Month: November 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan: The Vertical Future of Shimshal Women

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GB Bulletin, November 30,2010: 150 years ago, villages in the Alps patiently waited out winters, hoping to work as porters during the summer. After a first trip to Shimshal as Simone Moro climbing mate in summer 2008, fellow Italian Hervé Barmasse launched the “Pakistan Winter Sport” project last year.

The goal was to attempt some new routes but, most of all, to provide Shimshal locals with future opportunities as local mountain guides — for both men and women alike.

In an article submitted to ExplorersWeb, Hervé describes the long, dark winters in Gilgit-Baltistan and the hopes placed on the village’s mountaineering school — six of whose female pupils are currently preparing for a winterly 6000er double-header.

About Pakistan Winter Sport project
“When The North Face decided to finance “Pakistan Winter Sport”, I felt happy and motivated but, at the same time, I felt a great responsibility put upon me; I was the brains behind this winter project which, beyond alpinistic objectives that are very dear to me, also sought to embrace humanistic and social motivations,” Hervé reflected.

“Beyond the opening of new ice routes and long descents on skis in unexplored mountains, the goal of this expedition (which took place in January 2010) was to provide my knowledge as an instructor to mountain guides and as a rescue specialist to the Shimshal Climbing School. The intention was to help a community of porters to progress, both in terms of safety and technique. Furthermore, thanks to the collaboration of Dr. Marco Cavana, we were to organize a clinic to deal with problems linked to the medical and sanitational aspects of the area.”

Long winters in a high land of porters
Accompanied by Dr. Cabana and a small climbing team, Hervé Barmasse reached Shimshal village, in Gilgit-Baltistan region, in full winter season in January this year.

“Unlike the summer, when fields of grain, trees and green pastures contrast with the brown color of the rock and dry land, now everything is gray,” Hervé described. “It seems to us like a black and white film. It is even cold at low altitudes and above 1,600 meters everything is completely frozen.”

“We crept along in our Jeep on a bumpy, disjointed road similar to our mule’s paths. The access road to the town of Shimshal was literally ripped into the mountain, thanks to the will power of its inhabitants. It was constructed without mechanical means over 23 years of hard work with a pick and shovel. This spectacular off-road adventure alone justifies a trip to Pakistan.”

“Shimshal is a village of 2,000 people, which has remained nearly completely isolated from the rest of Pakistan for 600 years. Although maintaining the Islamic-Ismaelite roots, these people seem less rigid and more open than other inhabitants of the Pakistani mountains. Even the women allow this feeling to hold true: they do not hide and respond to our waves [greetings] with a smile.”

Living in isolation
“In the village there is no running water, no telephones or televisions. Only a few families have installed small solar panels that guarantee them light for three hours at a time during the long winter nights.”

“There are three mosques and a school where students go after having gathered wood, which, here in Pakistan, is quite rare. All the students learn English and those who can afford it, at the age of 17, will continue their studies in Gilgit. There are no doctors and the nearest hospital (now you can get there in an hour, before the construction of the road it took six days) is in Gulmit, where a general practitioner oversees all the emergencies without the use of ‘sophisticated’ medical equipment.”

“The community is very united and the inhabitants help each other as in a big family. Any problem is a problem for Shimshal and not for one single person.
Potatoes, rice, chapatti, dal, peas and beans are preciously rationed to make sure that we aren’t left without supplies before the next replenishment. Once in a while we get to eat goat or yak meat. No chickens are farmed in the winter because they wouldn’t survive the harsh temperatures. Yaks are typical of Shimshal. It is rare to encounter these animals in Pakistan but in the Shimshal valley, along the border with China, thousands of them grace in the wild”.

“The ‘malida’ (chapatti, cheese, butter and salt), the ‘graal’ (chapatti, spices, butter and salt) or the ‘chalpindook’ (chapatti and cheese) are dishes of the poor and are typical of this region. They are eaten nearly everyday.”

Daily life in “waiting” season
“The temperature during the five winter months is consistently below zero (from -12 to -20) and at home near the woodstove it rarely gets above 5 degrees. The impression is that during the winter this country patiently awaits for the summer in the same way in which our ancestors in the Alps did, 150 years ago.”

“Even the houses have a particular structure. A single room with a woodstove in the center and an opening in the roof welcomes the entire family: grandparents, parents and children. In the same room they cook, sleep and live their daily lives.”

“For the inhabitants of Shimshal the winter days always pass by in the same manner: in the morning the women prepare breakfast with tea and milk with chapatti dipped in melted butter. Before going to school the daughters go and collect wood or water. A [trickling] spring, the only one that is not frozen, guarantees drinking water to the entire village. All day long, women patiently wait their turn to fill their water jugs. The men build and maintain the houses, cut wood, put up the walls and await the summer to work as porters and high-altitude porters. In the village of Shimshal more than 40 people have climbed a mountain of 8,000 meters and Rajab Shan, the only Pakistani to have climbed all of the 8,000-meter peaks of the Karakorum was born here. He is considered a real hero in all of Pakistan.”

Shimshal Climbing School: a school of hope for women.

“Throughout the history of Himalayan alpinism one constant thing links all of the expeditions: the work of the porters,” Hervé explained. “With great professionalism and commitment, adopting different means based on the situation, the porters help realize the dreams of many passionate alpinists.”

“As it took place in the Alps in the 1700’s, here in the Himalaya this population of highlanders, experts with vast knowledge about their land, will become the future professionals of the mountains, the future mountain guides. It is a history which repeats itself, to which we can contribute, seeking to hasten this process a bit by allowing some Himalayan families to live off mountain tourism.”

“It’s the second time I have come to Shimshal. The first was with Simone Moro in the summer of 2008. It was he who got me involved in the Shimshal Climbing School.”

“Shimshal Climbing School is something quite rare, if not non-existent in other parts of Pakistan, since it allows the active participation of women.”

“We dedicated a number of days to this school with theoretical and practical lessons on knots, tying in, anchors, and climbing on ice. New technical equipment supplied by Kong was presented, we watched films on mountains and, thanks to the collaboration of Dr. Marco Cavana, there were lessons on how to intervene in cases of altitude sickness.”

“Forty students took part in the lessons. Twelve of these were smiling young women, with curious gazes, rosy complexions and hands ruined by work in the fields and from the bad weather. They were seated before me and I couldn’t help but look curiously at their expressions as they tried to understand the use of cams. I was moved by a feeling of tenderness. Perhaps in the near future one of them will climb K2 and, as such, will write a new chapter in the history of Pakistani alpinism.”

Winds of change
“The process for emancipating women in Pakistan started long ago, but the reality is still far from what can be defined as equality. The majority of women in Pakistani society are deprived of fundamental rights. For now, equality between men and women remains an illusion.”

“Only in the last few years have we caught a glimpse of some concrete changes: women study, go to university and, thanks to the Aga Khan Foundation, primarily in the Baltistan Gilgit region, women can assume defining roles in changing this country.


Gilgit-Baltistan: PML(Q) to Issue White Paper on Injustices to GB People

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GB Bulletin, November 24 2010: Marvi Memon, Member National Assembly Standing Committee of AJK & GB voiced her strong concern (via twitter) as regards the consistent postponement of the meetings of the standing committee on AJK & GB  and threatened to raise the issues outside the parliament as the meetings are not been held despite the lapse of an year. She added that the meetings meant to be held on monthly basis will now held after an year or so.

Moreover, she declared to issue a white paper on injustices being made by the federal government with the people of AJK and GB.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB on Red Alert ahead of Muharram

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GILGIT: Chief Minister Mehdi Shah while chairing a high level meeting on Tuesday asked the police and other law enforcing agencies to ensure peace during Muharram, officials said.

“A comprehensive security plan for Muharram has been discussed in a meeting that was chaired by the chief minister so that maintenance of law and order in Gilgit could be ensured,” said an official of the district administration.

The official added that it was also decided that inter-faith events would be arranged for both sects to forge unity. He said that the Jirga committee would also be reactivated as an alternative to ensure peace.

“Gilgit has been divided into zones and each zone has been placed under a senior police officer,” another official requesting anonymity said. He said that the plan has been approved by the chief minister in the meeting that was also attended by chief secretary, all the DCs, IGP and other important officials.

In addition to the police, squads of Pakistan Rangers and Gilgit Scouts will also be available to assist the government in maintaining order in Gilgit that got tense after a senior PML-N leader was injured by unidentified people on Monday.

At least four people have been arrested by law enforcing agencies in connection with the shooting incident that triggered fears of a revival of sectarian violence that has already wrecked the region in the past. Shah asked authorities to continue the search operation until the real culprits are nabbed.

“Mosques and Imambargahs have been given top priority in the plan for foolproof security,” officials said, adding that law enforcing forces will be on red alert. Security of the Army Eid Gah will be ensured by the army itself.

Sources said that seeking help from volunteers during Muharram is also one of the options the government is considering to ensure a peaceful atmosphere.

A senior police official said that the main routes of Gilgit-Baltistan will be supervised as part of the security plan. “Documents of all those entering the Gilgit-Baltistan territory will be thoroughly checked and anybody found suspicious will be investigated,” he said.

The main routes being supervised are Karakoram Highway and Gilgit-Chitral road that links district Ghizer with Chitral via Chitral.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan: Relief Goods worth Rs 150 Million arrive in GB

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GB Bulletin: More Chinese aid arrived for the disaster-hit people of Gojal on Saturday, sources said. Chinese officials accompanied the trucks of relief goods and were received by Pakistani officials in Sost, Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). The Chinese delegation was led by Lie Yong.

Secretary Finance, Gul Baig, and Director General G-B Disaster Management Authority, Abdul Qayyum, along with others participated in the ceremony organised by the G-B government in Sost to thank the Chinese government for extending timely and continuous help to the affected people of Pakistan.

Officials said that the aid was delivered to Pakistan via the Khunjrab pass from Xinjiang in China and consisted of 74 tons of diesel, 15 tons of petrol and 3,000 tons of household coal.

The total aid amounts to over Rs 150 million.

While addressing the ceremony at Sost, the Chinese representatives said that China would never leave Pakistan alone in times of grief and would offer more support in the future if the situation required it.

“Pak-China friendship is higher than the Himalayas,” said a Chinese official during the ceremony.

Secretary Finance, Gul Baig, thanked the Chinese government for its ready support to Pakistan during this difficult time and said that Pakistan would always support China through difficult times.

In view of the difficulties being faced by the people of Gojal after the landslide, floods and the beginning of winter, the National Disaster Management Association (NDMA) conducted an assessment of the supplies that would be required by over 25,000 stranded people of Gojal during the winter.

They calculated that there would be a severe shortfall of essential food and fuel items in these areas with the coming of winter. However, the assistance from China helped the Pakistani authorities in controlling the situation and providing people with the necessary items.

A number of local people, however, expressed dissatisfaction over the distribution of Chinese aid, especially fuel, by the local government. They said that the Diesel and Petrol sent earlier was used by the government and nothing
was provided to the calamity hit region.

“Where is all this aid that has been sent for us? None of it has been given to us, only the government enjoys these items,” Farukh Khan, a resident of Sost, told The Express Tribune.

In a press conference in Gilgit last week, the affected people of Gojal demanded transparency in the distribution of petroleum products and asked the Supreme Appellate Court to intervene and stop the corruption by the civil administration and the government.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan: Visible cracks reported in Ghizer Valley

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Many villages are located on geological fault lines, with varying degrees of seismic activity risk.

GB Bulletin: After people in Attabad, Nagar, Hussainabad and Khizerabad in Hunza reported underground tremors and sporadic landslides, people living in a village in Ghizer Valley also reported that a mountain near their hamlet was developing visible cracks.

Underground cracks were first reported this year in September in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“The mountain of Khushbat near Gupis village has developed visible cracks and living around it has now become very risky,” Wilayat Khan, a man from Gupis told The Express Tribune on Saturday. He said that boulders were seen rolling down the mountain.

Khan said that people, who are well aware about the devastation caused early this year by a similar incident which created the Attabad lake, are feeling highly insecure.

Khan said that an NGO had recently conducted a survey of his village and had advised people to shift to safer places. “But we don’t know where to go and for how long,” he said, urging the government to take stock of the situation which posed risks to about 500 households.

After Attabad, huge fissures started appearing near the village of Nagar where landslides swept away four houses, forcing people to move to other areas. People said heavy cracks could be seen on ground and they feared that the village could crumble away just like the village of Attabad.

In September, residents of Hussainabad and Khizerabad of Hunza complained about underground ‘movements’ in nearby mountains which caused periodic landslides, blocking access to the Shinaki area and other villages on the Karakoram Highway.

Officials in the region’s Disaster Management Authority said that many villages in this mountainous area were located on geological fault lines, with varying degrees of seismic activity risk.

Courtyesy: The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010


Gilgit-Baltistan: GB and Chitral must rise above religious prejudices and petty issues to act as a nation

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GB Bulletin: MQM is playing a good role in defending the rights of  its people in Karachi and given the chance it can do far better job in the betterment of whole nation. This was stated by Supreme leader Balawaristan National Front (BNF) Nawaz Khan Naji while addressing the Prize distribution ceremony of Shaheed Zubair Memorial Football Tournament, held in Karachi.

He further said that BNF also wants to proceed on the footings of MQM and organize his party in Karachi as large number of students and professionals from all parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, and Chitral live here.

Religion is used as a tool for assembly membership in Gilgit-Baltistan which is against the very teachings of Islam and a matter of shame for those involved in this, said Naji while critising the role of local politicians.

He further said that Gilgit-Baltistan people were not politically mature in 1947 because of which they were again enslaved after their independence from Dogra Raj, on the other hand Azad Kashmir people got their flag and state status because of being politically matured.

He urged the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral to rise above the religious prejudices and other petty issues to act as a nation to do away with the injustices meted out to them.

Courtesy: Pamir Times

Gilgit-Baltistan: Power outages, shortage of fuel and firewood spoiled Eid festivities

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GB Bulletin: The drop in temperature, frequent power outages, shortage of fuel and firewood in Gilgit-Baltistan, spoiled Eid festivities of the people this year. The inefficient staff of the power department could not make arrangements to ensure a smooth supply of electricity to the people on this auspicious occasion.

The temperatures dropped to minus five degree Celsius (-5.5) in Skardu and two degree in Gilgit. The ‘hide and seek’ of electricity left many families frustrated as they could not even iron their clothes on Eidul Azha on Wednesday.

Kashrote partially remained in darkness on the occasion of Eid and hundreds of families suffered a lot as a transformer in the locality was out of order due to a technical fault. “We are unhappy with the power department,” Haseena Gul, a housewife, said on Friday. “Only God can make things better now since the government has not been able to help us,” she said.

“My children cannot study and watch television because of frequent power outages,” Saleema Khan, a mother of four, said. “We thought that at least on Eid days we would have uninterrupted electricity but I wasn’t even able to prepare food on oven due to power outage,” she added.

The markets and roads in Gilgit were wearing deserted look on Eid days as people had already left for their home towns to observe Eid with their families.

Musa Karim, a resident of Hunza, said that the situation in his home town was even worse compared to Gilgit and other parts of the region because of the shortage of electricity and other facilities. “We are not only facing electricity and fuel crises but also facing shortage of kerosene oil and firewood in the mar
ket,” he said, adding that due to severe cold weather many children are suffering from illness.

Mohammad Raza, a resident of Skardu who celebrated Eid with his relatives in Gilgit, said that the unavailability of wood has been a constant source of concern for people as the temperature in the region falls.

“Dealers supplying wood to Skardu from Gilgit and Chilas have not yet been issued permits by the government,” he said. He urged the government to take notice of this situation immediately and provide some relief to the people.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune


Gilgit-Baltistan:The cultural heritage of GB to perish

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GB Bulletin, November 2010: The cultural heritage of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), including its native language Shina, will perish if concrete steps are not taken to conserve it.

Shina, Brushasi, Khwar, Wakhi and Balti, spoken in G-B, are among the 3,000 languages identified by Unesco in its red book that are facing extinction in the next 50 years if steps are not taken to preserve them. The general secretary of the Shina Language and Cultural Promotion Society (SLCPS) told  on Wednesday that though Shina is widely spoken in G-B, its orthography is not officially recognised. The society aims to make a “breakthrough” in their preservation efforts by launching a recognised orthography of Shina. Ishtiaq Yaad, general secretary of SLCPS, considers this to be their real success. “The orthography of the Shina Language will be launched soon as well as the Mother tongue Literacy Education (MLE) programme, which is meant to promote the writing and speaking of Shina in the region,” he said. Emphasising the need to safeguard the language and the culture of the region Yaad said, “We need to have a museum at least to conserve our precious cultural heritage.”

SLCPS has done extensive research to promote the language that is being spoken not only in G-B but also parts of Jammu and Kashmir, and Chitral, he said. “Under the umbrella of SLCPS, we have so far published 10 books while another three are in the pipeline,” Shakil Ahmad Shakil, president of SLCPS, told .

A number of renowned regional linguists including Abdul Hafiz Shakir, Ghulam Abbas Khan Ghandalo, Naseem, and Salman Khan are part of the 15-member SLCPS team that has coordinates with the Karakoram International University (KIU) .

Last year the university, following the same agenda, had organised an international conference on languages that was attended by world-renowned linguists. Recently, KIU also assured its support to the SLCPS after the society launched the first-ever audio album on Shina Sufi poetry titled “Inner Pain” in Gilgit.

The album, according to Yaad, is a rare initiative undertaken by any individual or body about the often-neglected Shina language. Contrary to the other regional languages of Pakistan, Shina has never been part of the curriculum, though it is spoken in all districts of G-B as well as parts of Chitral and Jammu and Kashmir, he said.

The Forum for Language Initiative Islamabad and USA has been providing technical support to SLCPS . “We have received dozens of trainings arranged by them in the recent past,” Yaad said.

However this might not be enough. Yaad said that if steps towards the preservation of this culture were not taken, chances are that it would eventually disappear.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune


Gilgit-Baltistan: Second Lot of Relief Goods from China

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GB Bulletin, November 17: Second lot of relief goods, mainly fuel items, send by the Chinese Government is likely to be received at the Khunzhrav Border within a couple of day.

Deputy Commissioner of Hunza – Nagar, Zafar Waqar Taj, is in China to facilitate transportation of the relief items to the Gojal Valley.

The very huge amount of coal being sent to Gojal Valley has been welcomed by majority of the local people because winters in the valley are relatively very harsh.

However, apprehensions have also been expressed by certain quarters about the environmental and health impact of excessive coal burning.

People have also demanded transparency in distribution of the petroleum products. The Diesel and Petrol sent earlier was used by the government and not a single litter has been provided as relief to the calamity hit region. The local people have demanded of the Supreme Appellate Court to intervene and stop the corruption by civil administration and the government.

Courtesy: Pamir Times

Gilgit-Baltistan: Two officers from GB promoted as Major-General for first time

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GB Bulletin: The Promotion Board of the Pakistan Army, chaired by General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), approved on November 15,2010, the promotions of 23 Brigadiers to the rank of Major-General.

According to the “Pamir Times”, two of the new Majors-General —Major-Gen.Salman Ali of the Army Medical Corps and Maj-Gen. Hidayat-Ur-Rehman of the Infantry— are natives of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). This is the first time since 1948 that two natives of the territory have risen to the rank of Maj-Gen.

Previously, Mohammad Aziz Khan, a member of the Sudhan tribe Azad Kashmir, rose to the rank of a General.

According to the “Pamir Times”, Major General Hidayat ur Rehman hails from the Astore Valley and Major General Salman Ali belongs to the Gojal Valley in the Hunza area.

Source: Sri Lanka Guardian