Month: February 2012

Gilgit-Baltistan:Unending Power Crisis in GB

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Gilgit (ET): The Gilgit-Baltistan government, on Saturday, announced a load management plan under which electricity to the regional capital will remain suspended from Saturday till Monday.

The plan, the first of its kind to be made public, has helped people understand the extent of the power crisis that has brought life to a standstill in the region.

The reason behind the suspension is to give technicians time to repair fissures in the walls of the main water reservoir of the Naltar hydel power project. The fissures were first discovered after residents informed the media that families living downstream risked being swept away in case the walls burst.

Though the authorities initially ruled out this possibility, saying that the joints had contracted due to weather changes, the government later brought in experts to fill in the fissures without much success.

Regional Minister for Water and Power Wazir Shakil, while apologising for the inconvenience caused, urged the public to cooperate with the government, adding that it was spending 30 per cent of the development budget on the power sector.

The reservoir, situated approximately 45km from Gilgit, currently supplies water to 90 per cent of the city’s population, making it the largest power project in the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan: FWO Postponed Blasting of the Attabad Spillway

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Islamabad (APP):The Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) has postponed its plan of blasting the spillway of artificial Attabad Lake to adopt some effective measures for controlled blasting so as to meet positive results.

Deputy Commissioner Hunza Nagar Burhan Afandi told APP on Friday that the blasting would now take place on February 27 instead of February 18 for some technical reasons and to ensure that it was controlled.”We have asked the residents settled along the bank of Hunza River to avoid going near the river so that loss of lives could be averted,” he said.

He said the preventive measures, in this regard, had already been undertaken by the district administration.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan Sajid Chouhan presided over a meeting, attended by senior police officials, which reviewed preventive measures taken by the district administrations of Gilgit and Hunza Nagar.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Seminar on Gender Based Violence in GB

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Gilgit (ET): Almost 90 per cent of women in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have been subjected to domestic violence at least once in their lives. This was the consensus among speakers during a seminar on gender-based violence held at a local hotel on Thursday.

The seminar stressed on the fact that most women are subjected to physical abuse, mental torture and in some cases, even sexual abuse at home, which often go unreported due to lack of education and tribal norms.

The participants, comprising researchers, human rights activists, journalists and government officials, demanded immediate measures to address the issue.

“There is an urgent need to extend all national and international laws concerning women to G-B to check the increasing cases of violence,” said Yasmeen Nazar, parliamentary secretary for planning and law.

In addition to that, speakers also stressed on the role of men in uprooting the menace by ensuring the rights enshrined for women in religious teachings.

Sher Azam, the coordinator of Trust for Community Empowerment, a non-governmental organisation which organised the event, said women will continue to bear the brunt of violence until collective and coercive measures are taken. “This is the need of the hour and this is what society wants,” he remarked.

Nasreen Nasir, who has won a gallantry award in the past, said Islam guarantees equal rights for men and women, adding that more efforts are needed to curb domestic violence in the region.

At the end of the seminar, participants were asked to sign a petition to introduce laws concerning women in the region, which will be submitted to the concerned authorities.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Tourism in Tajikistan

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By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Although all of Central Asia is landlocked, the worst condition is that of Tajikistan, and this is the greatest reason that this Central Asian country is not getting its due share in tourism and trade and stands as the poorest of all in Central Asia. Another reason seems to be its visa and permit system for traveling within the country that is discouraging the international travel market to sell it as a tourism destination.
The question that should come to mind is, why are the worst conditions being faced by Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan are separated from Tajikistan by the narrow Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the south.

China can connect to Kazakhstan through an expressway, but linkage of Tajikistan with this expressway has yet to be realized. This link is not open while Afghanistan is volatile country still in war and could be in war for many decades (since 1979, Afghanistan has never come out of war).

After independence, Tajikistan suffered from a devastating civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997. Since the end of the war, newly-established political stability and foreign aid have allowed the country’s economy to grow. Trade in commodities such as cotton, aluminum, and uranium has contributed greatly to this steady improvement. However, foreign aid organizations look more interested in connecting Tajikistan with Afghanistan for travel and trade, and this strategy is hampering Tajik tourism and business.

The Pamir Mountains are the strongest product of this country, but the visa and entry permit system is one of the major impediments for the development of tourism towards the Pamir Mountains. When you travel along the Afghan-Tajik border, you need to have a special permit. When you wish to travel to the Badhakshan region, again you need a special permit from the Governor of Badhakshan. Border crossings with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are not very friendly and can be closed anytime without warning. Reaching Pamir Mountains needs too much work for international tour operators, so they are discouraged by the system and offer their clients Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhistan, or Uzbekistan instead of offering Tajikistan.

In all these downbeat states of affairs, Tajikistan tourism is surviving, and if foreign donors support Tajik tourism development without blending it with Afghanistan’s north tourism initiative, Tajikistan can become a hub of tourism activities in Central Asia. Tourism experts consider that Tajikistan is a country of many weaknesses but also has many advantages for developing a strong tourism base. Tajikistan has everything to offer – friendly people, beautiful valleys, and an abundance of natural beauty with the best possible opportunities of developing ecotourism.

Business and tourism arrivals remained low in 2009, 2010, and 2011 compared to its neighbors, due to the limited number of opportunities in the country. As a result, potential travel and tourism revenue remained thwarted.

Tajik airline is also not as proactive as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and has a limited number of international carriers such as Turkish Airlines AS and Air Baltic, which now have access to Tajikistan but still there is no link from South Asia directly to Tajikistan.

Tajikistan still has a strong potential to be an attractive destination for both leisure and business tourists. The beauty of Pamir Mountains could become a high-profile attraction for adventure tourists, while in business terms, the country may benefit from a growing number of business arrivals through investments in its hydro reserves.

There are some international organizations like Aga Khan Foundation and GIZ that are really helping a lot to develop trade and tourism in Tajikistan but mostly their concentration is in and around the areas of Wakhan Knot, the Wakhan belt, and Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). There are a lot of visa and permit processing involved in reaching these areas, therefore, attempts by these international organizations are not as fruitful for these areas as it could be if the border crossing and permit system was modernized, if not abolished.

It has been observed in research that involvement of the non-government sector to promote the tourism industry in Tajikistan is far higher than the government sector. This trend is good, however, such a trend cannot sustain itself for a longer period if the proactive support of the government is not provided, because decision making is in the hand of government and important decisions can make or break the tourism industry of any country.

Last year, an organization of Milal Inter held a wonderful forum for attracting investment to Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). GBAO borders with 3 countries – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and the People’s Republic of China.

Based on the needs of entrepreneurs, the association of entrepreneurs and mountain farmers, “Milal-Inter,” together with the State Committee on investment and state property management under financial support of Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GbmH had organized an investment forum, “Pamir Invest 2011.”

The Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) is also working hard to develop tourism through its members in Pamir mountain region. PECTA was founded in 2008 by a group of private-sector tourism businesses with the purpose of developing the tourism sector in the Pamirs through collaborative work.

PECTA is a membership-based association, which represents the Pamirs as a destination in national, regional, and international markets. Association members are grouped into categories based on services they provide and include tour operators, direct tourism service providers, guest houses, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and home stays. By marketing the services of these members and offering support through training and capacity building, along with representing the destination as a whole, PECTA plays the role of a Destination Management Organization (DMO). Tours and services provide trekking, horse and camel riding, cultural tours, alpine and rock-climbing tours, jeep safaris, bird-watching and wild life observation tours, pilgrim tours, tailor-made tours, visa and permits, transfers, transportation, accommodation, guides, and equipment rental.

Pamir Highway Adventure and the Murghab Eco-Tourism Association (META) are founded and run by local people and promote tourism of Pamirs and Tajikistan.

The Murghab EcoTourism Association was established in 2003. The association participants, chosen from among the most economically-vulnerable families, received basic training, and a code of ethics was adopted by all stakeholders. The association has subsequently become a revenue-generating activity due to collaboration with other local development agencies. In particular, an association of women artisans has produced local craft goods that are now exported to various outlets in Central Asia and Europe.

The review of Tajikistan tourism indicates that some drastic decisions at the government level are needed to improve the situation, including offering connection with more international airports by its official airline, policies to offer incentives to international airlines to reach its airports, changes in its permit system, better facilities offered at cross-border points, and, of course, a massive media campaign to promote Tajikistan instead of depending upon only private and the non-government sector to promote the country as a destination.

The author of this article, Agha Iqrar Haroon, is the former Consultant to the Ministry of Tourism for the government of Pakistan and the former President of the Ecotourism Society Pakistan (ESP).

Gilgit-Baltistan:First Women DSP of GB in Pursuit of upholding Rule of Law

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Gilgit (ET): After just two months in the job, Tahira Yasub, Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) first DSP traffic has already made her mark in Gilgit, trying to streamline traffic in a congested city, where violations are the norm.

A graduate in International Relations from Karakoram International University, she adopted the profession fully aware of the challenges associated with it, especially for women and as promoted to the rank of DSP in December 2011.

Immediately after taking charge, she ordered the removal of tainted windows and screens, which the traffic sergeants ensured, much to the annoyance of many influential persons in town. Nearly 100 cars were fined for not complying with the order and over a 100 drivers have received tickets for traffic violations in the city.

“It doesn’t matter if people are unhappy with me because I’m here to uphold the rule of law,” Yasub told The Express Tribune. She has been simultaneously compared to a powerful figure of the underworld by a senior politician and called an angel by a delegation of traders’ union.

Yasub said she launched an awareness-raising campaign for two weeks to educate the public about traffic rules after she assumed charge. A couple of days back, two senior police officials’ personal cars were also fined for violating traffic rules.

“I believe removing tainted glasses is the first step towards ensuring the supremacy of law,” she said. Yasub has also enforced parking on only one side of the road to ease blockages. There are many who applaud her for introducing traffic reforms in the city, “Tahira is doing a great job,” said a businessman.

She was selected twice for UN peacekeeping missions to represent Pakistan.

She trained the local police as well as the UN police for 14 months in Sudan and has recently returned to the country. Yusab has the added distinction of being the first lady inspector in G-B’s history.

The traffic police are plagued by a shortage of manpower and resources, the two factors affecting their performance. At present, Gilgit’s traffic police has only one vehicle, two motorcycles and hardly 50 officials, including gunmen and drivers to cover the whole city.

A sergeant said that it was a stupendous task to enforce rule of law all the time all over town due to lack of motorbikes and patrolling cars. By the time we reach the site, the violators have already left, he said.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Foreign Funding to Seminaries

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ISLAMABAD (Dawn): Religious institutions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa collected Rs30.46 million from foreign countries/institutions during the last five years, the interior ministry said in a report submitted to the National Assembly on Monday.

Some heads of institutions in Sindh also visited foreign countries and collected funds. On the other hand, the government of Punjab, Balochistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and the Islamabad capital territory administration claimed that religious seminaries in their jurisdictions were not getting any foreign funding.

Replying to a question of MNA Qudsia Arshad regarding foreign funding to religious seminaries, the home department of Sindh added that as per report of the police special branch, some heads of institutions visited Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE to collect funds but detail of the funding could not be collected.

The government of KP stated that it had no mechanism to ascertain the details of financial assistance provided by foreign countries to the religious seminaries because there was no restriction on the madresshahs to receive financial assistance from abroad. However, according to the special branch of the police, Madressah Taleemul Quran in Summer Bagh of Dir Lower received Rs10 million from Al Furgan, an NGO of Kuwait. The same NGO also paid Rs8 million, Rs3 million and Rs8 million to Madressah Arf bin Malik in Upper Dir and Madressah Umul Quran and Madressah Al Furqan in Dir Lower.

An institute of Norway gave Rs1.46 million to Madressah Arabia Taleemul Islam, Madressah Abu Bakr Siddiq, Madressah Islamia of Tank, and Madressah Mariful Islamin Bhatyara of KP. The government of Gilgit-Baltistan sent a nil report in respect of their districts of Ghizer and Hunza-Nagar but report about the remaining five districts was awaited.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Provincial Guidelines discussed to combat gender-based violence

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USAID-supported Gender Equity Programme holds its National Advisory Forum meeting – The USAID-supported Gender Equity Programme held a meeting of its National Advisory Forum on Monday, focusing on developing provincial guidelines for the programme to combat gender-based violence across Pakistan.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shahnaz Wazir Ali is the permanent chairperson of the National Advisory Forum. The meeting was attended by provincial women development ministers including Ghazala Gola from Balochistan, Sitara Ayaz from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ali Madad Sher from Gilgit Baltistan and Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto from Sindh, Adviser to the Chief Minister from Gilgit Sadia Danish and Senator Neelofar Bakhtiar.
The Gender Equity Programme is a five-year grant making programme being implemented by the Aurat Foundation with the financial assistance of USAID and Pakistan to support, advance and realise women’s rights and empowerment in the country.
The programme will provide almost 400 small, medium and large grants to government departments and institutions, community-based organisations, research institutes, policy think-tanks and groups working for women’s rights and development. The primary purpose of the programme is to support the government’s initiatives, schemes and policies for promoting and ensuring women’s rights, empowerment and advancement.
The National Advisory Forum provides guidance to Gender Equity Programme, aligns the programme with government policies and brainstorm on broader gender equality strategies in the country.
The forum comprises distinguished personalities within the parliament, federal and provincial governments, standing committees, autonomous institutions and civil society representatives, who work towards a better society where women and men are treated as equal citizens without discrimination.