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Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir protests persist as talks stall

Protests continue in PoJK's Muzaffarabad (Photo: ANI)

Amid a resumption of the march in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made pledges to address the ‘genuine demands’ of the protesters. However, despite efforts, an agreement between the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee and the PoJK government remained elusive, with the protest movement pressing forward with its march on Muzaffarabad, Dawn reported.

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.

The impasse persisted even after talks between the JAAC core committee and PoJK Chief Secretary Dawood Bareach ended without progress in Rawalakot. A protester from Rawalakot accused the government of employing evasive tactics, exacerbating tensions further, as reported by Dawn.

Participants in the discussions included figures from various regions, including Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot, Kotli, and Bagh. However, hopes for a breakthrough were dashed, as one participant, Sardar Umar Nazir Kashmiri, lamented the lack of tangible outcomes, accusing the government of deception and delay.

In response to the ongoing protests, government offices and educational institutions announced closures for the following day. Demonstrators, emboldened by their leaders’ firm stance, vowed not to be swayed by empty promises, demanding concrete action on their grievances.

Despite initial optimism among JAAC representatives, hopes for a resolution were dashed, leading to a call for the continuation of protests. Meanwhile, essential businesses in the capital briefly reopened, but the streets remained eerily deserted, reflecting the tense atmosphere gripping the region.

Similar scenes unfolded in Rawalakot, with sparse vehicular activity save for those carrying activists from neighbouring districts. The scheduled rallies from the Mirpur and Poonch divisions indicated a unified front in the protest movement, with locals showing solidarity by welcoming the procession, according to Dawn.

Rumours of Ranger intervention added fuel to the fire, sparking fears of further escalation. While the paramilitary force’s initial withdrawal was met with relief by some, reports of their return fueled uncertainty and anxiety among the populace.

In the face of mounting tensions, both President Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz urged restraint and dialogue to resolve the crisis. President Zardari emphasised the importance of responsible action by all stakeholders, warning against exploitation by external forces.

Prime Minister Shehbaz echoed these sentiments, expressing deep concern over the situation and calling for a peaceful resolution through dialogue. He convened a meeting to address the ongoing crisis, emphasising the need to uphold the rule of law and protect public property.

In a statement on social media, the Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to resolving the situation peacefully, despite attempts by detractors to politicise the issue. He remained optimistic about a swift resolution, urging all parties to engage constructively in dialogue, Dawn reported.