Month: July 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan Inundated: Gilgit River bursts and enters the premises of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly

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GILGIT / MUZAFFARABAD: At least 15 people lost their lives when flash floods triggered by heavy rain battered Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir on Thursday.

Houses and bridges were damaged, farmland inundated, landslides blocked several roads and rivers continued to swell to alarming proportions. According to official sources, five girls were among eight people killed on Wednesday night in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The administration declared an emergency in Gilgit and called in troops for rescue and relief work.

Five people drowned when a bridge collapsed and their vehicle fell into a river in Baltistan, sources in the regional Disaster Management Authority told Dawn. The car was going from Skardu to Gultari.

Two girls were swept away by hill torrents in Tangir valley of Diamer district. A boy was killed in Gahkooch area of Ghizer district.

Landslides in Ghizer, Hunza-Nagar, Astore and Baltistan blocked roads linking the districts with the rest of the country.

Gilgit River burst its banks and entered the premises of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly in Chinar Bagh, the Grand Continental Hotel and Canopy Nexus lawns. The flood inundated roads leading to the assembly and about 300 houses in Basin on the outskirts of the city.

Chief Minister Mehdi Shah suspended an assembly session, visited the affected areas in Basin and ordered the departments concerned to arrange relief for people.

Torrential rains damaged the Karakoram Highway at three points between Gilgit and Hunza-Nagar and the Gilgit-Skardu road at two places.

Boat service in the Hunza lake was suspended, adding to the hardship of the people of Hunza-Gojal.

The regional capital and nearby towns have been without electricity for three days because the main channel of the local power house has been swept away. The sources said restoration of power supply would take another four days.

The Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority could not assess the damage because of disruption of the communications system.

Thousands of people have left their homes and moved to safe places. DMA’s official Mohammad Shuja said tents and rations were being provided to people who had to leave their homes.

Widespread rainfall also wreaked havoc across Azad Jammu and Kashmir, leaving at least seven people dead and many more injured.

Rivers continued to swell and landslides cut off several areas, police and residents said.

In Sudhnoti, a wagon with 18 passengers fell into a ravine near Gooin Nullah. Two people were killed and five others injured. The other people were missing and efforts were under way to find them.

In Muzaffarabad, two people drowned in the Neelum River while trying to gather wood.

Police said they had also found a teenage girl’s body along the river’s bank near Patikka village. There were also reports of two people having been killed by landslides.

The Muzaffarabad administration evacuated dozens of families living along the river. The families have been moved to educational institutions.

People have been warned not to go close to riverbanks because the water level may rise further.  All major link roads in the area have been closed.

The Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service has been suspended because of landslides on the Jhelum valley road.

Courtesy: Dawn July 30, 2010

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Governance in Gilgit-Baltistan

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The region of Gilgit-Baltistan has remained always an anomaly in the political system of Pakistan. There are several factors that contributed to its status being kept in constitutional limbo. Foremost among these is the Kashmir dispute, as well as regional geopolitics at large. Although the region is not a direct party to the conflict, it remains relevant to the issue because of its strategic location. Various governments in Pakistan have tried to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan into the country’s political structure.

The announcement of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Order by the government last year was the latest attempt by the state to bring the region into Pakistan’s political mainstream. Under the current dispensation a newly elected assembly has elected a chief minister and a governor has been appointed by the federal government. It is for the first time that the region enjoys its own setup with an empowered legislature. People have high expectations regarding the delivery of results from the elected members Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA).

Effective management of the affairs of the assembly and good governance will require that the leaders rise above petty personal interests. The members of the GBLA and the new setup should master the modern mode of governance. Application of worn out strategies for the management of the new system would be doomed to failure.

To ensure good governance it is indispensable for GBLA members and the staff associated with the assembly to be truly empowered. The existing setup and procedures are new to most of the members of the assembly. In the absence of clear understanding of the system the local administration there is a state of confusion resulting from the fact that while the administration has experience of the previous system, the mode of administrative functioning has changed at the upper tiers of the system under the new package. One of the flaws of the empowerment package is that it was hastily put together, without an effort being made to prepare the ground for the new system. Because of this, the bulk of the development last year’s budget went to the meeting of the new system’s expenses.

Empowerment entails great responsibility. It is the responsibility of the members of the GBLA to ensure development in the area by using their powers effectively. Too much dependence on the bureaucracy and the central government will render futile all the exercise involved in setting up the new system: the election and the establishment of new institutions, as well as the legislation the assembly will produce.

Members of the GBLA enjoy perks and privileges and a hefty amount is earmarked for the chief minister and the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. If this trend continues, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan would end up incurring a large debt on non-development expenditures. Without generation of resources at the local level the Gilgit-Baltistan government cannot meet its expenses. In the long term this will contribute to bad governance.

Gilgit-Baltistan’s failure to manage its own affairs will provide justification to the bureaucracy and some political elements at the centre to take away the powers of the GBLA. Since they are representative of the people it is the duty of the elected members to acquaint themselves well with the new system and ensure development by encouraging effective exploitation of available resources in the region. Gilgit-Baltistan has enormous potential in minerals and mining.

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has taken some initiatives by inviting investors from other parts of the country and abroad. However, the process of issuing licenses to investors has not been transparent in the last 15 years. The practice of issuing licenses through questionable means for mining and exploration of minerals has hurt the relations between the local administration and communities.

Leasing out local resources without the consent of the local communities will only make them vulnerable to manipulation by commercial giants. A major challenge that will be faced by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan in the future will be striking balance between exploiting mining potential and protecting the local communities’ interests. For that purpose, the GBLA has to pass appropriate legislation.

The first litmus test of the newly elected government in Gilgit-Baltistan came with the aftermath of the Atabad Lake disaster, which became a human disaster because of the sheer incompetence and negligence of the chief minister and his team. This is revealed by lack of coordination between government departments and non-government organisations. The chief minister appears to be confused about his role in the new dispensation in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan shirks its responsibilities when it engages in non-issues as to the disaster, such as its moving a resolution to declare protesting Atabad victims traitors.

The issue of coordination between different departments is urgent because the absence of it will bring administrative functions to a halt, which will be the ultimate failure of governance in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The writer (Aziz Ali Dad ) is associated with Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@hotmail.com

Courtesy: The News International, July 29, 2010

Degree Verification in Gilgit-Baltistan: The Degrees of all Government Employees to be sent for verification excluding GB Legislative Assembly members

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GILGIT: Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Mehdi Shah on Monday said that the degrees of all government officials serving in various departments in Gilgit-Baltistan would be sent for verification.

He, however, played down the idea of verifying G-B legislative assembly members’ degrees saying that they had not contested elections on the basis of their degrees.

Shah was speaking at the G-B legislative assembly during its 7th session after an independent deputy, Syed Razi uddin, brought up the degree verification issue. Under the orders of the chief minister, the degrees of approximately 28,000 government employees will be sent for verification.

In reply to a demand made by a lawmaker, Mutabiat Shah, for an additional seat for Hunza, the chief minister said that it wasn’t possible because under the 18th amendment, the strength of the G-B cabinet was being curtailed.

Bashir Ahmed Khan, a lawmaker of PML-Q, tabled a resolution against the ongoing wave of terrorism in the country. The resolution was unanimously passed by the house.

Jan Baz Khan, a member of PML-N, speaking on a point of order demanded that the service structure of the judges of the Supreme Appellate Court be modified to bring it in line with that of the rest of the judges in Pakistan and AJK.

He said that at present, the services of the judges of the Supreme Appellate Court are on contractual basis for three years. He said that the judges’ performance is affected because of insecurity about their jobs. Upon this, the speaker Wazir Baig formed a committee to look into the matter and to suggest ways to improve it.

Wazir Shakil, the law minister, told the house that the G-B assembly has no power to make any changes to the governance order 2009, therefore, he asked that the assembly be empowered to make changes to it.

The house also approved a law for the finance committee of the G-B assembly, under which the house will have powers to supervise finances relating to the Gilgit-Baltistan assembly.

Source: The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2010.

New paradigm of Pak-China relations — Gilgit-Baltistan to play a key role in promoting regional connectivity and tourism due to its Geo-Strategic Location

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China-Pakistan trade has registered a substantial increase but it is largely in the form of Chinese exports. Both China and Pakistan are keen to correct this imbalance of trade by encouraging the Pakistani business community to explore the Chinese market. The Pakistan-China relationship has been described by both sides as time-tested, enduring, and a model of good neighborly relations for other countries. During the last four decades, this relationship has continued growing in strength and has embraced new areas for bilateral cooperation. President Asif Ali Zardari, who recently paid his fifth visit to China in less than two years, described the Pakistan-China relationship in the following words: “Perhaps no relationship between two sovereign states is as unique and as durable as that between Pakistan and China.”

Pakistan and China are taking measures to promote economic cooperation and trade, which unfortunately has not been able to keep pace with its political relationship. Trade involves not only the movement of goods across borders; it is also accompanied by the exchange of ideas, cultural values, beliefs and information through people-to-people contacts. Trade, thus, is an important means for the people belonging to different cultures and value systems to know each other and become familiar with each other’s cultural environments.

The two countries share a very strong desire to expand bilateral trade and have planned to enhance it from its present level of $ 7 billion to $ 15 billion by 2011. In order to achieve this target, the two countries will have to increase interaction between their business executives. A close interaction between the private sectors of Pakistan and China will not only increase bilateral trade, it will help Pakistan increase its exports to China.

The process of re-orientation of priorities in favour of economic cooperation, investment, joint ventures and trade is, in fact, more than a decade old. But it has picked up momentum since the establishment of the PPP-led coalition government following the 2008 elections. The outcome of the five visits by President Zardari reflects a full range of areas the two countries intend to cover under about 60 agreements and MoUs signed in less than two years.

President Zardari’s fifth visit to China produced an agreement on economic and technical cooperation and four MoUs relating to health, geological survey and the agricultural sector. From the details released, it is clear that five areas, namely energy, regional connectivity, trade, people-to-people contacts and security are the main focus of the two countries in their endeavours to push forward the process of strengthening the strategic partnership. The choice of these areas is dictated by strong imperatives operating at national, regional and global levels.

Over the last decade, China has developed expanded trade and economic cooperation linkages with the countries of South Asia, particularly India with whom the volume of bilateral trade is projected to touch $ 60 billion. As the development process accelerates in its western regions, the Chinese search for markets in south and southwestern Asian countries is bound to intensify. China-Pakistan trade has registered a substantial increase in the last five years but it is largely in the form of Chinese exports of electronics, plastic, textiles, leather goods and garments that have flooded Pakistani markets. Both China and Pakistan are keen to correct this imbalance of trade by encouraging the Pakistani business community to explore the Chinese market, familiarise itself with the Chinese business environment and win the confidence of Chinese businessmen, importers and investors through increased contacts.

The decision to build two highways with the help of China in Gilgit-Baltistan indicates that the Gilgit-Baltistan region is going to play a key role in promoting regional connectivity and tourism between Pakistan and China due to its geo-strategic location. The region has a common border with the Chinese province of Xinjiang and is linked to Central Asia through Wakhan — a land strip with a width of only 10 miles. The Karakoram Highway, the main commercial highway between China and Pakistan, passes through Gilgit-Baltistan and is being upgraded at a cost of $ 500 million. On his visit to Gilgit-Baltistan last year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced a plan to start a direct PIA flight between Gilgit and Kathmandu. Once materialised, foreign tourists will be able to come directly from Nepal to Gilgit. It has the potential to make Gilgit-Baltistan a hub of business and tourist activities in a region constituting Gilgit-Baltistan, Central Asia, Kashmir, Ladakh and Nepal.

All this depends on satisfactory security and the law and order situation, not only in Pakistan but also in the adjoining regions. Already, there are reports of Chinese reluctance to allow larger cross-border movement of people between Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang due to trouble fomented by extremists and separatists in Xinjiang. In Pakistan, Chinese investors are deterred by growing incidents of terrorism and other criminal activities of militants, particularly the kidnapping and murder of Chinese engineers in Balochistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. Despite these difficulties, China has maintained close collaboration with Pakistan in development activities involving the construction of roads, dams, powerhouses and infrastructure. Recognising extremism and terrorism as a common threat, Pakistan and China have set up a bilateral mechanism at the interior minister’s level to promote cooperation in counter-terrorism. The two countries have held a number of joint military exercises to promote coordination between the armed forces of the two countries in countering terrorism. However, Pakistan-China relations are fast moving towards a new paradigm where economic considerations are most likely to take precedence over military considerations for sustaining their traditional friendship.

The writer (Dr Rashid Ahmad Khan) is a professor of International Relations at Sargodha University and a current affairs expert. He can be reached at rashid_khan192@yahoo.com

Source: The Daily Times, July 23, 2010

Recreation of Risks: Why Local Communities Recreate Risks in Gilgit-Baltistan

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Attabad disaster of last January was the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous locations in Gilgit-Baltistan which for ages have remained exposed to natural disasters. The foremost question that arises is: why local communities recreate risks? To understand this phenomenon it is important to understand the interface among the social factors that contributes to the creation and recreation of risks in the particular geographical setting of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In their interaction with local environment, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been able to acquire knowledge that was embedded in the geography. It is this knowledge which enabled local communities to survive in the harshest climate and terrain of the world with meager resources. The indigenous knowledge pervades every sphere of life in the traditional society. Isolated from knowledge of the outside world, the inhabitants had to rely on indigenous knowledge, gained through experience, and perfected through trial and error.

This scribe visited Ghich village in district Ghizer last year. This village faced death and destruction in a flash flood in the summer of 2006. The old people shared their knowledge about dealing with an approaching flood, landslides, formation of artificial lakes, relocation of settlements etc. Farzand Shah, a shepherd, said ‘there was no system to transfer that knowledge to the new generation.’ The local community was more vulnerable because it neither had traditional knowledge nor modern technology.

Another factor that contributes to the creation and recreation of risk is the complex interplay of traditional and modern settlements.Traditionally, there was no system of exchange of land for money. The king created new settlements to adjust the growing population and generate more lagan (levy) for the treasury. The king used to distribute the best land to powerful people. Hence, traditionally powerful segments of society owned the safe lands and the weaker segments lived in areas exposed to natural hazards.

The traditional pattern of land distribution has consolidated the position of people vis-à-vis natural disasters. The fields, gardens, orchards and houses destroyed in the flood of village Damas in Ghizer district belonged to common people. It can be safely assumed that the complex interplay of patterns of society and its power structure placed some places and people in an insecure position than others which was one of the factors that contributed to building and rebuilding of risks.

With the opening of the KKH and developments in communication, the far-flung areas of Gilgit-Baltistan have been exposed to exogenous values, market forces and lifestyles for the last twenty five years. As a result local customs are fading away, social relations are disrupted and everything indigenous is being replaced by something new. In other words the society has experienced a ‘future shock’ at the cultural and structural level. A villager Jani Baig encapsulates this situation in the following words ‘In the days of yore we had to feed only our body. Now the desires and demands are too many for village resources to fulfill.’

Structurally the traditional way was effective in maintaining balance between individual needs and scarce resources by developing a social system and economy in which individual interest was inseparable from that of the community. Now the individual has the space to pursue his interests at the expense of the larger community.

In the absence of resources and capacities communities have no choice but to maximize utilization of local resources by contravening traditional barriers that managed resources. In such a situation the survival strategy is short term benefits at the cost of deforestation, excessive grazing, choking of rivers and streams – activities that directly and indirectly contribute to creation and recreation of risks.

Most of the old settlements in Gilgit-Baltistan contain houses concentrated in the ‘kot’ or fort settlement as a safeguard against threats from nature as well as human beings. The settlement around the fort is safe from rock falling, avalanche, flood and human invasion.This pattern is visible across Gilgit-Baltistan. For example, Baltit, Altit, Shigar and Kharpucho forts.

With the passage of time growing populations started to spread from the nucleus settlements of the fort to open areas defying the barrier between human settlement and nature. Cultural ethos also plays a crucial role in rebuilding of risks.

The cumulative result of the interface between multiple factors manifests in the shape of disasters. To tackle natural disaster it is important to take into consideration the multiplicity of social, economic, political and cultural factors.

Incorporation of multiple social dimensions in a disaster risk reduction strategy will not only make it holistic but also prove conducive in making it successful.Natural disasters are now inextricably linked with society. If we try to treat the consequences in isolation then we are recreating another disaster at policy level, whose effect may trickle down in the shape of natural catastrophes.

The writer (Aziz Ali Dad ) is associated with Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@hotmail.com

Source: DAWN, July 22, 2010

Aataabad Lake Hunza: Measures decided to bring normalcy and facilitate the rehabilitation work

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ISLAMABAD (APP) – A high-level emergency meeting at the Presidency Wednesday night considered options available to lowering the water level in natural lake formed by land sliding at Attaabad in Gilgit-Baltistan and restore the damaged portion of the Karak-urram Highway (KKH).

The meeting, chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari, decided to resort to controlled-blasting to lower the water level in the lake for undertaking the necessary rehabilitation works and for restoration of normal life in the affected areas.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Mehdi Shah, Chief Secretary GB Babar Yaqub, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Nadeem ul Haq, Secretary General to the President Salman Faruqui, Secretary to President Malik Asif Hayat, Secretary Communication Sharif Ahmad, Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar, DG Frontier Works Organisation Maj Gen Najibullah Khan, Member Planning Commission Lt Gen (r) Shahid Niaz, chairman NDMA and heads of various technical departments attended the meeting.

Briefing the media, Farhatullah Babar said it was also decided to start a large and speedy ferry service capable of transporting big machines and merchandise so as to restore the normal life and facilitate the rehabilitation work.
It was also decided to undertake a feasibility study under the auspices of NHA for constructing a bypass as a permanent solution to the problem of landslides in the future.

These are a follow up of President Zardari’s visit to China in which he also raised the issue with the Chinese political leaders and sought Chinese assistance.

Source: The Nation July 22, 2010

CCI Approves Diamer-Bhasha Dam: While Royalties Dispute Between Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains unclear

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Pakistan’s power crisis is growing by the day and urgent steps are required to address the problem. In this connection it is heartening to learn that the Diamer-Bhasha dam project has finally been approved by the Council of Common Interests, possibly paving the way for assistance from foreign donors. But what is equally if not more important here is that the dam was given the green light through consensus with all stakeholders on board.

Such cooperation is of vital significance in a country where provinces have historically viewed other federating units with distrust and even hostility. It is also promising that efforts are under way to make the CCI a genuinely functional body that will meet at least once every three months and whose area of purview has been widened. We hope the administration will deliver on its pledge to hold regular CCI meetings so that pending projects and other inter-provincial issues can be expedited in similarly harmonious fashion.

While Sunday’s meeting of the CCI bodes well for future inter-provincial cooperation, it remains unclear if the royalties dispute between Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been fully resolved. Any further controversy over ownership of the dam could again jeopardise international assistance for the project, particularly from the Asian Development Bank which has taken a clear stance on the issue. Any doubts still lingering on this count must be removed.

That said, it should be remembered that building big dams or exploiting untapped coal reserves are long-term ventures while the country’s energy needs are immediate. Diamer-Bhasha, for instance, is not expected to be functional until 2019, and that too if all goes well. As such it is important that while the government pursues mega projects that meet with across-the-board approval, serious thought must also be given to power-generation options that can deliver in relatively quick time. In this regard special attention ought to be paid to run-of-the-river projects, wind farms and other forms of renewable energy such as tidal, biomass and solar power. Our potential in this area is huge and must not be wasted.

Source: Dawn July 21, 2010