As Pakistan heads towards economic collapse, is it using #KashmirSolidarityDay as a distraction?

By South Asia Press Team

At a time when Pakistan nears bankruptcy, it was indeed astounding to observe the Pakistani Prime Minister chairing a special meeting in Islamabad to review preparations for “Kashmir Solidarity Day” being observed in Pakistan today. The Shehbaz Sharif government even issued a circular to urge schools to observe “Kashmir Solidarity Day”. Separately, Pakistani embassies and consulates across the world have been using their social media accounts to invite the Pakistani diaspora to attend the events organized to mark this event.

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And as the Pakistani government agencies obsess with photo exhibitions, documentaries and seminars on Kashmir, the country struggles to cope with mounting debt, inflated energy import costs, dwindling forex reserves, global inflation, political instability, and a sustained drop in GDP growth. Pakistan has now reached a stage of no return on the economic front. . There was a nationwide blackout for two days from January 23 even in densely populated cities like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, and Peshawar.

While its leaders shed tears for the human rights violation in Indian Kashmir, hundreds of thousands of people living in Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have been facing a severe shortage of food, electricity, and government employees have gone without salaries for some months.

The massive power breakdowns, which engulfed Pakistan last week, has left the mountainous areas of Gilgit Baltistan in dire straits too. For months, a shortage of flour and pulses are now driving people to the streets, who are demanding a basic modicum of livelihood and food. Due to the regular power outages, shops and businesses are shut for most of the day. So are farms, poultry and cattle sheds. Jobs have disappeared. Schools are shut.

People are out on the streets, looking for help from the administration. Protests have become common in Shigar, Baraldu, Ghanche, Balghar and other cities of GB. But there are no assurances about either the supply of flour or power. Power shutdowns last almost 22 hours in major cities like Skardu, the capital of GB. In smaller towns and villages, electricity is restored once every three days, for only 30 minutes.

In the past, there have been clashes between the army and locals over control of land in the area, which is being grabbed by the Pakistani state. The federal government’s thrust on CPEC and relentless usurping of public land for the Chinese cause has created a rift with the local population. People have little trust either in the local administration or in Islamabad to help them tide over the current food and power crisis, leaving them no choice but to lead protests across the region in the coming days.

The question is while the country struggles to stay afloat, is there not a need for it to express solidarity with its owns citizens who are grappling to make ends meet? However, the Pakistan government instead prefers to be preoccupied with “Kashmir Solidarity Days” with the objective to hit out at its arch rival and neighbour, India.  

For the Pakistani state, it is now a race against time to prevent the nation from a complete economic collapse, which could severely impact millions of its citizens. Such is the extent of the crisis that the government auctioned a Pakistani embassy property in the US a few days ago. Speaking at an event in Islamabad last September, PM Shabaz Sharif stated that when any of his cabinet ministers travel or make phone calls to leadership of friendly countries, they assume that the overtures from the Pakistani side are being made because “Pakistan has come to beg for money…”

It remains to be seen that after being stuck in an economic vortex, whether Pakistan, the economically unstable nuclear-powered nation, will continue to hide behind the veil of ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day.’

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