Month: August 2011

Gilgit-Baltistan:US funding dams in Pakistan

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“We are considering doing more in the sector,” said the department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland, as media reports suggested that the US would also support the giant $12 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam project. – File Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON: The United States has provided support to complete the final phases of two hydroelectric dams in Pakistan: Satpara in Gilgit-Baltistan and Gomal Zam in South Waziristan, the State Department has said.

“We are considering doing more in the sector,” said the department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland, as media reports suggested that the US would also support the giant $12 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam project.

Ms Nuland noted that Pakistan had requested international community’s support for development of the Diamer-Bhasha project.

“We recognise that such a hydroelectric project would help meet many of Pakistan’s long-term energy and water needs, as well as advance social and economic development,” she said.

“We are considering how we can best support Pakistan’s request, as are other bilateral donors and multilateral financial institutions.”

The US, she said, had not yet made a final decision on this giant project but noted that providing support to such projects was part of a broader signature energy programme in Pakistan that the US announced in 2009.

“We continue to work with the government of Pakistan to determine how best to use US civilian assistance,” Ms Nuland said.

If the US agreed to support the Diamer-Bhasha dam, it would be the largest civilian aid project the US has undertaken in Pakistan in decades.

Asked if the US was concerned how its support for these projects would affect its ties with India, Ms Nuland said the United States had long supported development projects that enhance the daily lives of people throughout the region. “In doing so, we always take into account a project’s potential regional impact,” she added.

Courtesy: Dawn

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Gilgit-Baltistan: On the top of world

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A cup of steaming cappuccino, the roar of the Shigar river, the fast breeze made by the gushing water, a huge walnut tree nearby, massive mountains on three sides and the lively company of friends – it reminds me of William Wordsworth eulogizing “a book of verses, a bottle of wine, a shady tree and you beside me” Wordsworth refused to desire anything else if he possessed all these blessings. And this is precisely what I go through while perched on top of the Shigar Fort, the Palace on the Rock, in high-up Baltistan.

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Huge Poplar and Cedar trees cover the lush-green Shigar valley at the bottom of huge mountains, offering a complete contrast to the topography of the region. Even the road from Skardu, the administrative headquarters of Baltistan, to Shigar stands out for the contrasting imagery: once across the Skardu river, you travel across a desert of white glittering sand which gradually disappears behind the craggy and curling mountains before descending into the Shigar valley. From a distance, the Shigar valley strikingly looks like a sprawling oasis, with the mighty Shigar river crisscrossing the vast riverbed to the right of the valley, which has a predominantly Shia Muslim population. (The people here recently voted Azam Khan into the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly.) The valley offers a stunningly contrasting landscape – rocky barren cliffs, cultivated terraces, and orchards all around.

You travel across a desert of white glittering sand which gradually disappears behind the craggy and curling mountains

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The valley is practically the gateway to some of the highest mountains in the world, including K-2, Mashabrum 1 and 11, Broad Peak, and Tango Tower. It is also the staging post for the Baltoro mountain range, and used to be the most favoured destination for trekkers from all over the world.

The valley is practically the gateway to some of the highest mountains in the world

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If the Shigar Valley is the crown of the Karakorums, the Palace Residence is certainly its centre-piece. Also known as Fong-Khar, or the Palace on the Rock, the site has been restored by Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP-P). It is indeed a unique site in the middle of an oasis; a cultural heritage guesthouse where you experience a rugged 17th Century version of luxury, painstakingly restored to the original, though equipped with all the modern amenities and services of a good hotel.

The complex at Shigar comprises the 400-year-old Fort-Palace and two more recent buildings, the “Old House” and the “Garden House”. The former Palace of the Raja of Shigar has been transformed into a 20-room heritage guesthouse, with the grand audience hall serving as a museum of Balti culture and featuring select examples of fine wood-carvings, as well as other heritage objects.

While hosting guests, the Palace also offers a lot of Balti history and culture – a blend indeed of the old and the new.

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Azam Khan belongs to the Amacha Dynasty, which claims to have ruled the area for 33 generations. His ancestors brought artisans, carpenters and stone-carvers from Kashmir for the construction of the Shigar Fort-Palace, and that resulted in a combination of Kashmiri-influenced carvings and Balti architecture.

It is extraordinary to be so close to nature in its naked form, and to not have to think of the workaday stresses back home.

Almost two kilometres upwards of the Skardu valley lies the sleepy Khaplu town, ahead of the Kargil sector, where Indian and Pakistani forces fought their most recent battle over Kashmir in 1999.

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Khalpu, too, boasts another archaeological heritage: the Khaplu Palace and Residence, also restored by the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP-P). This palace is from 1840 and belonged to the Raja of Khaplu and was raised after the Sikh Dogras conquered Baltistan and ordered all Rajas to build new residences. Located at a height of over 8,000 feet above sea level, the palace is now back to its past glory, restored with care and passion, with no cement used in the construction or restoration, which took almost six years. This palace also offers several cozy rooms, equipped with modern amenities such as internet, television, clean hot and cold water and round-the-clock electricity.

Azam Khan belongs to the Amacha Dynasty, which claims to have ruled the area for 33 generations

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The Northern Areas – both Gilgit and Baltistan – have many similarly precious archaeological heritage sites, though many are in a lamentably shambolic state. One wishes the government agencies responsible for our heritage would demonstrate the same spirit and commitment as the Aga Khan Cultural Service.

[box13]And now some good news: it is amazing to see the tourist traffic that places like Shigar and Khaplu can generate; the restoration or repair simply opens up the place to inquisitive outsiders. Not only does it become a source of business and employment – it becomes the engine of growth in far-flung places where people don’t even think of going.

So if you want a break from stressful city life, or are fed up with the rigorous daily grind of business in crowded city centers, why not check out Shigar and Khaplu for a picnic on top of the world?

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and author of the book “The Most Dangerous Place – Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier email: imtiaz@crss.pk

Gilgit-Baltistan: Construction of Diamer Basha Dam- Government departments strongly need to improve their business process

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FOR the last many years we have been hearing that the government is planning the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam and actual work on the project would start soon. Even the previous government said work will begin soon after the ground breaking ceremony was performed in April, 2006 by the former President but one feels depressed that progress has not been made to start the actual work.

Though it is encouraging that the Federal government has provided Rs 3.9 billion to Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments to acquire land but the process is taking too much time. No major water reservoir has been undertaken since the completion of Tarbela dam in 1976 and even if physical work starts on Diamer-Bhasha Dam this year, it would take atleast ten years to complete meaning that the country would continue to suffer from shortage of water during winter and from floods during the monsoon season. Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma reservoirs have already lost more than 5,000,000 acre feet storage capacity due to sedimentation,almost equal to the original combined capacity of Mangla and Chashma reservoirs putting sustainability of existing irrigated agriculture of Pakistan in serious jeopardy.

Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and we have the World’s fastest growing population. Due to lack of large river regulation capability through sizeable storages, the country is already facing serious shortages in food grains. Given the present trend, Pakistan could soon become one of the food deficit countries in the near future. Therefore, there is a dire need to build storages for augmenting agriculture production. The Diamer-Bhasha project would also create lot of job opportunities, particularly for the local and development of massive infrastructure leading to overall socio economic uplift of the area.

In addition the 4500MW of hydropower will provide the required electricity at affordable price. We would therefore urge the Prime Minister to personally supervise the progress on the project and ensure that when the government completes its present term, there is visible progress on the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam as that would be a major contribution of his government to the country and its economy.

Courtesy: Observer

Gilgit-Baltistan: Launching of Balti and Shina PTV service

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 14 (APP)  – Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Saturday said that the Balti and Shina PTV service would provide an opportunity to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to know developments taking place in the country and around the world in their local language. “The credit goes to the present democratic government that has taken the decision to connect people through National Transmission Networks,” the Prime Minister said in his message on the occasion of launching of Balti and Shina PTV service.
He said that it was a matter of immense pleasure for him to know the launching of PTV News Bulletins in Shina and Balti languages for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan province.The Prime Minister felicitated the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and PTV management on this initiative on the occasion of Independence Day.
Earlier, the government created the province of Gilgit-Baltistan with  a view to solve their problems at their door-steps.
It is heartening to mention that there is a Provincial Assembly, Chief Minister and the whole administration to serve the people and also carry out development activities having bearings on the socio-economic uplift of the masses, he said.
The Prime Minister said the region has immense potential of tourist’s attraction because of its natural beauty besides the highest mountains which is the paradise for the mountings.
The Prime Minister wished PTV management all success and hoped that it would further improve the quality service with passage of time. APP

Gilgit-Baltistan: The most peaceful region suffers due to police action

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The serene valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan are known as one of the most peaceful territories in the region. Crime is relatively rare, and even though sectarian riots have been seen in Gilgit from time to time, things remain peaceful in most of the area. However, it appears the police operate there just as they do in other parts of the country, with the same degree of brutality and a lack of concern for human life.

Two lives were tragically lost in Gilgit after police opened fire on protesters who were seeking compensation for losses suffered as a result of a massive landslide that created an artificial lake in Attabad last year. A protest was staged outside a bank after people were denied the compensation amount. A father and son died. Six others were injured. It is impossible to believe that this small demonstration from people who had every right to be angry and were in desperate need of funds could not have been controlled without lives being lost. It is understood that the pelting of stones by the small crowd of protesters, one of which hit a police deputy superintendant, led to the decision to open fire. It goes without saying that the action by the crowd hardly put the police in any real danger. The true motive also appears to have been to prevent the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mehdi Shah, witnessing the protest. Shah later cancelled his scheduled visit to Gilgit as protests also spread to Gulmit.

One hopes, however, that he will take note of the terrible incident and order action against the trigger-happy policemen. The people of Attabad have suffered greatly as a result of natural calamity. They were promised compensation last year by the prime minister. More suffering should not be inflicted on them as a result of action by police who apparently have no notion of respect for human life and no training in how to disperse protests peacefully and without violence. It is also important that the compensation due to these victims be handed over. Otherwise we will only see more protests and more suffering in the future.

Courtesy: Express Tribune

Gilgit-Baltistan: PML-N demands judicial commission to probe Ataabad incident

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ISLAMABAD,Aug 12 (APP):PML-N’s Chief Coordinator for Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Siddiqul Farooq on Friday demanded of the federal government to constitute a judicial commission to investigate Ataabad incident.Addressing a press conference at the Party Secretariat here, he said that the commission should submit its finding in seven days and that the police officials involved in the killing should be suspended till the completion of investigation.Condemning the incident in which two persons were killed, he asked Chief Minister, Gilgit Baltistan (GB), Mehdi Shah to present before the proposed commission.
He also demanded of the authorities concerned to pay compensation amounting to Rs. 3 million to each victim killed as a result of firing.
The Chief Coordinator claimed that government had not fulfilled its promise to pay Rs.600,000 to each affected family of Ataabad lake.
He said his party would continue to stage a peaceful demonstration until the compensation was paid to the victims of Ataabad lake.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Rs.3.9 billion provided to GB and KPK to acquire land for Diamer-Basha Dam

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 12 (APP): The federal government has provided Rs.3.9 billion to Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa authorities to acquire land for construction of country’s most vital project- Diamer Basha dam.The process of acquisition of land is continuing and after its completion, work would start which is expected most probably by end of this year.A senior official on Friday said land for construction of WAPDA project offices has already been taken over and for the purpose 13 local construction contracts were awarded.
Talking to APP, the official said Diamer Basha Dam project is the largest development project in the history of the country which will leave positive impact on the national economy.
About the benefits of the project, he said the water storage will be 8.1 MAF and estimated annual benefits would be Rs.50.8 billion.
He said electricity generation capacity of the project will be 4500 MW while annual estimated energy contribution will be 19 billion units with benefits annual advantage of Rs. 106.6 billion.
He said after construction of Diamer Basha dam, the life of Tarbela Dam will be enhanced by 35 years and cost of project will be recovered in 8 years.
To a question, he said the dam would not only help mitigate chances of flood, but also ensure employment opportunities for around 15,000 persons during construction phase.
The official said the construction of Kurram Tangi Dam and Munda Dam will also be started during 2011.