Month: November 2011

Gilgit-Baltistan: The Greatest Strength of any Nation is its Youth

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LAHORE: The position holders from Balochistan, Sindh, Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa visited the Government College University (GCU), Lahore, on Thursday and met Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Khaleequr Rahman. The 50-member delegation of position holders and their teachers was led by Punjab Protocol Director General and Old Ravian Asjad Ghani Tahir.

Talking to the position holders, Dr Khaleequr Rahman said that the greatest strength of any nation was its youth, and the best way to strengthen the youth was to give them right education that would eventually make them innovative, logical, open-minded, cultured, responsible, honest and patriotic. He said that the education that failed to impart these virtues in the youth was of no use. He also appreciated the chief minister’s initiative of inter-provincial tours, saying that it was promoting national harmony and solidarity.

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Gilgit-Baltistan: Role of Community Participation in Development

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The power of community participation in development was highlighted by Akhtar Hameed Khan through his famous Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi in the 1980s. Due to the fact that Orangi was a squatter settlement, it did not qualify for government aid. As a result, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan organised and mobilised the local squatter community to identify their need, collect funds and through the technical expertise of Dr. Khan and his team, solve their own sanitation problems. Similarly, in the same period another social development project was being initiated on the lines of community participation in what is now Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme was started by Shoaib Sultan Khan in the early 1980s and instead of making the choices for the villagers of these remote and harsh terrains, the programme focused on a “partnership with communities” and learning-by-doing. It was the villagers who were to decide what they need, how they will go about it, and how will they manage and utilise the funding provided by the Aga Khan Foundation. This participatory approach to development has since then led to countless achievements in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan.

From the construction of countless bridges to significant increases in the income of the residents, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme spearheaded development in these remote regions of Pakistan. Over 90,000 hectares of land was reclaimed while more than 30 million trees have been planted. Irrigation channels have been made the programme has mobilised over 4000 community organisations on a small to medium scale, along with groups that manage over 8 million US dollars of savings.

While these are the tangible achievements of this initiative, the intangible change in lives and attitude that the people of these remote areas have gone through is perhaps worth much more. Micro projects of hydro-electricity now supply electricity to over 50 per cent of Chitral, and what makes these projects successful is that all are thought out, implemented, managed and maintained by the communities that benefit from them.

Aga Khan Rural Support Programme changed the lives of over 1.3 million villagers in the northern parts of Pakistan and it did not end there. The network spread its wings to villages all over the country; Shoaib Sultan Khan’s pioneering model was replicated in at least 11 countries and has over the course of time, changed the lives of millions of poor for the better. Although such heroes are content with just that single smile of a hardworking villager in the face of poverty, we must honour them.

There are countless such men in this country that are giving of themselves towards the betterment of the lives of people they do not know and perhaps will never see again. These are the real heroes of Pakistan, and if we must erect monuments of public figures, it should be of such stars of our country rather politicians buried in corruption.

It is said, and I quote “the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. There may be very few men and women who come to the spotlight such as Akhtar Hameed Khan and Shoaib Sultan Khan, but we must not forget them, for they not only serve Pakistan, but also humanity. It is people like them that prove Pakistan has hope and that it takes courage to change lives. Not everything that happens in this country is wrong, even though it is difficult to sometimes acknowledge that glimmer of hope shining through all the chaos that surrounds us, but there has always been and there will always be… hope.

 The author is a policy analyst and a social worker from Islamabad who believes that the glass is half full. He can be reached at siddique.humayun@gmail.com

Gilgit-Baltistan:SAC takes Suo Moto Notice

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GILGIT (ET): Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) Supreme Appellate Court has taken suo moto notice of the deteriorating law and order situation in Gilgit, directing the inspector general police (IGP) to submit a report to the court on Monday, court sources revealed on Sunday.

“The notice has been issued to the IGP,” said a court source anonymously.

Gilgit, the capital of G-B, has witnessed continuous target killings for the past one month in which five people were killed and seven others wounded — a deadly blow to the sectarian harmony of the province.

“The prevalent situation forced the judiciary to step in,” he said, adding that the police chief, Hussain Asghar, will inform the court about the steps taken to put an end to these targeted killings.

Earlier this week, the government sealed offices of three banned G-B-based religious outfits in an attempt to overcome the menace likely to aggravate during Muharram.

The Ministry of Interior, last month, had placed a ban on the Sabeel Organisation, Tanzeem Nau Jawanaan-e-Ahle-Sunnat and Shia Talba Action Committee (STAC) for their alleged involvement in sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, the district administration of Gilgit has finalised a security plan for Muharram, dividing the city into four zones, with each zone placed under the supervision of a superintendent of police (SP).

In addition to this, security forces including police officials have stepped up patrolling on roads besides increasing the number of check posts on the routes leading to G-B. Police said that security cameras will also be installed in ‘sensitive’ places to keep an eye on possible suspects.

Gilgit-Baltistan: If There is Paradise on Earth

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Chitral (CN): The beautiful culture of the northern areas of Pakistan has been well guarded and preserved by the inhabitants. Despite the changing times, the influx of outsiders for business, tourism and trade purposes has little affected the core values of simplicity, lovability and mutual respect of the indigenous people. The people of Gilgit (mostly those of Ghizr Yasin, with whom CN team interacted) were found to be proud of their dress, their language and their traditions.

Being in the neighborhood and naturally  having similarities with the contemporary culture of Chitral, there were some striking differences too.. A festive occasion in Chitral like a marriage function followed by an ‘ishtok’ (Dancing session)  cannot be imagined without a good many participants consuming local brewed alcoholic drinks, but in Gilgit it was found that not a single person had a drink nor even any smoking was seen, yet the dances were extremely lively and participatory by all and sundry, young and old.  It was particularly surprising that the young generation was happy and active without alcohol or cigarettes.. Here the Gilgitis certainly beat Chitralis, as the later cannot imagine an ishtok party without the ‘spirit’ behind it.

 When asked as to why the Gilgitis did not drink, whether it was the religious people’s pressure or what ? they said, it had nothing to do with any religious pressure, rather it was due to the example set by the elders that the young generation follows. The intra family love and informality was also very conspicuous and enviable.

 Another encouraging impression registered was, When the Chief Judge of the GB chief Court, Raja Jalaluddin was asked by our reporter whether he found any difficulty in dispensing justice, he replied with conviction that he is being given a handsome emolument and privileges enough to meet his everyday requirements and the least he can repay back is by doling out justice without any fear or favour.

 “For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel — Martin Luther.

Keeping the positive and pleasant experiences in the visit to Gilgit, aside, one negative observation was, the marked sectarian tensionin Gilgit town. Both Shia and Sunni seem hard at each other’s throats there. The Imam of Jamia Masjid Gilgit town was seen being escorted to the mosque in a police cavalcade to lead Jumma prayers . Similarly the Shias also have fortified themselves all ready to ‘fight’ their detractors.

 As a bottom line, if the scourge of sectarianism be eliminated and the people of Gilgit Baltistan guard and preserve their culture, then the following verse of the mogul conqueror Babar would aptly apply to the area.

اگر فردوس بر روۓ زمیں است      ہمیں است ‘ ہمیں است ‘ ہمیں است ‘

“if there is a paradise on earth,  it is here, it is here, it is here”

Gilgit-Baltistan:Pakistan’s relationship with China and GB

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Speaking in Jhelum on November 24, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that Pakistan-China relations were purely strategic and were not against any other country, and that they would actually help in the promotion of regional and global peace. He had just attended the closing ceremony of a two-week-long Pakistan-China Joint Military Exercise Friendship-IV-2011.

Lest the world take him as speaking tongue-in-cheek, he added that China’s security was dear to Pakistan and such joint exercises would strengthen relations between the two countries, which were facing the common threat of terrorism. He further disarmed regional and global suspicion by pointing to the fact that Pakistan was in the routine of having such joint exercises with other countries as well and had conducted them with 50 other countries.

But the sad truth is that conflict is still the working paradigm in South Asia and in the world. When General Kayani said ‘purely strategic’ relations with China, he probably thought that this would take the adversarial regional mind away from ideas of hostile combinations of force. The fact is that the Jhelum exercise will not fail to elicit negative interpretation and much of that will be based on ‘explanatory’ statements made in Pakistan but not in China, where foreign policy intent is not worn by the politicians on their sleeves.

Unless suspicion is disarmed through codependent trade relations with India, the neighbouring state will go towards seeing any Pakistan-China development as directed against it. India sees much more in the Karakoram Highway, built by the Chinese, than just a trade artery. It says it is a flanking move to challenge India in Kashmir, where Indian troops are deployed, and that Chinese troops are actually deployed in the Gilgit-Baltistan region (something that both Pakistan and China have denied). India has always linked Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its weaponisation to China. The rest of the world, too, is suspicious of China’s policy towards South Asia in general and Pakistan-Afghanistan in particular.

In Pakistan, strategists don’t help by looking at the American presence in Afghanistan as being aimed against China — as a challenge to China’s forward move in Central Asia. Pakistani leaders openly say that new contacts with China should be aimed at shifting Pakistan’s big traditional dependencies on America to its all-weather friend, China. Of course, this can have its negative effects in Pakistan, where cheap Chinese imports could deal a devastating blow to local industry and businesses.

What makes matters worse is that Pakistan’s relationship with China is — as is much of foreign policy— dictated by the military which dominates policymaking and sets the narrative and public discourse on how we perceive and deal with the outside world. This is perhaps why we are programmed to look at relations with China as a counter to Indian influence in the region and seem to prefer it over relations with America, which happens to be one of our largest aid donors and largest trading partners. Over time, the elected civilian government in Pakistan needs to take greater ownership of this bilateral relationship so that it can be weaned away from purely defence to social sectors. Right now, the perception that is determined by the armed forces in Pakistan is a fair one, and it is inevitable that the military is the one who stands to benefit the most from it. Of course, this is merely to point out that the benefits of such a deep relationship should accrue also to ordinary Pakistanis, especially in fields which concern and benefit them.

Pakistan’s isolationism and internal civil-military contradictions are retarding its progress towards a prosperous market state that can look after its large population better. To achieve this, Pakistan must stay on the course of normalising its relations with India through free trade and allowing India to trade with Central Asia through its territory the same way it is willing to serve as a transit territory for the movement of goods from Gwadar to the western regions of China. If we were to learn the philosophy behind China’s conduct in addition to just doing military exercises, we would do what the world wants from us and not adopt an unrealistic defiant posture.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Promise of the Change

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Islamabad (ET): Filmmaking and music video production are traditionally male-dominated where women generally have to claw their way in. For this very reason, Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win for The Hurt Locker was a historic one.

In Pakistan, independent filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal and architect/music video producer Zarminae Ansari, are two such examples of women garnering success and recognition in fields still in their infancy in the country. Their example of following their ambitions is as inspirational as their speeches at Froebels on Friday.

Raised in Nigeria and Pakistan, Bilal graduated from the California Institute of Technology and University of Southern California and has received numerous awards including the Nicoll Fellowship in screenwriting, administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is also a Froebels alum.

Her experience of the world grounded as a Pakistani reflects in her work — culture plays an important role in “Marwa” and “Pashok”. She recently wrapped up shooting her first feature-length film “Josh,” a murder-mystery in Karachi. While presenting scenes from “Forbidden Steps”, a film currently in development, she spoke about the balance between professional achievement and remaining true to one’s artistic vision and integrity. Individuality, determination and persistence reflected in her speech.

Encouragement to young students to think outside the box and remembering one’s roots was echoed further by National College of Arts and Massachusettes Institute of Technology alum Ansari. She cited her own example of producing an aesthetically arresting music video “Yahaan” for Rahat Fateh Khan to promote cultural tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Ansari’s professional training as an architect helped in communicating that specialisation in a field is not necessary for success. She has been a part of various projects and papers that promote cultural heritage and sustainment, and has aggressively campaigned for resisting extremist influence in the country, particularly in tribal areas.

Development of such thinking is an important part of education and students seemed to be engaging with the ideas presented by both speakers during the questions and answers session. Frodoc, the school’s film and documentary festival will be held next spring where students will share their work utilising the advice imparted by the speakers.

Gilgit-Baltistan: PEW lauds government for thwarting GB oil mafia designs

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Gilgit (PPI): The Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW) on Sunday lauded government for not bowing to the pressure of the influential Gilgit-Baltistan oil mafia.

The government known for bowing to pressure to different interest groups and market forces took a firm stand to confront the oil mafia, which had planned to achieve goals by creating artificial shortage of oil in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).The powerful mafia that has embezzled billions by misusing petroleum freight subsidy since a decade was brought to lime light in January this year in a PEW report.Some influential politicians, oil marketing companies (OMCs), officials of petroleum ministry, OGRA and carriage contractors were involved in the plunder, said Dr Murtaza Mughal, President of the PEW.After the publication of report, some steps by Ogra and other departments controlled the activities of oil mafia to some extent, however they were smart enough to find novel ways, he said.Dr Murtaza Mughal said that some private companies undeterred by the actions of government and notice by the GB courts have granted licences for some two dozen filling stations in last ten months.The step was taken despite the fact that filling stations in GB are already in access of demand and their sole purpose was to earn profit by misusing freight subsidy, he said.

Few days back, GB oil mafia, uneasy over reduced profits, planned a strike by carriage contractors, believed to be backed by some marketing companies.