launched a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike, along with a long march in Muzaffarabad. Reportedly, clashes erupted between law enforcement and demonstrators across various neighbourhoods. The tumultuous scenes were marked by stone-pelting and intense teargas shelling, amplifying tensions in the region. The regional government called in the Rangers and a heavy contingent of policemen to stop the demonstrations.

At the heart of this movement lies a fervent objection to what is perceived as unjust taxation on electricity bills. Last year, a similar shutter-down strike was orchestrated, echoing the demand for fair electricity pricing aligned with the production costs of hydel power in PoK. Despite prior negotiations and a subsequent government notification in February, grievances persisted, culminating in the decision to stage a long march in protest against unmet commitments.

Mobile phone and internet services were suspended in different parts of the PoK on Sunday including Bhimber and Bagh Towns, Geo News reported. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has called an emergency meeting related to the situation in the region at the President's House on Monday, said sources.

"Unfortunately, in situations of chaos and dissent, there are always some who rush in to score political points. While debate, discussion and peaceful protests are the beauties of democracy, there should be absolutely no tolerance for taking the law into one's own hands and damaging government properties," said PM Shehbaz Sharif in a post on X.

Deal with protesters rejected

Authorities have banned public gatherings, rallies, and processions in all districts in the wake of protests, with Section 144 imposed in the entire region. PoK’s so-called prime minister Chaudhry Anwar-ul-Haq said that the government was ready to give related relief to electricity and wheat flour prices after Saturday's violence.

Sources told ARY News that the PoK "government" had offered a 50 per cent reduction in electricity prices per unit, but the JAAC apparently rejected it, insisting on rates aligned with hydropower generation costs. They assert that consumers should be charged based on the production cost of hydropower in PoK. 

Sources indicated that the government has also agreed to the committee's demand for flour subsidies and to rescind the electricity bill hikes. Following clashes that resulted in the death of a policeman, relative calm settled over the region, though business centres remained shuttered and public transport suspended in Muzaffarabad and Poonch divisions. Mirpur saw a partial strike, signalling the depth of sentiment driving the protests.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | PoK reels under violence as Pakistani cops unleash aerial firing, teargas on peaceful protesters | VIDEO


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