Month: March 2012

Gilgit-Baltistan: NATCO willing to launch its service in AJK

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MUZAFFARABAD (Dawn): The Northern Areas Transport Corporation (Natco), the largest public sector transport company of Gilgit-Baltistan, has shown its willingness to launch its service in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, initially on four routes, an AJK minister said here on Sunday.

Tahir Khokhar, the minister for transport, told reporters that a delegation of Natco would soon visit AJK to inspect the region’s road network while the service would formally commence next month.

Initially, a trial service would be launched between Rawalpindi and Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and Rawalakot as well as between Muzaffarabad and Neelum valley, he added.

In the next phase, the operations would be extended to the remaining Azad Jammu and Kashmir districts besides launch of a shuttle service for Kashmiri expatriates from Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad to Mirpur, Kotli, Rawalakot and Muzaffarabad.

He said a decision to this effect was taken in Islamabad the other day.

The meeting, he said, was briefed by Natco managing director Zafar Khan on the operations of his company which was established in 1973.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Extended Power Cuts a Violation of HR

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GILGIT (ET): The extended power outages in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) are a violation of basic human rights, said the local chapter of International Human Rights Observer (IHRO) on Sunday.

The organisation called for widespread protests to depose “the corrupt and inept officials responsible for the power mess”.

In a press release, the IHRO urged all citizens to demand that the government hand over the affairs of the water and power departments to a foreign company capable of delivering these services in the resource-rich region.

The statement was issued in response to a continuous 22-hour-long power outage in the region’s capital city, IHRO Gilgit Coordinator Muhammad Farooq told The Express Tribune.

He said the capital city has experienced the worst load shedding this winter, starting from November, with power being available for no more than three to four hours in a day.

The reduced water storage capacity of Naltar, the region’s main water reservoir, further deteriorated the situation as it reduced the power generation capacity by 18 megawatts, he added.

The power crisis has severely affected education in the region and worsened unemployment, as small industries are forced to downsize to cope with losses incurred due to the power outages.

Farooq said the region has the potential to generate more than 50,000 megawatt of electricity from its natural resources.

Law, Water and Power Minister Wazir Shakil said the situation will improve in the near future when the 37 ongoing hydro-power projects in the region are completed.

He said that the power crisis worsened this year due to the colder than average winter — to stay warm, people substantially increased their power consumption. At the same time, production capacity decreased due to shortage of water.

On Friday, the IHRO presented a human rights violation report to the chief judge of the G-B Supreme Appellate Court, requesting action against those responsible for the power crisis, which has adversely impacted the region’s already fragile economy.

Citing power shortage and rise in the price of wheat price as the two main problems of the people of G-B, the report said that the people are being deprived of basic necessities of life

Gilgit-Baltistan:Development of China’s western part to bring prosperity to Pakistan

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BEIJING (APP): Ambassador of Pakistan to China, Masood Khan, while appreciating the Chinese government for developing the country’s western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region said this will create a ‘win-win’ situation for both Pakistan and China.
The Ambassador expressed these views at a reception, hosted for the visiting 40-member delegation comprising officials of the  Foreign Affairs office of the Xinjiang government here at the Pakistan Embassy. He pointed out that Pakistan has close bonds of friendship with the people of neighbouring Xinjiang as “we are joined by mountains and rivers as well as a friendship highway.”
Ambassador Khan said both the governments attach great importance to the economic integration of Pakistan and China’s Xinjiang. In this regard, he said, President Asif Ali Zardari visited Urumqi last year to attend the China-Eurasia Expo.
Muslims, around the world prefer to celebrate Eid with their relatives and dears ones, but the President spent the Eid day with the people of Xinjiang, he added.
He said people of both the countries love each other from the core of their heart because of close cultural and religious proximity.
Ambassador Khan said the Chinese central government has designated the cities of Kashgar and Khorgus for the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for the countries bordering Xinjiang including Pakistan.
The development of SEZs as well as the revival of Silk Route would usher in a great deal of economic activity in the western part of Xinjiang as well as in the contiguous parts of Pakistan.
He said starting from May 21, last year, both the sides have held out a number of activities to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations.
As part of these celebrations Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani also visited China and met with Chinese leadership. During these meetings, both sides agreed to further boost their strategic partnership.
“These celebrations will come to an end in May this year, but the friendship between our two countries would be celebrated forever,” he noted.
Referring to the acts of terrorism by some elements in Xinjiang, Ambassador Masood Khan said the government of Pakistan strongly condemns these acts and has vowed at the highest level that China’s security is absolute priority for Pakistan.
Ambassador’s address was followed by a Question and Answer session in which the delegates asked him questions relating to various matters.
While commenting on the need to increase commercial activity between the two countries one of the officers commented that establishment of air link between Pakistan and Kashgar would be of great help in this regard.
He also emphasized the early establishment of all-weather land connectivity across the Khunjerab pass.
Ambassador Masood Khan offered special thanks to the Xinjiang government for providing valuable humanitarian assistance to the flood affected people of Gilgit-Baltistan in 2010 and 2011.

Gilgit-Baltistan:GB Council Approved Six Bills

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Islamabad (ET): The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Council approved six bills and formed committees to develop consensus on additional funds for the G-B government as well as taxes for the region during its third session on Wednesday.

These bills include Controller General Accounts Bill, Auditor General of Gilgit-Baltistan, Advisors (Salaries, Allowances and Privilege Bills), Power Development Board Bill, 2012, Gilgit-Baltistan Council Public Service Commission (Adaptation) Bill, 2012, Gilgit-Baltistan Council, Financial Institutions (recovery of Finances) (Adaptation) Bill, 2012 and Gilgit-Baltistan Council Adaptation of Law Bill, 2012.

Council members decided to form a committee to discuss the provision of additional financial resources to the G-B government in the aftermath of the 18th amendment. Committee members’ recommendations will be subject to the prime minister’s approval.

The committee consists of Minister-in-Charge G-B Council, Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, Federal Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh, chief minister G-B and federal secretary Kashmir affairs and G-B.

The council approved in principle the Gilgit-Baltistan Council Income Tax (adaptation) Bill and formed a committee to create consensus on the issue. Members will forward their recommendations to the prime minister.

Wattoo, Amjad Hussain, Advisor G-B Wazir Ibadat, and Advisor G-B Council Prof. Ghulam Hussain Saleem were named as members of the committee.

While addressing the council, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who is also the chairman, said it was high time the council and the government jointly chalked out policies and plans especially for mineral development, tourism, forest and electricity to capitalise on untapped resources in G-B for the socio-economic uplift of the region.

The prime minister said Diamer-Bhasha Dam, would generate 4500 megawatts of electricity and help mitigate floods, improve living conditions and create thousands of employment opportunities in G-B.

Council members deferred Gilgit-Baltistan Mineral Development Board Bill 2012 and Forest Advisory and Development Board Bill 2012

Gilgit-Baltistan:PM Emphasized the need for New Plans & Policies for GB

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Islamabad (Nation):Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has emphasized the need for chalking out new plans and policies for the socio-economic uplift of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

He was chairing the third session of Gilgit Baltistan Council here in Islamabad on Wednesday.

He said both the Gilgit-Baltistan Council and the government should work collectively in the area of mineral development‚ tourism‚ forest‚ and electricity with a view to capitalizing on the untapped resources of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Referring to the ongoing development projects in Gilgit Baltistan‚ the prime minister said Diamer Basha dam will not only help generate electricity but also create thousands of job opportunities and help mitigate floods. He hoped both the council and the Gilgit Baltistan government will work in close collaboration on the matters relating to the compensation of land acquired for the dam.

Appreciating the work of the special committee constituted for the imposition of income tax‚ he said it has finalized its report and income tax is being introduced in Gilgit Baltistan to meet its development needs.

The prime minister said certain subjects such as Tourism‚ Electricity‚ Forest‚ and Mineral development fall under the legislative list of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council‚ yet Gilgit-Baltistan Rules of Business‚ 2009 provide for their temporary administration by the Gilgit-Baltistan Government. He said it requires joint planning and execution of these subjects by the Council and the Gilgit-Baltistan Government.

He believed settlement on these subjects has taken place whereby new structures are being proposed for management which would clearly demarcate the areas of respective jurisdiction between the Council and the Government.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Landslide Kills Four of Same Family

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GHIZER (ET): Four members of the same family were killed and three others sustained wounds after landslides triggered by heavy showers struck a village in a remote village of Gilgit-Baltistan early Tuesday, officials said.

A Pakistan Red Crescent Society official, Safdar Ali told The Express Tribune that the deceased, two of them women, lived in Ghizer Valley’s Qurqulti village which is about 150 kilometers from Gilgit.

“The incident occurred sometime during dawn,” he said, adding that local volunteers started the rescue work and pulled out some bodies from the rubble.

According to Shafiq, a resident of Yaseen valley, more than 10 houses were hit by the landslide.

For its vulnerable location, the government had forewarned the villagers to move to a safer place if rains started lashing the valley, he said.

A senior district administration official in Ghizer, Shuja Alam, said that landslides had blocked various routes in the valley, adding that the government was trying to reach out to the affected people.

According to the meteorological department, rainfall in the mountainous G-B started Monday evening and continued lashing the region till the filing of this report.

More than 33mm rain has been recorded in Gilgit and the rain spell will end by tonight, said an official.

The prolonged spell of rains has cut off various valleys from the capital town of Gilgit as landslides blocked roads and interrupted traffic. According to officials, the Gilgit-Rawalpindi road has also been blocked by landslides at some places, suspending traffic temporarily on the Karakoram Highway.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Blood in the Valleys

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Karachi (Dawn):I HAVE ‘normal’ sectarian prejudices and tell Shia jokes to friends and colleagues. Also, I do occasionally listen to firebrand Shia ulema, who like their Sunni counterparts keep their audience spellbound, block traffic and contribute to noise pollution.

Beyond that, my ‘prejudices’ end. How strange, then, that there are Pakistanis who have time to board buses, demand to see passengers’ identity cards, guess their sects from their names, and slaughter them.

I wonder how many Pakistanis have visited the paradise once called the Northern Areas, now Gilgit-Baltistan. Until ‘civilised’ people from the south and warriors from the west intruded in to this Shangri-La, this area nestling in the foothills of some of the world’s mightiest mountains had known no violence.

They are a humble and pacifist people, and, more important, they flaunt their Pakistani-ness, because they take pains to emphasise they are not Kashmiris and that the GB people had revolted against the Dogra regime, thrown it out and joined Pakistan.These hardworking and remarkably handsome Pakistanis are divided into three sects — Shia, Sunni and Ismaili. But the commonality of interests in fighting a harsh climate and giving a better life to their people had, until recently, made them indifferent to sects.

Situated in a bowl, and hemmed in by towers of white granite that would pose a challenge to the most accomplished of climbers, the area was cut off from the rest of the country in winter for months and depended on airdrops by Pakistan Air Force for essential supplies. The area also had a high maternal and child mortality rate; literacy was low, but tourism was a major sector of the economy.

Three developments turned out to be the catalyst. The all-weather Karakoram Highway was built, land reforms were carried out during the Bhutto years, and the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme took education and healthcare to the remotest of valleys.

Women have joined the medical profession in a big way, standards of living on the whole have gone up, the literacy rate has risen to 90 per cent — the highest in Pakistan for any administrative unit — and maternal and child mortality has gone down.

The rural support programme cost the government no money because the funds came from the Aga Khan Foundation, which encouraged people to rely on self-help to fight nature and give a better life to themselves.

The programme also led to the construction of channels by chipping away at the mountains and making use of glacial water.

This way water began flowing into homes and orchards and transformed the agricultural scene. A GB person can never go hungry, because the little plot of land in front of every home has fruit-laden trees — citrus, grapes, cherry, pears, apples and
apricots.

More important, the GB people have a Swiss-style direct democracy where development projects and other issues are decided by a show of hands. From the point of view of national integration, it is interesting to know that minutes of all meetings are maintained in Urdu as far as the Khunjerab Pass on the Chinese border.

The idyll has not lasted. The wave of religious militancy that America encouraged as part of its anti-Soviet ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan gripped GB, too. The situation deteriorated when non-Ismaili ulema from the south suddenly found their religion threatened and rushed to the north to begin a campaign against what was a valuable, non-governmental development programme bringing education and healthcare to all GB people. As arms and militants from the south and west began their own mission, the green valleys and singing brooks became red with blood.

Until 9/11, mountaineering teams from all over the world used to descend on GB to scale some of the world’s highest peaks. Now the area’s thriving tourism industry has fallen victim to sectarian violence, guides are jobless, the hotel industry is struggling to survive, and even domestic tourism has taken a major blow.

On Feb 28, murderers wearing police uniform boarded two buses carrying innocent people — men, women and children — to their enchanting snow-draped valleys. The ‘policemen’ checked the passengers’ ID cards and shot those who belonged to the wrong sect.

Jandallah claimed responsibility for the slaughter, which in their opinion will take the killers to paradise. Jandallah is part of the Pakistani Taliban, and they are supposed to be fanatically anti-American. But all the victims of their anti-US ‘jihad’ are Pakistani.

Strange jihad!

The GB people used to constitute the mainstay of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI), and killed and got killed in the wars with India. It was a paramilitary force, but because of its brilliant performance in the Kargil conflict it was made part of the army.

However, there has been a gradual change in their attitude. They still form part of the NLI, but many young men refuse to wear uniform and make a simple statement: “either we can stay home and protect our families or we can join the NLI. We cannot do both”.

Here I would recommend to my readers a wonderful book Three Cups of Tea, co-authored by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson. It is about Mortensen’s mountaineering expeditions, his successes and failures as a climber, his love affair with the GB people and how he built schools for them against all odds, including his own poverty. Mortensen later got into trouble for reasons that do not concern us here. But there is one quote worth reproducing. He says, “In times of war, you often hear leaders — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — saying, ‘God is on our side’. But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows and orphans”.