Pakistan is beset by a host of problems. From the precarious state of the economy to the rising food inflation in the country, the political mobilisation of the opposition to the declining credibility of the government, the Imran Khan administration is facing an unprecedented crisis staring at it in the face.
Skyrocketing food inflation is one of the serious problems plaguing Islamabad. With its finances in bad shape, the government has scant control and resources to keep a check on the spiralling food inflation.
As a consequence, the Pakistani government has prioritised the regions where it wants to intervene and control the prices before they spark an outrage. While Pakistan claims Jammu and Kashmir to be its “jugular vein”, it has kept an illegally occupied part of the state—Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(PoK) last on its priority list to assuage the concerns of the inhabitants of the region.
Though entire Pakistan is in the grips of rising food inflation, the situation in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is particularly grim as the region has witnessed a staggering 30 per cent rise in the prices of wheat in just one month. Consequently, the residents of PoK have hit the streets and vehemently registered their protest against the rising inflation.
According to a report published in The News, the inhabitants of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(PoK) are paying substantially higher for the food grains than what is paid by those living in the mainlands in Pakistan. The reason, it cites, is the hilly terrain and the abject state of infrastructure which raises the transportation costs. It added that the general trend of rural areas having higher inflation than urban has only added to the miseries of PoK residents.
The report goes on to claim that not just price hike per se, but the relatively higher price hike in PoK as compared to mainland Pakistan has fuelled discontent among people and compelled them to come out on roads to protest against the Pakistani government.
PoK residents more connected to Gulf countries than mainland Pakistan: report
The ongoing protests against the rising inflation in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is carried out by the grassroots action committee at the local village and bazaar levels.
The report further added that PoK residents are more connected to the Gulf countries than mainland Pakistan. Traditionally, the PoK had been a subsisting agrarian economy, with women and men working in the farms. However, the neoliberal policies by the Pakistani government and lack of employment in PoK forced people to migrate to Gulf countries in search of jobs and new opportunities.
The unemployment in PoK is one other factor that has fanned the ongoing demonstrations against the Imran Khan government. As per official data, the unemployment rate stands at an astounding 33 per cent in PoK. In absence of jobs, youths in PoK are forced to travel to Gulf countries and make a living there.
This, in turn, has disrupted the ecosystem of the self-sustaining agrarian economy and created a new consumer market in PoK which is more vulnerable to the external factors.
Lack of the Pakistani government’s commitment towards PoK is responsible for their current predicament
Remittances have now become the main source of income for the majority of the households in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and its economic infrastructure is more connected to the Gulf countries than Pakistan. This has also played a big role in inflaming protests against the Pakistani government. The residents in PoK, already reeling from the pandemic-induced economic hardships in the Gulf countries, are angry with the Pakistani government for not being able to control the rising inflation.
As per data, the agricultural productivity of PoK is markedly poor as compared to the well-irrigated districts of Pakistani Punjab. Furthermore, the Pakistani government has not shown a keen interest in empowering the residents of PoK as they have in empowering those living in mainland Pakistan. The region still lacks affordable institutional credit and modern storage facilities that are crucial to spawn a new-age agriculture ecosystem.