Month: November 2011

Gilgit-Baltistan:Students urged to play their role in reviving traditional peace in GB

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Gilgit (ET): Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah on Thursday urged the people to promote peace and harmony and bring an end to sectarian violence in the valley.

“Students should play their role in reviving the traditional peace, harmony and hospitality of G-B, which are now fast diminishing,” Shah said.

He was speaking at the 5th and 6th joint convocation ceremony of the Karakoram International University (KIU), where 850 students were awarded degrees.

The ceremony was attended by a large number of parents, faculty members, government officials, Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Legislative Assembly Speaker Wazir Baig and G-B force commander. The governor also announced an amount of Rs500,000 for the university, which had been requested by KIU Vice-Chancellor Najma Najam.

Earlier, the vice-chancellor briefed the audience on the university’s achievements and said that the number of PhDs in the university has reached 33 from eight in just two and a half years.
In addition to that, KIU has signed a number of agreements with foreign universities to promote quality education, she added.

She explained that the convocation had been delayed due to the Attabad tragedy, followed by the floods last year.

She also said that the university has introduced several new courses while admissions into engineering programs would start in a year. In addition to that, the university will also start fine arts and law programs next year, she added.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Trouble makers would be dealt with iron hand-CM

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Gilgit (A.Today): Offices of three banned Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) based religious outfits have been sealed, Chief Minister Mehdi Shah said on Thursday.
Earlier in October, the Interior Ministry had placed a ban on at least three G-B based religious outfits including the Sabeel Organisation, Tanzeem Nau Jawanaan-e-Ahle-Sunnat and Shia Talba Action Committee (STAC) for their alleged involvement in sectarian violence across the province.
Talking to reporters at his residence late on Thursday, the Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister said that the step was taken to ensure peace in the region that has witnessed growing violence on sectarian grounds in the recent past, leaving several dead.
“Gilgit has been divided into four zones with each zone placed under a superintendent of police,” he revealed and added that the troublemakers would be dealt with an “iron hand”.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Fire burns houses and goods in Skardu

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SKARDU (ET): Ten houses were burnt in a fire in Hilalabad village of Kharmang area in District Skardu on Thursday.

According to initial reports, the cause of the fire might have been the firewood that locals store to keep themselves warm during the harsh winters. However, an official confirmation is yet to be received from the area.

Since early November, temperature in Skardu had fallen as low as four degrees below freezing point after a spell of heavy rain and snowfall in Gilgit-Baltistan(G-B). This meant that the villagers had no access to water when the fire erupted, being forced to quell it with the very limited options available to them.

Lack of proper roads also made it difficult for rescue teams to reach the village and control the damage.

No casualties were reported in the incident but villagers feared the loss of more material goods as the fire continues to spread till the filing of this report.

Earlier in Rawalpindi, a fire broke out in the Imperial Market of the Raja Bazaar destroying electronic goods worth millions of rupees.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB CM says his hands tied

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Gilgit (ET): Lawmakers in Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly raised alarm over the rising incidence of sectarian violence, and warned the government to contain it lest the killing of innocent people in the capital spills unrest across the entire region.

The third day of the GBLA session chaired by Speaker Wazir Baig was dominated by the deteriorating law and order situation in Gilgit city.

“I warn you of the impending danger,” said Abdul Hameed of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who hails from the Astore valley. “Unabated violence in Gilgit city can afflict the entire region.”

Earlier on Tuesday, armed men opened fire on two young men in the Khomar area of Gilgit city, killing one and injuring the other. The toll in sectarian-motivated killings has climbed to five, besides eight injuries, in the past one month.

The speaker concurred with the lawmakers and observed that law and order situation in the regional capital was worsening. “The G-B people are looking at you,” he said, addressing G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah.

CM says his hands were tied

The chief minister, in a startling ‘revelation’ to assembly members, said he’d been ‘forbidden’ to take action against corrupt officials in the past by sitting assembly members, on political and sectarian grounds. “But from now on, I will name anyone who tries to stop me from taking action against corrupt officials,” Shah told the lawmakers.

His remarks followed opposition leader Janbaz Khan’s presentation of the recommendations of the standing committee on public works departments. A system of rewards and punishment must be introduced in the department, Khan suggested.

Shah announced launching of an inquiry against corrupt officials, but added that inquiries had been conducted in the past but action was delayed due to political and sectarian considerations raised by lawmakers.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB & AJK likely to get right of vote for Pakistani Legislatures

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Islamabad (ET):The people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are likely to be given the right to dual votes, one for Pakistani legislatures and the other for legislative assemblies for their respective territories.

Over 3.5 million voters are likely to be added to the communised electoral rolls being prepared by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) with the cooperation of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

“After the ministries of foreign affairs and law gave the go-ahead, the ECP completed the hearing of petitions and reserved its judgment. They are most likely to get the right to vote,” an ECP official told The Express Tribune, requesting not to be named since the judgment was pending with the commission.

The status of these areas is disputed but the people of these areas had previously been casting votes in Pakistan and there was no specific law granting them the right to dual vote.

AJK and G-B have their own legislative assemblies. Kashmiri refugees (those who migrated from areas now under Indian Kashmir) living in Pakistan also vote for the AJK legislative assembly.

In the initial stages of preparation of the new computerised electoral rolls, these so-called Kashmiri refugees were included in the registration process but the people of AJK and G-B were excluded. Petitions were moved against this action, following which the ECP sought the opinion of the Foreign Office and the law ministry.

Both have now given a go-ahead to the ECP and it is expected that people in AJK and G-B will now be registered. “They [the people of AJK and G-B] will be required to list one of their addresses [either permanent or temporary] from some area falling inside Pakistan to be registered as voters,” the ECP official said.

The electoral list will be displayed for public verification before being finalised next year.

Around 80 million voters have been included in the new electoral rolls while another few million are likely to be added in the coming days.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GBLA Urged Government to encourage Private Airlines to GB

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Gilgit (ET): Lawmakers in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) on Monday urged the government to encourage private airlines to fly to G-B as the poor people of the region cannot afford Pakistan International Airlines’ increasing fares.

Amina Ansari, a PML-Q lawmaker, raised a point concerning increased PIA fares and asked Chief Minister Mehdi Shah to explain what efforts he had made to attract private airlines to fly in to G-B.

“I will take up the matter with the federal government in my upcoming meeting with the defense minister,” Shah replied.

Legislators including Shireen Fatima and Raja Azam asked the chief minister to play his role in having PIA fares decreased, given that G-B is a poor region with the majority of people having limited financial resources.

Speaker Wazir Baig called PIA’s fare increase “an unjustifiable act that should be reversed”.

During the proceedings, PML-N’s Janbaz Khan was nominated as the Leader of the Opposition in the GBLA, a seat that fell vacant after Bashir Ahmed of the PML-Q joined the government as a result of the recent alliance formed at the federal level.

PPP lawmaker Sheikh Nisar submitted a resolution condemning the harsh remarks of some politicians against President Zardari and Altaf Hussain of the MQM. Except for the new opposition leader, Janbaz Khan, other members voted in favour of the resolution.

Khan opined that the government should also bring a resolution against Zulfiqar Mirza, who is continuously making disparaging remarks about PPP leaders.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Despite disappointment, Everest hero’s resilience shines on

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GILGIT (ET): Local hero Hassan Sadpara, who scaled Mount Everest in May this year, was not expecting the government to forget him so soon.

The 48-year-old Pakistani climber from Sadpara village became the second Pakistani to ascend the highest mountain in the world. When the mountaineer made the courageous journey to the top of the highest mountain without a supply of oxygen, the government promised to donate 10 kanals of land to him in recognition of his feat. But the reward is yet to be handed over to the mountaineering hero.

“If I had been the son of an influential man, my name would have been written in the Guinness Book of World Records,” the disappointed climber told The Express Tribune, adding that he has not received any of the promised reward.

Although the Gilgit Baltistan government gave him a warm welcome and appointed him as a Grade V police instructor in recognition of his achievement, Sadpara feels a more special prize could have been meted out.  ”What can I say?” he  asked.  “Is this job a worthy reward for a national hero?” he asked.

Sadpara has also not forgotten the cold shoulder extended to him by the federal government after his arrival in Pakistan in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad. “Nobody other than the chief minister of Gilgit Baltistan came to receive me at the airport,” said Sadpara who is as destitute today as he was before his feat.

Inspired by his father, Sadpara started his mountaineering carrier back in 1996 when he was 33. Now nearing 50 and a father of four, he says he is as fit as he was 15 years ago and despite the anticlimax, remains enthusiastic. He dreams of climbing the remaining eight out of the world’s 14 highest peaks, provided he gets financial support.

Sadpara is the only person from Gilgit-Baltistan to have surpassed all the five major peaks in Pakistan including K2 in 1981, Gasherbrum II and Broad Peak in 1982 and  Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak) in 1992.

In the aftermath of Sadpara’s achievement, the Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan Mehdi Shah announced that an institute would be set up where mountaineering would be promoted.

But alas, the fate of this announcement, too, hangs in the balance as the chief minister is occupied with the task of expanding his cabinet after the inclusion of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid in the government.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Political Rejuvenation in Hunza

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A massive landslide in the village of Attabad in Hunza last year buried the whole village and 19 precious lives under its debris. The landslide was so massive that it blocked Hunza River, which has turned into a monstrous lake. In addition, incompetency of government to deal with natural disasters has aggravated the condition of not only people of the affected village, but also people living in the upstream of Hunza River. With the passage of time Attabad Lake has devoured various villages and displaced thousands of people from their hearths and homes. Every natural disaster naturally entails loses in terms of human lives and property. The best policy in such a situation is to take initiatives to contain social ramifications of natural disasters in the future.

In the case of Attabad disaster the government tried to bring in succor to the people who were rendered insecure by displacement. Strategically, relief efforts should be followed by plans and endeavors for rehabilitating Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). On the contrary the government of Gilgit-Baltistan decided to keep the affected people in a state of perpetual relief for unknown reasons. This has made life more difficult for the affectees. Consequently, fallouts of Attabad disaster has jolted the apparently peaceful folks of Hunza from their political torpor and exposed them to harsh reality of being a politically poor society. Now people are mulling over the causes of political deficit and possible political scenario of Hunza in the future.

This soul searching is triggered by a tragic incident in Hunza when the affectees of Attabad disaster staged a protest for their compensation on the occasion of visit of the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan –Mehdi Shah. In sheer contravention of law, a deputed officer ordered firing that resulted in the death of father and son hailing from an affected village. This incident added fuel to the fire of already simmering emotions that burst forth in the shape of violence and resulted in burning of various government offices in the newly formed district of Hunza-Nagar.

Instead of bringing real culprits of the incident to books, the local administration resorted to mass arrest of political and social activists across Hunza. Ironically, incarceration of political activists on false charges has been happening under a political government and democratic dispensation. Social and political analysts in the region attribute strong tactics of intimidation of political workers as a ploy by some powerful quarters to stifle burgeoning political process in Hunza, which has remained apolitical during last three decades for various reasons. There are many factors that contribute to increasing political awareness and activism on the hand, and consternation of the proponents of status quo about political activism in the region where geo-strategic interests of Pakistan intersect with neighboring states of China, Afghanistan and India.

Foremost among the factors for political rejuvenation in Hunza is demographic shift, for youth comprises bulk of the population in Hunza. Unlike the apolitical generation that benefited from dissemination of education in last 3 decades of the last century in Hunza, the youth of Hunza now are more assertive in political arena. People of Hunza got exposure to mass literacy in 80s. They seized upon the moment to uplift their economic condition by entering into service sector which was opened by modernity, commerce and at the latter stage NGOs. Because of emerging opportunities and absorption of erstwhile educated cadre in job market, the bigger question of political rights vis-à-vis economic empowerment did not emerge.

Until now, electorate in Hunza has elected representatives who belonged to mainstream political parties of the country. While focusing on the bigger picture at Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) level, analysts tend to overlook a new cadre that is emerging on political front at district council and tehsil level. These are the people who are paving the way for creation of critical mass at grass root level. It is because of this cadre the political question reemerged on the political landscape of Hunza after the lull of two decade. This time the political process has slowly started taking roots. Hence, we see emergence of various nationalists, religious and national parties on political scenario of Hunza.

The people apprehended during the last three months on the charges of fomenting violence in Hunza belong to that category of political workers and leaders who feel the pulse of street and are engaged with quotidian affairs of people. This new cadre is more assertive in political rights for they are of the view that attainment of political rights is an effective way to economic empowerment.  Expansion of influence of new political cadre and activists will put an end to the privilege and prestige of the elements benefiting from status quo. One of the strong reasons for use of disproportionate force against people after the unrest in Hunza is to strangle emerging political discourse into isolation. Incarceration of political leaders and activists of progressive persuasion is an attempt to gag voices who reject state paternalism.

During the last one and half month the whole administrative machinery in Hunza is geared towards suppressing people who are engaged in political process. Meanwhile, a crop of readymade leadership has sprouted in field to capture political space by capitalizing on existing political vacuum and leadership crisis. The best course for the civil society of Hunza in particular and region in general is to favour leaders and activists who have been part of political process and rejecting those who emerge as messiahs from a window opportunity provided by coercion of indigenous movement by the state.

For a democratic and political vibrant society, the civil society of Hunza and the region needs to be vigilant about reincarnation of figures who have overtly or covertly contributed to de-politicisation of society to appease the corridors of power. The recent violence in idyllic Hunza valley is just a prologue to the political question that has remained in limbo because of the political amnesia. The future of region will be determined by the answers people give to long overdue political questions and choices they make between progressive forces and proponents of status quo.

The writer is an Islamabad based social scientist belonging to GB and can be reached at azizalidad@hotmail.com

Gilgit-Baltistan: Relief Good from Saudia Arabia

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Islamabad (Obs.)—King Abdullah’s Relief Campaign for Pakistan People (KARCPP) has started its 2011 flood relief efforts last month with the provision of 5000 tents, 30.000 blankets and 50,000 food packs for distribution among the victims of floods that hit many districts of Pakistan.

The total cost of the relief aid project is estimated as Rs.290 million. KARCPP with the full support of the Saudi Ambassador is dispatching 35,000 food packets, 15,000 blankets and 3000 tents to cater the needs of the flood-ravaged families, said a press release issued here on Monday.

This is the second relief convoy, in which relief goods laden trucks would be distributed among the affected people living in different flood hit areas of Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan. Most of these relief goods would be sent to the province of Sindh.

In recent years, the natural calamity hit twice the region of Pakistan and destroyed the infrastructure of many districts of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtoonkhaw, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan.

In order to implement the directives of there leaders in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the team of KARCPP launched its relief efforts following the orders of Khadim ul Harmain Sharifain to help lessen the miseries of the Pakistani brethren facing the flood havoc that destroyed their areas where they were living comfortably.

About 80 per cent of the relief goods would be distributed in the province of Sindh while 10 per cent in Balochistan, 8 per cent in Punjab, and 2 per cent relief goods would be distributed in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan:GBLA forms a committee to work on viability of enhancing assembly seats

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Gilgit (ET): Lawmakers in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) have demanded that the number of assembly seats be made equivalent to the number in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Assembly for proper representation of all parts of the region.

The demand was put forward by G-B Minister for Local Bodies Muhammad Ismail during the first day of the assembly session on Monday. Ismail submitted a resolution in the house calling for increasing the number of seats in Ghanche District so that it can be properly represented.

Several lawmakers agreed on the resolution and claimed that the move will guarantee proper representation of all districts in the assembly.

Nawaz Naji, a nationalist leader elected from Ghizer District, said his area is one of the most underrepresented in the assembly and the seats should be increased according to the population of each district.

Likewise, G-B Minister for Zakat, Ushr and Taxation Muhammad Naseer, who represents Astore Valley, also complained that his area is underrepresented and requested that the chief minister increase Astore’s seats in the assembly from two to four.

However, Janbaz Khan, who belongs to the PML-N, termed the idea “unwise”, as G-B has a much smaller population than AJK. He also criticised the deteriorating conditions of roads in Gilgit and called for an inquiry into the National Highway Authority.

GBLA Speaker Wazir Baig agreed to the demand raised by Ismail and assigned a parliamentary committee to work on its viability.

Meanwhile, G-B Minister for Education Ali Madad Sher, responding to lawmakers’ questions, said that the reconstruction of Harpoon Bridge, which was swept away by last year’s floods, was a part of the government’s plan and the tender for this purpose has already been floated.

PML-Q lawmaker Amina Ansari criticised the health department for making appointments on nepotism. She demanded an inquiry into the matter and called for action against those responsible.