Gilgit-Baltistan: Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (PoK-GB) passed their annual fiscal budgets for 2023-24 one after the other. A glance at both would suffice to prove that for those living under the occupation of Pakistan in PoK-GB, there is no respite while they remain subjugated, Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza wrote.

On June 21, a budget worth Rs 2.32 trillion was approved unanimously by the PoK legislative assembly in Muzaffarabad. On June 26, a budget worth Pakistani Rupees (Rs) 1.16 trillion was approved by the legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan in Gilgit. Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK.

None of them addresses the crucial issue of unemployment, skill enhancement or creating job opportunities in PoK-GB. None of the budgets allocates any substantial funds for projects related to women's empowerment.

None of the budgets has bothered to seriously deal with the issue of increases in pensions or salaries. The budget passed by the PoK assembly was not even challenged by the opposition or for that matter a single member of the house. Only a 35 per cent increase in salaries and a 17.5 per cent increase in pensions against an ever-rising inflation rate of around 48 per cent was approved against a demand for a 100 per cent increase.

Rs 42 billion were set aside in the name of development funds. However, out of a total of Rs 2.32 trillion a staggering Rs 1.19 trillion have been issued as non-development funds. Rs 44 billion have been allocated for education which will go towards paying for the salaries, electricity bills, fuel for the government vehicles and the rest. Currently, in the capital of PoK, Muzaffarabad, alone 811 school buildings that suffered structural damage during the October 2005 earthquake await refurbishment or total reconstruction. Like previous budgets, this time around there are still no funds and for the past 18 years' children are forced to attend school under the open skies.

Therefore, out of a total of Rs 44 billion allocated for education, Rs 40 billion will go toward paying for the salaries and other expenses and a penny will not go towards curriculum development, special needs children or providing coaching for those with learning difficulties. Rs 52 million have been set aside for industry and trade which awaits being siphoned off by the corrupt bureaucracy and the middlemen.

Rs 40 million have been allocated for culture and sports which will be spent on India-hate events such as the Kashmir Solidarity Day observed each year on February 5, Defence Day celebrated on September 6, and August 14 festivities of the so-called independence (read partition) day and religious festivals to keep the false narrative of the two-nation theory of Jinnah alive and so on and so forth. Similarly, Rs 17.52 billion have been allocated for the salaries of those working in the health sector in PoK and the purchase of medicine. Medicine has long been non-available at government hospitals and even a tablet of paracetamol has to be purchased by the patient from a pharmacy outside the hospital.

Hence, any cash left over after paying for the salaries will go toward paying electricity bills and fake invoices claiming billions in fuel and repair charges for ambulances and other vehicles owned by the health department. The budget presented in the PoGB legislative assembly is no different in its approach toward development, health or education.

Out of a total budget for the fiscal year 2023-24 of Rs 1.16 trillion a deficit of Rs 50 billion is already been announced which the PoGB government 'hopes' to get as a grant from Pakistan which itself is facing grave economic challenges of its own.

Development funds of Rs 28 billion have been allocated in the current budget. However, a staggering Rs 74 billion have been set aside for non-development expenses. Out of a total of Rs 1.16 trillion the government will take the lion's share of Rs 1.02 trillion. Only Rs 14 billion will be left for the government to play with and if Pakistan issues a grant of Rs 50 billion. Such is the tale of oppression that PoK-GB suffers under the illegal occupation of Pakistan. Due to the long period of oppression the upper strata of both PoK and PoGB have made deep-rooted connections with the military establishment and therefore enjoy the perks of the budget in the form of huge salaries and other privileges such a subsidy on electricity bills, free of-cost fuel, an army of servants and holidays plus kickbacks in government contracts.

Oppressed people have no opportunity in PoK-GB. On June 14 a group of 166 young men from Kotli in PoK were drowned near the shores of Greece when their boat capsized trying to reach Italy. A special provision to provide financial help to the families of the deceased, who had borrowed Rs 2-3 million each to pay for the agent to take them abroad, has not been made in the budget of PoK. This leaves the bereaved families in debt and at the mercy of loan sharks.

The young people have no opportunity under Pakistan's occupation. The unemployment rate in PoK is 14.4 per cent. That is 7,00,000 unemployed people.

According to a Daily Dawn report published on January 23, 2021, 'each year nearly 5,000 students graduate from more than 500 of them are able to secure a job'.

How many times does it have to be proven beyond doubt that there is and never will be no respite for the People of PoK-GB living under the occupation of Pakistan?