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15thConstitutional Amendment in PoJK brings people to Streets

The citizens of Pakistan-occupied Jammu-Kashmir are infuriated at the audacity of their government to propose the 15th Amendment that will transfer the financial and administrative powers of the local government to Islamabad. Protests against the amendment have taken a turn for the worst in Rawalakot, Bagh, Poonch, Muzaffarabad, and Neelum Valley among other areas of PoJK.

The 13th Amendment, introduced four years ago, gave PoJK the right to control the finance and administrative issues, and clearly, that did not set well with the top-drawer in Pakistan.

It’s no secret that the Muzaffarabad government has always taken orders from the federal government. Tourism is the lifeline of Kashmiris, and the Pakistani military exercising control over tourism hubs and establishing a tourism development authority has angered the locals. They sense that through the 15th amendment, Pakistan will consume PoJK into its federation.

Since July 1, women and children have been sitting on roads for several days in the region shouting freedom slogans and demanding the Army return to the barracks. Citizens have known the agony of living under the thumb of the Pakistani government before the introduction of the 13th amendment. They have been denied dignity in living.

Many people have been arrested, but their crimes remain unknown. Is it unlawful to ask for basic facilities such as clean drinking water, social opportunities, education institutions, and healthcare? Underdevelopment and disenfranchisement have taken people to the streets!

The Planning and Development Department of PoJK has reported that fifty percent of the total population of the region has no access to piped water; 78 percent of the total households have no tap water connections. Meanwhile, the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam is a ticking bomb for PoJK, which can swipe all lives in the area.It is because of unlawful occupation of forest cover which has reduced to 14 percent from 42 percent.

The electricity produced in PoJK relieves the heat in Punjab, while people of the region face load shedding for 18 to 20 hours. The river waters are diverted for hydropower projects built by Chinese companies. And these companies make all the profits which even the Pak federal government has opposed.

For three years in a row, there has been a severe shortage of wheat and a rise in inflation. Ex-servicemen have not seen a single paisa in the name of pension, and government employees have not received salaries during the year.All those who oppose the government in PoJK are labelled as traitors or agents and then put through a series of torture, humiliation, or jail.

Protests against the 15th Amendment and oppressive taxes are spreading like wildfire across the state. It will scrap the 13th Amendment and restore the Kashmir Council. Pakistan has tried every trick in the book to keep PoJK on a leash, denying them political and basic human rights.

Major protests have been going on since the night of July 25 when the police started baton-charging and shelling tear gas at the protesters in Poonch, Rawalkot, and Thorar. Political leaders and activists have been detained and taken to undisclosed locations. Baseless cases are registered against them on charges of blocking highways.

Presently, there is a curfew-like situation in Poonch and a partial shutdown of internet service in some areas.Roads are closed for all types of vehicles owing to the burning of tyres. Pakistan’s mainstream media is forbidden to cover these scenes. The pro-independent activists feel that debris will be thrown at theirorganizationsas they demand the complete independence of Kashmir. These leaders have cautioned the administration that using force will make the matters worse.

Protests in the Khaigala area of Poonch were quietened through the use of force and indiscriminate open firing. The injured protesters were denied medical attention while a few unfortunates died on spot. Authorities did not disclose the death toll.

Pakistan government used to receive Rs 500-600 crores in taxes every year from PoJK before the 13th amendment. After the amendment was implemented, these funds directly went to the PoJK government. Of course, the federal government could not resist curbing PoJK’s powers as an independent entity and missing out on the crores of rupees annually.

The 15th Amendment Bill will usurp the monetary powers from the PoJK government and subsequently turn the PoJK administration into a provincial entity. This is a breach of trust and a clear violation of the rights of the illegally occupied territory.

The Poonch division is a Police state. On the 26th of July, a huge protest was held against the proposed tourism authority at the headquarter of Neelum Athmuqam by the PoJK government where a large number of lawyers, traders, and civil society members took part. This fire is also spreading to Balochistan.

Traders’ action committees, nationalists, and political and religious organizations have been demonstrating on the streets to express their solidarity with the people of Pooch. The resistance movement has warned that if the detainees including the nationalist leader Leyaqat Hayatare are not released then Sardar Tanveer’s government will have to jail the entire PoJK.

This amendment is a conspiracy to dilute the identity of PoJK. The Poonch division of the Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation (JKNSF) during a protest at Khaigala (Poonch) made a statement – “Though tyrant, audacious, and shameless rulers have crossed all limits of enmity against the people, this oppressive act of the government has increased public awareness and has encouraged the common people to follow the path of continuous struggle for their rights. This spirit can take the form of civil disobedience against the oppression of the government in the coming days.”

Harjap Singh

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