Month: February 2012

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Capital in Chaos as Leaders Prefer to stay in Islamabad

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Gilgit (ET): With public representatives living in reprieve, people of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have been left at the mercy of target killers, inept bureaucracy in harsh weather.

The G-B chief minister has spent about 70% of his time in Islamabad in the past year, according to sources close to him.

Moreover, since the beginning of the winter season most lawmakers, including G-B Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah, Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed, Senior Minister Wazir Jaffer, adviser to chief minister and several other officials have stayed in Islamabad and other cities.

“The capital city is bleeding while the chief minister and his cabinet members are living in luxury in Islamabad,” said Imtiaz Khan, a local resident while referring to the recent attack on JUI-F information secretary.

In addition to that, the capital city of G-B has also witnessed the worst power crisis in its history, bringing life to a complete standstill.

Jehanzeb Hussain, a resident of Jutial, said, “With every case of target killing, the feeling of alienation gets multiplied among residents, who blame the government for ignoring the gravity of the issue.”

Taking note of the growing criticism from the people, the chief minister recently ordered the lawmakers to ensure their presence in the region and play their part in addressing people’s issues.

“If lawmakers have to go out of town for personal reasons, they should avail their leaves,” he said. Even though Gilgit has a long history of target killings, the situation has aggravated since 2005, when a religious scholar was targeted.

Most of the residents believe the situation has become out of control for the government, which has simply failed to arrest the culprits behind the violence

Gilgit-Baltistan: Violence is a Product of Socio-Economic and Political Dynamics of Karachi

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By Aziz Ali Dad

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has added another theory to his litany of theories about violence in Karachi. He has asserted that terrorists from Gilgit and Miranshah have become operational in Karachi to disturb the law and order situation in the metropolis. It has become a trait of Pakistani leaders and politicians to blame local problems on external forces. Instead of facing the reality, we have become used to blaming our problems on outsiders.

Rehman Malik’s assertion, during a visit to Pir Pagara’s house for condolences, not only reflects such a mentality but also reveals a particular streak of his personality, He tends to come up with unique explanations which have no realistic basis. Previously, he attributed targeted killing in Karachi to girlfriends and wives.

Like our interior minister, there are people in Gilgit-Baltistan too who blame sectarian violence there on external elements, instead of focusing on the real causes on the local level.

The fact is that violence in Karachi does not come from Gilgit or Miranshah. Rather, it is a product of the socio-economic and political dynamics of the city. Being a metropolitan city, Karachi is home to diverse communities and groups belonging to different regions of Pakistan, including Gilgit-Baltistan. The majority of Gilgiti migrants in Pakistan live in Karachi, because of the economic incentives and opportunities by the city. In becoming part of the city’s economic activities a person from Gilgit, or anywhere else in Pakistan, naturally becomes part of the social milieu of Karachi. If a person from Gilgit is involved in violence it is not because he has been sent from a training centre up in the mountains and has descended on the city to kill people.

No doubt, the city of Gilgit is plagued with sectarian violence for the last two decades. And any sectarian incident in another part of the country can sometimes cause a reaction at the local level. But there has never been a time when a violent event in Gilgit had repercussions in other parts of the country. It is another matter that there is the possibility of some people from there getting involved in the Karachi violence.

Rehman Malik’s assertion came after the brutal murder of three lawyers belonging to a particular sect in Karachi. So far, political analysts have focused on the role of religious parties and sectarian outfits in religious violence in the country, but little has been said about the role of secular parties in exploiting religious sentiments for political mileage.

To some extent this holds true for the major secular parties of Karachi as well. These parties’ use of religious and sectarian sentiments for sympathy may encourage some individuals with sectarian mindsets to join them to pursue their own narrow agendas.

The nature of violence in Gilgit is entirely different from the violence perpetrated by militants in Waziristan. That is why, despite the targeted killings there for several years, Gilgit-Baltistan continues to attract a large number of foreign tourists, and violence against foreigners is rare.

Portraying the whole region of Gilgit as a source of terrorism in Karachi will have dire consequences for the peaceful migrants from there. Rehman Malik’s assertion is not even based on facts. Until now not a single Gilgiti has been convicted of a terrorism crime in Karachi. Nor did the Joint Investigation Report of the intelligence agencies mention people from Gilgit as being responsible for targeted killings in Karachi.

The federal interior minister wilfully ignores these realities and finds an excuse to cover up his own failure. Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the few parts of the country where tourism continues, and a comment like this from the interior minister of the country will not only worsen the image of Pakistan abroad but badly affect tourism in that region.

Since the elections in the Senate are imminent and preparations for the next general elections are underway, it was expedient for him not to name the parties and people involved in the violence in Karachi, and found an easy scapegoat in the people of Gilgit.

It is unfortunate that, being spineless and under the thumb of the federal government, the chief minister and the Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan have not recorded their protest against the federal minister’s indiscreet remarks.

The writer is based in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@hotmail.com

Gilgit-Baltistan: Infrastructure Development- Historic Partab Pul Bridge Renovated

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Gilgit (ET):If the devastation unleashed by the floods in 2010 swept away nearly 200 bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), it also led to the restoration of the historic Partab Pul to re-establish the communication link between Bunji and Gilgit.

The suspension bridge had nearly collapsed from a decade-long neglect until its renovation soon after the floods. Another comparatively wider bridge had been constructed for Bunji, the regimental centre of Northern Light Infantry, a regiment of the Pakistan Army.

Named after Partab Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir in the 1890s, the Partab Pul served as a vital communication link for the entire region as it connected Gilgit with Bunji, Astore and Kashmir.

According to Sherbaz Barcha, a historian, the bridge was constructed by Col Algernon Durand, the British Agent at Gilgit from 1889 to 1894 and named in honour of Maharaja Partab. “It was used for defence and trade,” Barcha told The Express Tribune.

Realising its importance, the British had banned even riders mounted on horses or other animals on the bridge, he said. The bridge was burnt down during the insurrection of 1947 when Gilgit won its independence from Dogra rulers.

According to historians, Bunji is also important because it commands the traditional highroad from Gilgit to Kashmir via the Tragbal and Burzil passes. Skardu, the capital of Baltistan, is further upstream.

Bunji is associated with the Bunji Dam which is to be constructed in its vicinity. Located on the west bank of River Indus, this small and little known town is 50 kilometres short of Gilgit. Accessible from the Karakoram Highway by this old suspension bridge, historically known as Partab Pul, it forms part of Astore district.

In G-B, the floods of 2010 swept away 180 bridges. The G-B government estimated losses of around Rs12 billion.

Since Partab Pul had been abandoned, residents of Bunji suffered after the floods washed away the new bridge.

At times, they even used locally made rafts to cross the river. Protests by the people and the town’s importance from a military standpoint led to the restoration of the bridge, a remnant of British engineering.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Role of Wetlands for the Promotion of Tourism in GB

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Gilgit-Baltistan (ET):Communities in the resource-rich Ghizer valley on Thursday vowed to stop the plunder of natural resources in their valley, to pass on the legacy that nature has bestowed on them to their next generation.

“Conservation of biodiversity and the natural habitat of several endangered species is everybody’s responsibility since the next generation has the right to experience the wetlands and see what markhors and snow leopards look like,” Saleem Khan, a resident of Gahkuch said on the occasion of World Wetlands Day.

Organised by WWF-Pakistan and Pakistan Wetlands Programme, the event attracted over 400 individuals, including students, teachers, government functionaries and NGO officials in the main town of Ghizer valley.

A ‘Wetlands Nature Walk’ was organised in Gahkuch town and a speech and drawing competition was held for students. Two students each from ten schools were selected to participate in the speech and art competitions held on the ‘Role of high altitude wetlands for promotion of tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B)’. A jury selected the best debaters and artists for 1st, 2nd and 3rd position.

“The purpose of this event was to highlight the socio-economic and ecological importance of high-altitude wetlands and sensitise local communities and other stakeholders to manage these resources,” said Farasat Ali, a senior WWF official, who organised the event. Every year, February 2 is celebrated as World Wetlands Day across the globe to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands and associated biodiversity. The theme for World Wetlands Day 2012 is “Wetlands and Tourism”.

He said the day was extremely important for G-B as most communities are settled either adjacent to or along major river banks but they are not fully aware of the threats to the fragile high-altitude wetland ecosystem.

The challenge lies in exploiting its tourist potential while protecting it from degradation. “Though these freshwater bodies offer great tourism opportunities like camping, fishing, bird watching, scenic beauty and water sports, at the same time they are threatened due to excessive resource exploitation and unmanaged tourism,” he said.

Experts believe that misuse of natural resources resulting in  socio-economic and ecological repercussions is damaging the ecosystem of the mountains.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Former LHC Judge appointed Chief of GB-SAC

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Gilgit (ET):The judicial crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) ended on Saturday following the appointment of new chief judge for the region’s apex court.

According to a notification issued from the Prime Minister Secretariat, Justice Rana Mohammad Arshad Khan, a former judge of the Lahore High Court, has been appointed as the chief judge of the G-B Supreme Appellate Court (SAC).  “Justice Khan will take oath of his office on Feb 8, 2012,” it said.

The position of chief judge fell vacant after Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi’s contract expired last month. The decision to grant an extension to Abbasi was revoked by the G-B government after it developed differences with him over an extension issue.

Last December, the former chief judge of the SAC, Justice Abbasi, had moved a reference against a fellow judge who allegedly threatened the governor. According to the reference moved by Justice Abbasi, he was telephoned by G-B Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah on December 19, who said that Justice Jafar Shah had threatened his life and his property.

The governor initially sent a letter to the federal government for the extension of Nawaz Abbasi but later on the intervention of the G-B chief minister, the decision was revoked and Justice Rana was appointed instead.

Legal experts say that the method of appointment of judges for Gilgit-Baltistan’s apex court is not only against the established norms of an independent judiciary but also a burden on the meagre resources of the region.

According to article 60 (8) of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009, the chief judge and judges are appointed for a period of three years by the prime minister of Pakistan, who is also the chairman of the G-B Council.

Gilgit-Baltistan: FWO to Brief GB’s Legislators and Affected People on Draining Lake

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Gilgit (ET):The Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) will hold a briefing for Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) legislators and representatives of affected people to share the difficulties and future strategy for draining Attabad Lake, sources said on Saturday.

“The session is planned for February 14 when senior officials of FWO will share their experience with elected representatives including members of the legislative assembly and G-B Council,” said officials requesting anonymity as they were not authorised to interact with the media.

Responsible for executing the project to widen the lake’s spillway, the FWO has been severely criticised for the past one year for its failure to drain the lake that has submerged almost four villages upstream.

More than 25000 people in Gojal have been stranded after a massive landslide in January 2010 formed a natural dam in the Hunza River, creating a lake. The landslide also blocked the Karakoram Highway, a vital trade link to China, cutting off people in Gojal valley, also known as Upper Hunza, from the rest of the country.

Engineers had dug out a spillway to let the water gush out, but the lake did not drain out, sparking criticism.

According to experts, the spillway should have been at least 30 metres deep in order to allow the submerged villages and two RCC bridges and part of the Karakoram Highway to resurface. “The depth of the spillway is about 10 to 12 metres,” sources said.

FWO officials said huge boulders beneath the spillway were hindering progress and that they had tried to blast the rocks to widen the spillway. A colonel had drowned in the spillway in an attempt to rescue three persons stuck in a bulldozer.

Former home secretary G-B, Asif Bilal told reporters that Chinese engineers had expressed their inability to drain the Attabad Lake. Desperate to restore the only surface link to the rest of the country, youth from Attabad and Gojal attempted twice to drain the lake but the government barred them due to the risk involved.

In the absence of a land route, boats are the only means of transportation, but in winters when the surface of the 23-kilometre long Attabad Lake is frozen, the voyage is perilous and has been banned.