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Gilgit-Baltistan: Religious Parties to promote sectarian harmony in GB

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GILGIT (ET): Four religious parties in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have joined hands to promote sectarian harmony in the region. They expressed the concern that G-B had become the centre of foreign powers’ attention over the years owing to its geographic location. The decision was taken by the leadership of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Jamat Islami (JI) and Shia Ulema Council (SUC) during an Iftar dinner held here recently.

“Since the political government has failed to maintain peace, it is now up to the religious organisations to come forward and play their due roles,” said Advocate Mushtaq of Jamat Islami.

Sheikh Nayyar Hussain represented the Wahdatul Muslimeen, while Maulana Maqsood represented JUI-F. Advocate Mushtaq and Maulana Abdul Sami represented JI while Shia Ulema Council was represented by Sheikh Mirza Ali.

The religious parties’ alliance is viewed as the first major breakthrough in the region after the worst sectarian bouts that claimed 23 lives and wounded over 50 others recently.

The clerics decided to form Milli Yakjehti Council to cement ties of the rival sects whose clashes have stalled all development activities in the region. The first meeting of the council has been scheduled for the first week of September.

Abdul Sami said that nefarious designs of the enemies could only be defeated by observing patience and removing mutual mistrust.

The leaders also agreed to use the platform of Milli Yakjehti Council for celebrating religious events jointly in future. Moreover, they decided to form similar setups at district level to forge unity among the followers of respective sects.

Gilgit-Baltistan:DBD Funding linked to Indian Agreement by WB

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Islamabad (ET): Amidst strained relations with the US, Pakistan was unable to obtain a positive response from Washington-based World Bank to help finance the $11.7 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam project.

Sources in the ministry of finance revealed that the World Bank has again linked the financing of the multi-billion dollar project with Indian concurrence. Pakistan was unable to receive a firm commitment from World Bank’s Vice President for South Asia Isabel Guerrero to co-finance the mega project when Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh met with the former on Monday.

Sources added that Shaikh raised the issue of financing the dam with the vice president but could not get a “welcoming response”.

Earlier, the government had claimed that the World Bank has agreed in principle to finance the project. The breakthrough was achieved during Shaikh’s meetings with top officials of the international lending agency during his visit to Washington.

Officials are attributing the bank’s retraction and change of heart to the strained relationship that Islamabad and Washington have witnessed of late. Some sources said that the World Bank has linked the financing of the dam with Indian concurrence for the project — given India’s opposition to the dam on claims that it is located in the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Insiders insisted that the US has given assurances that it will ask the World Bank to finance the project but the promise remains unfulfilled. “We have come to the conclusion that the issue of the financing of the dam by the World Bank can only be resolved during strategic discussions with the US,” an official said.

The US enjoys immense clout over the working of the international bank given that it is the largest fund provider and also holds the presidency of the multilateral lending agency.

The finance minister also asked the World Bank to restore its budgetary support that remained suspended due to deterioration in key macroeconomic indicators of the country. However, the government could not get encouraging response on that front either.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is expected to be the lead financer of the project that is expected to generate 4500 megawatts of electricity besides storing water for agriculture purposes once completed.

Although the ADB has yet to formally announce the exact numbers despite forcing the government to agree to various conditions, Pakistan is expecting to receive around $4 to $4.5 billion.

In a bid to avoid any dispute, the ADB has compelled the government to offer compensation of international standards which increased the cost of land acquisition.  The fresh cost of land acquisition has been worked out at Rs116.4 billion, according to the Planning Commission document.  However, the government has allocated only Rs7.8 billion for the next year expecting little progress on the dam due to financing bottlenecks. ADB’s new Director General for South and West Asia Klaus Gerhaeusser is also coming to Islamabad on a one-day visit to discuss issues relating to the financing of energy sector projects, primarily the Diamer-Bhasha dam, said sources.

He is slated to hold meetings with Shaikh, Minister for Water and Power Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and Wapda Chairman Shakil Durrani.

Gilgit-Baltistan:GB Rich in Tourism

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Astore (Obs.): Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) has rich tourism potential and the government is utilizing all available resources for its promotion. This was stated by Advisor to Tourism Gilgit-Baltistan Miss Sadia Danish in a telephonic conversation with meida on Wednesday.

She said negotiations had been held with various renowned companies of the country to develop the region on modern lines. She added due to the efforts of Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah the tourism department was developing at a rapid pace.

Gilgit-Baltistan:SC tribunal to resolve KPK-GB dispute on DBD

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ISLAMABAD (News): The government will constitute a high-powered tribunal led by chief justice of Pakistan to resolve the complicated issue of net hydel profit share between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) governments on account of construction of Diamer-Basha dam.

Chairman Wapda, Shakil Durrani confirmed to The News on Sunday that a high-powered tribunal would be constituted to resolve the issue. Without putting in place required mechanism in shape of safety guard measures related to land compensation, environment and resolving net hydel profit share, the multilateral donors consortium led by Asian Development Bank (ADB) will find it difficult to make Basha project as bankable for other donors to manage financing of $12.7 billion for its construction.

There is one achievement that Council of Common Interest (CCI) granted its approval to Diamer Basha dam that would really help achieving international support for this crucial project.

However, sources said that for construction of Diamer-Basha dam, there is a plan to construct two power houses with generation capacity of 2,250 megawatt (MW) each totaling generation capacity of 4500 MW out of which Right Bank power house will be located in GB and Left Bank power house is located in a disputed territory between KP and GB.

The upcoming tribunal will be assigned to come up with amicable solution acceptable to all parties. When contacted, ANP leader Haji Adeel, who represented the province in NFC and other relevant forums, told this correspondent on Sunday that the alignment boundary commission would be established to resolve the dispute of location where one power house station will be constructed.

He also said that he was not aware of constitution of any tribunal to resolve this issue between KP and GB. He said that another high-powered committee was established by this government to resolve the issue of net hydel profit share but no meeting has so far been held.

Dwelling upon the historical prospective on net hydel profit share demand of KPK, he said the arbitration committee gave its verdict in favour of KP for period of 1991 to 2005 which resulted into outstanding dues to the tune of Rs110 billion in favour of the province. He said it was also decided that the due amount would be given in installment so 10 percent extra would be given to KP.

He said that KP was given Rs10 billion extra during 2009-10 while the province also got Rs25 billion in 2010-11. In the ongoing fiscal year, the government has not so far paid to KP against its outstanding amount and was also giving indication to pay the outstanding amount in monthly and quarterly installments by citing economic and financial crunch.

Haji Adeel also said that the arbitration committee also accepted that Rs6 billion share of net hydel profit was on lower side so it needed to be increased. He said that KP demanded from the government to increase its share of net hydel profit to the range of Rs35 to 40 billion per annum from previous amount of Rs6 billion per annum.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Revival of Silk Route to benefit Pakistan

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Beijing (ET): Revival of the ancient Silk Route can benefit Pakistan’s ailing economy, if the country upgrades its infrastructure along modern lines, says a Chinese minister.

“The Silk Route was a famous trade route in the ancient times. This proves that we have a long history of trade. Nowadays, the form of trade has changed. It needs to be developed along modern lines. I hope that this can benefit Pakistan’s economic development,” Ai Ping, Chinese Vice-Minister of the International Department Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview.

Ai shared his personal views about the issues faced by Pakistan, its relationship with China and emphasised on improving trade relations to strengthen the entire region.

After development of its eastern side, China is now focusing on developing its western region by investing billions of dollars. Chinese authorities said the western parts, particularly Xinjiang that borders Pakistan, will be the focus of development. The area is being linked with the rest of the country through state-of-the-art communication networks.

In a recent article, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Beijing Masood Khan said Pakistan can turn into the most important westward artery for China’s exports, as it builds a Eurasian bridge. Pakistan’s ports can shrink distances between China, the Middle East and Africa.

However, Ai said Pakistan can benefit by upgrading its airports, highways, railway networks and ports and the two countries can cooperate to not only help boost Pakistan’s economy but also open new vistas of cooperation, including power generation, between the two countries, he added.

He hoped that after the pullout of US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan, there will be chances of bringing peace to the war-torn country and improving economic cooperation. According to analysts, Pakistan might lose important US aid following the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but it is possible to turn the region into a peaceful commercial hub for transcontinental trade — reminiscent of the ancient Silk Route. On the reported complaints against extremists using terrorist bases on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for training to create disturbances in China, Ai claimed that there is a general impression in China that Pakistan has been very supportive in fighting extremists. However, he added there can be some elements that are beyond the Pakistan government’s control.

“Some people say this war on terror was imposed on Pakistan. My personal opinion is that Pakistan is a victim of terror attacks. Pakistani people and the government are fighting against these evils. Pakistan is entitled to more support in the fight against terrorists,” he claimed.

On the issue of Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project and US opposition to it, Ai gave candid remarks. “I think now there are some arguments about tensions… Even US intelligence operatives so far are not sure whether Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. I believe Iran has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, so I do not know why this project is controversial,” he said. “But once again this is my personal opinion. I am not speaking on behalf of the Chinese government,” he added.

Gilgit-Baltistan:The Kargil-Skardu Route: Implications Of Its Opening

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Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is strategically important for Pakistan both in terms of water security and because of the Karakoram Highway, which links Gwadar with China. Consolidating a road that intercepts the Karakoram highway is critically important in times of war for rapidly severing this link that has been deeply detrimental to India’s security. Moreover such a road can provide rapid access to Central Asia should either of two extremities eventuate – the collapse of Pakistan, or a rapid warming of India-Pakistan ties. This article, however, attempts to explore the implications of opening and consolidating the Kargil – Skardu road as a step towards the opening of GB and its pacification, which has been in turmoil for years.

In recent years, the Sectarian violence in GB has, in fact, intensified leading to an attempted exodus to Kharmang in Pakistan, compounded by a human rights problem. Two issues are central to the problem – divided families and a depressed local economy. That cross-border routes alleviate emotional alienation as a result of families divided by borders has been proven by the opening of the Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlkote routes for Kashmir and Jammu respectively. Now attention needs to be focussed on Ladakh – especially the Shia Baltis of the Kargil and Skardu regions.

Haji Abdul Hamid, a native of Zanskar symbolises this. In 1948 the retreating Pakistan Army, which had occupied the Zanskar heights took many locals and settled them in Skardu. As a result of tight travel restrictions they can only meet in Saudi Arabia or Iran during pilgrimages. Since the Baltis do not identify with the Kashmiri culture, the alleviation of Balti concerns significantly reduces the scope of what is referred to as the “Kashmir Issues” taking further wind away from the sails of this monolith construction.

Historically, the all weather Kargil-Skardu route was a jugular of intra-regional trade on which the local economy was heavily dependent. The events following partition, specifically the India-Pakistan war of 1948 resulted in the closure of this historic route isolating Baltistan from its natural linkages to the outside. The road from Skardu to Kargil via Srinagar is almost a stretch of 1,700Kms while, at the same time, Skardu is a 173kms or a five to six hours drive from Kargil. The entire route is, at present, suitable for four wheeled vehicles and may need some widening for a small stretch of about half a kilometre near the Line of Control (LoC). The utility of the Kargil-Skardu road also lies in its durability in winter months. At present there is only one pass Zoji-La (NH1) which connects the Ladakh region on the Indian side with the rest of the World. But this lifeline is cut off for more than six months in winters due to heavy snowfall and people spend their life in isolation specially in Kargil (Leh has an aerial connectivity from Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi).

This route can become an important trade and tourism link for the people of Ladakh. Several studies indicate the existence of a large smuggling based black market in the region. Formalizing this trade carries the potential of increasing governmental income, which can strengthen the local economy by providing impetus for further growth independent of what happens in the Kashmir valley. As trade between India and Pakistan are carried out in a third country, significant revenues are lost, profit margins are reduced, and costs go up. Formalization of direct trade by eliminating these three undesirable aspects brings an immediate improvement to the quality of life in the region.

GB and Kargil have extensive tourism potential, especially adventure tourism – trekking, mountain biking, river rafting and a host of other such activities. In addition, there are number of routes suitable for high altitude Jeep Safaris. The exploitation of these depends on open circuits with several contingencies and shorter access routes, which are cut off by the border as of now. Moreover, given that the link to Kashmir is snowed in for half the year, this route delinks what is otherwise an all weather tourist destination to the climactic undesirables of weather patterns in Kashmir. As a result, the seasonal unemployment that Kashmir suffers from is unwittingly imposed on the Kargil region, which need not be the case.

Leaders of the Hill Development Council in Kargil have demanded a Greater Ladakh which would include Gilgit, Skardu and Baltistan precisely because the local economic development is being held hostage to events in Kashmir even though the underlying causes are completely divorced from the more contentious issues there. This card if played right can be the first step towards the pacification if not the solution of the Kashmir problem.

Zainab Akhter, Research Intern, IPCS, email: zainab9059@gmail.com

Gilgit-Baltistan: Rescue Operation Continues Amidst Fading Hopes

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Islamabad (ET:With no sign of survivors nearly 36 hours after an avalanche smashed into a Pakistan Army camp near the Siachen Glacier, the military hoped for a ‘miracle’ on Sunday as rescuers searched for the 124 soldiers and 11 civilians buried beneath a blanket of snow.

Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the Giari area where the avalanche struck on Saturday to supervise the rescue operation launched by the army’s Engineering Corps to recover the victims, who belong to the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion.

“The avalanche of such a magnitude was unprecedented in the last 20 years of this Battalion Headquarters’ existence at Giari,” said Gen Kayani.

“I have directed the concerned departments of Pakistan Army to immediately mobilise all available resources with the assistance of Pakistan Air Force to carry out a full-scale rescue operation.”

According to the army, 240 troops and civilians participated in the rescue operation on Sunday with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, some of which was flown in on military aircraft.

Rescuers dug through snow, boulders and slush in a desperate search for the 135 people buried under the snow more than 1,000 metres wide and 25 metres high – as hopes faded of finding any survivors.

“Let’s hope for a miracle,” a military official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. Another military official, also speaking off the record, said that there were reports that some of the trapped soldiers are still alive.

However, mountaineering expert Colonel Sher Khan disagreed.  “There is no hope, there is no chance at all,” he told AFP.

“You can survive only in the first 5-10 minutes,” he said. “The casualties in avalanches occur due to pressure of heavy weight, extreme cold and lack of oxygen.”

Apart from bulldozers and excavators, chemicals were being used to melt the ice. But due to harsh weather and great height, the rescue work is slow. The victims are trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on the earth, at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Karakoram mountain range.

Gen Kayani appreciated the morale and efforts of the troops who were braving harsh weather conditions and inhospitable terrain and directed the commanders to leave ‘no stone unturned’ to reach out to the trapped troops.

He said that the calamity, in no way, should affect the morale of the troops defending their homeland at the world’s highest battlefield.

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An eight-member team of US experts, meanwhile, arrived in Rawalpindi on Sunday to provide technical assistance in the rescue operation.

According to a military statement, discussion will be held with the US team to find out the possibility and nature of assistance required to expedite the rescue operation. Offer of technical assistance from other friendly countries is also being considered.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also offered to provide assistance to Pakistan, The Hindustan Times reported. Singh made the offer during his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

In response, Zardari appreciated India’s offer and said he would seek assistance if needed, the report added.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Asian Gaspipeline Diplomacy

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Iran’s defiance of nuclear non-proliferation as desired by the US and her European allies has exacerbated uncertainty and tension in the region. Hawks in Washington talked of war. But the Pentagon wouldn’t want a third front to be opened in West Asia. Instead, it went with the policy planners to take out Iran financially.

Iranian oil exports to the European countries are already under embargo. Of course, it will have its disturbing impact. Apart from that, the US is determined to screw up the mega IP gas pipeline and subject Iranian economy to stress.

The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline was originally estimated to be a $7 billion mega project that would originate in the enormous South Pars gas field of Iran and terminate in India. Both India and Pakistan are energy starved countries. But the US relentlessly opposed the project to deny Iran the enormous revenues it was bound to yield.

US have been pursuing oil diplomacy in Central and West Asia with the main objective of denying both Iran and Russia the benefits of enormous earnings from the energy source and the revenue from its transportation.

With unrelenting pressure from Washington, India dropped out of the IPI project in 2009 but clinched the civilian nuclear technology deal from the US against abandoning the IPI. Time will decide whether this was an equitable bargain or not.

But Pakistan much more starved for power than India is, moved ahead and, in the teeth of opposition from Washington, concluded the IP treaty with Iran. The pipeline covering 2,775 kms is estimated to be built at a cost of 1.5 billion dollars.

When India dropped out of the initial project, Pakistan tried to make up the deficiency for Iran by roping in China. Chinese pipeline experts recommended laying the gas pipeline along the Karakorum Highway which meant that the IP gas pipeline would be turned northward and through AJK and Gilgit Baltistan, to the Chinese eastern province of Xingjian.

Washington is determined to block the project. Not only India, but Pakistan, China and Turkey are also targeted to cease import of gas from Iran. How far will Pakistan resist the pressure and have her way in this particular exercise is to be watched. Pakistan’s remonstration that she is badly in need of power and the gas pipeline should be completed by 2014 if Pakistan has to survive has fallen on deaf ears. When Pakistan insisted, the Secretary of State bluntly warned that the US would take away Pakistan financially. The “more allied than allies” Pakistan never expected to be treated in a scurvy manner by her US benefactors.

Pakistan is faced with acute power shortage. Political instability and rising tension on account of Pakistan Taliban terror has brought the country to the brink of disaster. China is helping her with civilian nuclear technology to balance Indo-US agreement. Iran has also increased her oil exports to Pakistan to the tune of 80,000 barrels a day and has also provided Islamabad with $ 250 million support for laying the proposed gas pipeline on her territory.

With all said and done, the fate of IP pipe line is uncertain. Even the much hyped extension to Xinjiang, too, is faced with reservations from Beijing. First is the feasibility of the line across the Karakorum and secondly as well as most importantly, Xinjiang is in turmoil where the Uighurs of Sunni Muslim faith are restive and demanding separation from Chinese mainland. Should Beijing take the risk of bringing the prestigious and expensive pipeline to a restive and disturbed province, is a big question. This also was the argument of India when the question of extending the IP to India came up for serious discussion…

The fate of a second pipeline, namely Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipe line called TAPI is also hanging in balance. Washington is pursuing the same policy in this case as well. It does not favour forging of gas grid between South Asia and South West Asia as, in its perception, that would change the economy of the countries concerned and with that the balance of power in the region.  It can have far-reaching bearing on American dominance in the region.  Perils in the path of this pipe line are many. It has to pass through the ‘satrapies’ of Afghan tribal lords who are adepts in the art of blackmailing. Then it has to pass through the northern parts of Baluchistan if it comes to India. That again is an uncertain prospect. TAPI gas pipeline has been under consideration for a long time and some Afghan tribal chiefs and war lords were flown to Texas before the outbreak of US-Afghanistan crisis.

Washington has realized that imposition of sanctions on Iran would not prove very effective to deter latter’s nuclear enterprise. Earlier also sanctions were imposed but without desired results. Economic isolation of Iran is the next strategy now pursued relentlessly by the US. Iran has begun to feel the heat.

The US does not brush aside the possibility of gas importing countries like India, Pakistan, Chin and Turkey bringing pressure on Teheran to reconsider her policy towards the US and Israel. Iran’s anti-Israel stance is essentially based on Iran’s urge to show down the Saudis that she has the potential to be the leader of the Islamic world. That many Arab countries are soft pedaling with Israel is no secret. In the broader context of regional strategies, each Islamic country has its permutation and combination vis-à-vis Israel and the US.

In order to tighten the stranglehold on Pakistan, the US Congressmen are raking up the issue of separation of Baluchistan from the federation of Pakistan’s Islamic Republic. First the human rights violations in Baluchistan and now the slogan of self-determination have been gaining momentum in that restive province. The grapevine has it that even arms and sophisticated communication material is being supplied to selected groups of Baluch mujahideen. Recently Pakistani Prime Minister offered an economic package to Baluchistan to mollify opposition. But this is not the first time that such gestures of so-called goodwill are exuded by Islamabad. The response of Baluchis has always been the same.

Islamabad is treating the Pakistani Taliban activists with carrot and stick policy. Nevertheless apprehensive that any let down would embolden them to strike more frequently at army bases and cause further damage to the prestige of Pakistan Army, action against them in North Waziristan has been intensified by Pak troops. This is not for the love of the Americans but because the very prestige and status of Pakistan Army stands at crossroads.

Source: http://geopolitics.world-citizenship.org/wp-archive/662

Gilgit-Baltistan: Tourism in Tajikistan

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By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Although all of Central Asia is landlocked, the worst condition is that of Tajikistan, and this is the greatest reason that this Central Asian country is not getting its due share in tourism and trade and stands as the poorest of all in Central Asia. Another reason seems to be its visa and permit system for traveling within the country that is discouraging the international travel market to sell it as a tourism destination.
The question that should come to mind is, why are the worst conditions being faced by Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan are separated from Tajikistan by the narrow Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the south.

China can connect to Kazakhstan through an expressway, but linkage of Tajikistan with this expressway has yet to be realized. This link is not open while Afghanistan is volatile country still in war and could be in war for many decades (since 1979, Afghanistan has never come out of war).

After independence, Tajikistan suffered from a devastating civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997. Since the end of the war, newly-established political stability and foreign aid have allowed the country’s economy to grow. Trade in commodities such as cotton, aluminum, and uranium has contributed greatly to this steady improvement. However, foreign aid organizations look more interested in connecting Tajikistan with Afghanistan for travel and trade, and this strategy is hampering Tajik tourism and business.

The Pamir Mountains are the strongest product of this country, but the visa and entry permit system is one of the major impediments for the development of tourism towards the Pamir Mountains. When you travel along the Afghan-Tajik border, you need to have a special permit. When you wish to travel to the Badhakshan region, again you need a special permit from the Governor of Badhakshan. Border crossings with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are not very friendly and can be closed anytime without warning. Reaching Pamir Mountains needs too much work for international tour operators, so they are discouraged by the system and offer their clients Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhistan, or Uzbekistan instead of offering Tajikistan.

In all these downbeat states of affairs, Tajikistan tourism is surviving, and if foreign donors support Tajik tourism development without blending it with Afghanistan’s north tourism initiative, Tajikistan can become a hub of tourism activities in Central Asia. Tourism experts consider that Tajikistan is a country of many weaknesses but also has many advantages for developing a strong tourism base. Tajikistan has everything to offer – friendly people, beautiful valleys, and an abundance of natural beauty with the best possible opportunities of developing ecotourism.

Business and tourism arrivals remained low in 2009, 2010, and 2011 compared to its neighbors, due to the limited number of opportunities in the country. As a result, potential travel and tourism revenue remained thwarted.

Tajik airline is also not as proactive as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and has a limited number of international carriers such as Turkish Airlines AS and Air Baltic, which now have access to Tajikistan but still there is no link from South Asia directly to Tajikistan.

Tajikistan still has a strong potential to be an attractive destination for both leisure and business tourists. The beauty of Pamir Mountains could become a high-profile attraction for adventure tourists, while in business terms, the country may benefit from a growing number of business arrivals through investments in its hydro reserves.

There are some international organizations like Aga Khan Foundation and GIZ that are really helping a lot to develop trade and tourism in Tajikistan but mostly their concentration is in and around the areas of Wakhan Knot, the Wakhan belt, and Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). There are a lot of visa and permit processing involved in reaching these areas, therefore, attempts by these international organizations are not as fruitful for these areas as it could be if the border crossing and permit system was modernized, if not abolished.

It has been observed in research that involvement of the non-government sector to promote the tourism industry in Tajikistan is far higher than the government sector. This trend is good, however, such a trend cannot sustain itself for a longer period if the proactive support of the government is not provided, because decision making is in the hand of government and important decisions can make or break the tourism industry of any country.

Last year, an organization of Milal Inter held a wonderful forum for attracting investment to Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). GBAO borders with 3 countries – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and the People’s Republic of China.

Based on the needs of entrepreneurs, the association of entrepreneurs and mountain farmers, “Milal-Inter,” together with the State Committee on investment and state property management under financial support of Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GbmH had organized an investment forum, “Pamir Invest 2011.”

The Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) is also working hard to develop tourism through its members in Pamir mountain region. PECTA was founded in 2008 by a group of private-sector tourism businesses with the purpose of developing the tourism sector in the Pamirs through collaborative work.

PECTA is a membership-based association, which represents the Pamirs as a destination in national, regional, and international markets. Association members are grouped into categories based on services they provide and include tour operators, direct tourism service providers, guest houses, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and home stays. By marketing the services of these members and offering support through training and capacity building, along with representing the destination as a whole, PECTA plays the role of a Destination Management Organization (DMO). Tours and services provide trekking, horse and camel riding, cultural tours, alpine and rock-climbing tours, jeep safaris, bird-watching and wild life observation tours, pilgrim tours, tailor-made tours, visa and permits, transfers, transportation, accommodation, guides, and equipment rental.

Pamir Highway Adventure and the Murghab Eco-Tourism Association (META) are founded and run by local people and promote tourism of Pamirs and Tajikistan.

The Murghab EcoTourism Association was established in 2003. The association participants, chosen from among the most economically-vulnerable families, received basic training, and a code of ethics was adopted by all stakeholders. The association has subsequently become a revenue-generating activity due to collaboration with other local development agencies. In particular, an association of women artisans has produced local craft goods that are now exported to various outlets in Central Asia and Europe.

The review of Tajikistan tourism indicates that some drastic decisions at the government level are needed to improve the situation, including offering connection with more international airports by its official airline, policies to offer incentives to international airlines to reach its airports, changes in its permit system, better facilities offered at cross-border points, and, of course, a massive media campaign to promote Tajikistan instead of depending upon only private and the non-government sector to promote the country as a destination.

The author of this article, Agha Iqrar Haroon, is the former Consultant to the Ministry of Tourism for the government of Pakistan and the former President of the Ecotourism Society Pakistan (ESP).

Gilgit-Baltistan: Politics of Gas

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THE latest developments on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline projects are such that it may shape into an either-or situation.

While work on the IP pipeline is expected to be completed ahead of schedule, the United States-backed TAPI project has also been expedited. Pipeline politics appear to have come into play. At the moment, the US is in favour of TAPI, Russia and China for IP, India is in a ‘wait and see’ mode and Pakistan seems to be running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

Pakistan and Turkmenistan recently reached a deal on a gas sale-purchase price for the $7.6bn TAPI pipeline project, scheduled to be completed by 2016. Under the deal, Turkmenistan will deliver 1.3 billion cubic feet a day of gas at 69 per cent of the crude oil parity price, which is much lower than the gas rate of 78 per cent of crude price Islamabad agreed to with Tehran under the IP gas pipeline deal.

The deal on the TAPI pipeline has come at a time when Tehran and Islamabad have expedited efforts to execute the IP gas pipeline, a project that is strongly opposed by the United States. Pakistan has begun to dither on the IP project as Washington stiffens its opposition, pushing Islamabad to accept TAPI as an alternative to the gas pipeline from Iran.

Last year, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India initialled the Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement in Ashgabat. The
proposed 1680km TAPI pipeline will start from Daulatabad field in Turkmenistan and end at Fazilka settlement at the border of India and Pakistan. The pipeline will have to pass through war-torn Afghanistan as well as insurgency-hit Balochistan in Pakistan. Security in the volatile Afghanistan has been the key issue related to the execution of the TAPI project.

Under the IP deal, Iran will deliver about 750 million cubic feet of gas per day to Pakistan by the end of 2014. After India’s withdrawal from the project in 2009, Iran and Pakistan decided to implement the project bilaterally. The IP project is pressing ahead of schedule despite the American opposition.

Federal Minister for Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain recently said that a breakthrough in the project depends on an “understanding” with the international community. Some analysts even claim that during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan last month, Washington and Islamabad reached a deal due to which Islamabad is dithering on the IP gas pipeline project.

Pakistan is dithering at a time when all issues relating to the IP project between Islamabad and Tehran have been settled, including gas sale and purchase agreement (GSPA) and third-party certification for the uninterrupted supply of gas from the source field to Pakistan for 30 years.

The price difference of nine per cent between Turkman and Iran gas not only provides an opportunity to Pakistan to renegotiate price with Iran but also opens a window for the country to abandon the IP agreement without paying penalties in case UN sanctions are imposed on Tehran.

Washington’s advice to shelve the IP pipeline project is hardly sound. How can Pakistan go back on the Iran deal when it faces chronic gas shortages itself and its own proven gas reserves are known to be dwindling? It would be folly to walk away from the IP project for an insecure and uncertain TAPI project.

Pakistan is, however, expected to go ahead with the IP project despite US opposition if China joins the project. China is not only interested in initially investing $2.5bn in the Pakistani part of the project but also in a gas pipeline extension to its territory. Around 1,100km of the IP pipeline will be built in Iran, while the remaining 1,000km will be set up in Pakistan. Last year, secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum, Kamran Lashari, disclosed that Pakistan is in negotiations with China for the availability of technical equipment for laying the IP pipeline.

Russia has been opposed to the TAPI project and backing the IP project. Russian gas giant Gazprom has also shown an interest in participating in the IP pipeline project. It was Gazprom that first proposed the project of building an underwater gas pipeline from Iran to India in 1997. Under the proposal, a gas pipeline would pass overland in Iran and India and underwater in its Pakistani section.

Moscow wants Turkmenistan’s gas to be firmly under its control and it has done everything it could to frustrate the TAPI pipeline project. Gazprom is said to have helped facilitate an abortive coup against the late president Niyazov (who had been very active in making the TAPI project a reality) in 2002.

India has reportedly shown interest in rejoining the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project despite American opposition. India’s renewed interest in the IP project is a move to keep China away from the project, as after India’s withdrawal Beijing showed an interest in building an Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC) pipeline that provides it a chance of obtaining a secure overland gas pipeline. New Delhi, which is locked in an energy game with Beijing, is not willing to give China a chance to replace it in the IPI project.

The expected Chinese participation in the IP project would create a new overland energy link that could complement China’s energy diversification strategy, even though the project would face several political and logistical difficulties as the pipeline has to traverse the very difficult terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan and the restive Balochistan province.

The writer is a development analyst and has written a number of books including The Economic Development of Balochistan and can be reached at sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com