Month: July 2012

Gilgit-Baltistan: KKH Construction and Realignment

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Karachi (PT): The Chinese Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC) has been working on expansion and repair of the historical Karakuram Highway since 2007. The project has been dragging on for various reasons, including natural disasters and human inefficiencies.

As part of the project the KKH had been dug up from Thakot in Hazara to Khunzhrav, near the Chinese border, making journey on the “Shahrah-e-Resham”, as some call it, a painful experience.

However, during the year 2012 the pace of work has been increased and major portion of the road between Gilgit and Khunzhrav has been paved and carpeted. Work on the section close to the dammed Hunza River – between Attabad and Hussani, is yet to start.

The new road, well paved and wide, has brought a degree of joys for the travelers who are describing the experience as “amazing” and “smooth.

Moreover,  A team comprising of Chinese engineers and surveyors has reached Gojal to study the feasibility of realigning the Karakuram Highway between Attabad and Gulmit.

According to reports the team will start work from today, visiting the proposed site for construction of a tunnel and other infrastructure, as part of the efforts to realign the part of strategic Karakuram Highway which is under water since January 2010.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Amongst worse affected regions in terms of Drinking Water availability

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Karachi (ET): With over 30 million out-of-school children aged between five and 16, the country’s basic education system is far from satisfactory.

According to official statistics provided by governmental agencies, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Fata are the worse-affected regions in terms of drinking water facilities available for primary schoolchildren — on an average more than half of the schools in these regions lack drinking water amenities.

According to the World Food Programme and Ministry of Professional and Technical Training, in terms of electricity, more than 50% schools on average in Sindh, Balochistan and Fata do not have adequate power supply — with only 20% rural area schools in Balochistan and Sindh receiving some sort of power.

While Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are relatively better in this category, typically half the schools in the rural areas of Balochistan, Sindh, G-B and Fata also lack sewerage facilities, including bathrooms for primary schoolchildren.

In the rural-urban area classification, there exists a clear schism — almost entirely across the country, urban area schools fare much better in terms of electricity, sewerage faculties, drinking water availability, teacher-student ratio and fifth-grade survival rate.

According to Dr Kozue Kay Nagata, Unesco’s representative in Pakistan, over 15 million children between the age of five and 16 are denied their right to free education in Sindh and about 78% rural women in this province remain illiterate.

Given United Nations’ assertion that Pakistan spends less than 2.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on the education sector, the current state of education in the country hardly seems surprising.

The above-mentioned trends exemplify the alarming state of the country’s primary education sector where access to education needs to be expanded through legislation and incentives.

UN lauds the Senate

Meanwhile, Unesco, which is the specialised agency of the UN system for education, science and culture, has lauded the Senate after the passage of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act.

Unesco’s representative in Pakistan, in her statement, felicitated all the senators on tabling and approving the multi-party bill for provision of free and compulsory education to all the five to 16 year-old children in the Islamabad capital territory — with over 70, 000 school-going children out of school in that area.

Dr Nagata said that she expects that passage of this “historical bill by the Senate will generate an emulative effect for the provincial assemblies to initiate similar legislation for out of school children in their respective areas”.

Meanwhile taking precedence, Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazaharul Haq has given a one-month deadline to the Education Department for the preparation of a Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill for the province.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Protest Rally for detaining vociferous Political activists

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Islamabad (PT Report): The government is using Anti-Terrorism laws to suppress opponents and detain vociferous political activists. Members of progressive and leftist parties are being tormented and kept in jail without any proof.

These views were expressed by speakers today at a protests rally in front of the National Press Club, Islamabad. The protesters had come from Lahore, Faisalabad, Mutta, Swat and the twin cities, to demand release of detained political prisoners, including PYF leader Baba Jan, his companions and labor union leaders in Faisalabad.

The protesters were carrying placards inscribed with slogans demanding the release of Baba Jan, Fazal Illahi, Iftikhar Hussain and many other activists and political workers belonging to left-leaning political groups. They also demanded repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act (read more about this law at http://www.fia.gov.pk/ata.htm).

The protesters had gathered on the call of Labour Party of Pakistan. They marched on a road around the Press Club building and staged a brief sit-in.

Hunza: Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters also gathered in Nasirabad, Baba Jan’s village, to demand release of the progressive youth leader. The protesters chanted slogans against the government for “involving Baba Jan in false cases” . They demanded immediate release of all members of the Progressive Youth Front.

The PYF activists had been detained last year after riots broke out in Hunza Valley in reaction to the killing of two protesting IDPs by the local police. The PYF activists were charged with leading the riots. They deny the charges and accuse the government of indicting them in false cases on political basis.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Improving Country’s Image Abroad

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ISLAMABAD (P.Today):  The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to utilise all its resources and manpower to improve the country’s image in the eyes of the world and solve problems of the Pakistanis living abroad.
This directive was issued in a meeting chaired by Haji Adeel Ahmed here at the parliament house. The meeting was attended by Leader of the House Jehangir Badr, Farhatullah Babar, Sehar Kamran, Syed Mustafa Kamal, Sughra Imam and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi.
The committee said that instead of hiring buildings for embassies, buildings should be built on the land allocated for embassy buildings and no payment should be made to embassies for paying rent of buildings. The committee observed that expatriates were facing many problems and nobody was taking any step for their redress.
The committee said many Pakistanis who have had completed their jail terms were still languishing in prisons in Gulf countries. It termed the performance of the Pak embassies and their attached departments below the mark and said there was need to take steps to improve the country’s image and help solve the problems of overseas Pakistanis. It also asked the ministry to provide a list of all officers posted abroad for past 10 years and that of dual national holders. The Senate body also recommended that there should be time limit on foreign postings and all officers should return after completion of their tenures.
The committee was of the view that being the country’s representatives, the embassies should be given targets to achieve. “War has been forced on us and we are its victim, so it is responsibility of the embassies to make the world realise that we have lost thousands of lives in this war.” The committee recommended that appointment of diplomats be done on the basis of expertise and experience. The committee opined that in jobs’ provision, Balochistan and other backward areas should not be compared with big cities and special concession given to them.
The meeting was attended by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nawabzada Malik Ammad, Secretary Foreign Affairs Jalil Abbas Jilani and senior officers of the ministry.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Government Lifted Ban on Transportation of Timber

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Gilgit (ET): The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government on Friday lifted a decade-old ban on transportation of thousands of feet of timber rotting in Diamer district. “The decision was taken in a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Mehdi Shah at his office,” the G-B Forests and Wildlife Adviser Aftab Haider told journalists. He said that the cabinet also approved the creation of the post of G-B Chief Conservator Forests.

“The total timber lying in the valley is four million cubic feet of which two million cubic feet has been felled legally,” he said, adding that with the lifting of the ban, the legal timber would be allowed to be transported out of the G-B while transportation of illegal timber would be confined to G-B.

In an attempt to protect the forest reserves in the valley, the government in early 2000 placed a ban on the chopping of trees. The ban led to freezing of movement of the already chopped timber stock piled on either sides of the Karakoram Highway.

“It was a long-standing demand of the locals and we are pleased to come up to their expectations,” said the adviser who was accompanied by lawmakers from Diamer, including Minister for Works Bashir Ahmed, Health minister Gulbar Khan, Education minister Ali Madad Sher and Molana Sarwar.

Ahmed termed the lifting of the ban a step towards economic revolution in not only the Diamer valley but also in G-B. “Unlike the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, all the people of the Diamer valley have share in the timber so all would benefit from it,” he said.

Ahmed added the cabinet has also approved “forest working plan” that would be sent to the prime minister for approval. Under the Accession Deed signed in 1953 by Diamer community with Pakistan, the Diamer forests were private forests, with ownership rights belonging to the community. If the plan gets approval, the cutting of timber would become legal under certain conditions and thus stop illegal deforestation.

Health Minister Gulbar Khan said that the timber worth billions of rupees would have perished had the ban not lifted as it was lying under open sky and exposed to sun heat and rains.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Spurious Drugs Flood GB Markets

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Islamabad (ET): Spurious drugs and unhygienic food items are being sold in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) without any hindrance, putting lives of local people at risk, health experts say.

Many people fall ill because of consumption of these adulterated food items from down country which are flooding the local markets, while health officials look the other way.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Baltistan Doctors Forum (BDF) Chairman Dr Sharif Astori said that in a recent camp set up in Gilgit by Polyclinic Hospital Islamabad, a large number of people were found to be in poor health.

Adults suffered from high blood pressure, prostate gland diseases and thyroid and gynaecological disorders, while waterborne diseases and intestinal parasites were common among children.

“The people are getting sick because of what they are consuming,” said Dr Astore, adding that the substandard drugs and packed food items that have flooded markets in G-B are playing a significant role in this regard.

He said that substandard packed food items such as spices, biscuits, powdered milk and cooking oil as well as drugs manufactured illegally in Swat and Peshawar, or those allegedly manufactured in China and Indian and smuggled through Afghanistan, are being sold openly in G-B’s markets. He claimed the drugs as well as the packed food items are of substandard quality and pose a serious health risk to consumers.

“These items directly affect kidneys, liver, stomach and heart of the consumer,” said Astori, adding that people can develop fatal diseases by consuming these drugs and food items. He said that it is the government’s duty to keep check on the quality of drugs and food items and urged the health department to remove all spurious drugs and food items from markets.

Moreover, the BDF chairman said there is severe shortage of medical staff in G-B, adding that there are only 200 doctors to cater to a population of 2.5 million. He said that there are very few female doctors for women patients.

“There is a shortage of health professionals because they are reluctant to go to G-B,” Dr Astori reasoned.

He said that the government does not provide them salaries on time and they are not even given any incentives for working away from home. Majority of the lower staff do not even get salaries and find it difficult to continue their profession, he added.

Dr Astori maintained that Rs257 million allocated for G-B’s health sector is “insufficient”. He said there are no medical facilities available for cancer patients in G-B and they are forced to travel to Islamabad or Rawalpindi for treatment, which many of them cannot afford. Hospitals also lack basic medical equipment such as CT scan and MRI machines, he said. He added that due to lack of health professionals in remote areas, the locals resort to home remedies for severe illnesses and many die as a result.

Shifa International Hospital (SIH)’s Urologist Dr Ijaz Hussian said that despite lack of health facilities, the government has still slashed the health budget by up to Rs16 million. With only on one secondary care hospital in G-B, that reduction in the health budget has made it impossible for hospitals to facilitate every patient, he said.

He said that around 18,000 patients visit hospitals in G-B annually of which around 16,000 get admitted.

Dr Hussain added that unhealthy lifestyles and lack of awareness about nutrition contributes to the deteriorating health of people in G-B.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Leaders Vowed to Shun Violence and to Promote Peace

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ISLAMABAD (Nation): Local leaders from Gilgit-Baltistan, AJK, and Haripur have vowed to shun violence and promote peace at a five-day training workshop on ‘Peace Building’ jointly organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Search for Common Ground (SFCG) funded by Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) here on Friday.

The training workshop which held from 16-20 July 2012 was part of activities for “promotion of dialogue for peace building through media and youth mobilisation in Pakistan”. It seeks to involve media personnel, local activists and youth in peace building activities and to present models of coexistence, tolerance and reconciliation across Pakistan. These trained leaders will form dialogue forums at district-level to build peace in their respective communities.

During training, Shafqat Munir, Asia Right in Crisis Coordinator, Oxfam deliberated on challenges of reconciliation and mediation and argued that, now conflicts can only be handled through process of reconciliation as use of power or applying unilateral approaches cannot work in today’s globalised world where people from across regions are intertwined together.

He also said that democratic values necessitate integrative negotiation, mediation and reconciliation as the predominant ways of dealing with conflicts.

Badar Alam, Editor Herald introduced peace building frameworks and principles to the participants and explained various conflict analysis tools. He said, we can solve conflicts only if we could understand its root cause.

Brig (Retd) Muhammad Yaseen, Senior Advisor, SDPI talked on negotiation skills and said, successful negotiation skills include establishing common goals, focus on interests not positions, separation of people from the problem, invent options for mutual gain and openness to third party assistance.

Ahmed Salim, Senior Advisor, SDPI conducted session on connectors and dividers of peace in conflict affected areas. Faisal Gorchani, Advocacy Coordinator, SDPI enlightened the participants on the role of stakeholder in the process of peace building. He trained participants on consensus building keeping in view the varying interests and positions of the stakeholders.

Other trainers at the workshop included Brig Sher Shah, Associate Dean, NUST Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Sadia Kazmi, Lectures, Defense and Diplomatic Studies, FJWU, Col Zafar Mehmood, NDU and Dr Humera Ishfaq, Lecturer International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI).