Month: September 2012
GILGIT (ET): The finance ministry of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has asked the G-B government to cut the workforce of the Public Works Department (PWD) by half in order to raise funds for development projects.
The suggestion has been made in view of shrinking development funds with the G-B government, officials of the finance ministry told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
PWD currently has over 4,000 employees on its pay roll, of whom a majority have been hired by successive government on contracts. A finance ministry official privy to the affairs of PWD claimed that a large number of these appointments have been made by politicians to appease their voters. He said that over Rs1 billion are spent on the salaries of these employees, adding that if 50 per cent of them are sacked, the government can save over half a billion rupees and use it to complete pending development projects.
The government pays Rs8 billion annually as salary to employees in various departments, an official of the G-B government said, requesting not to be named. Since the federal government has turned down the G-B government’s request for additional funds, the fate of a large number of these employees hangs in the balance, the official added.
In view of the Self Rule Order 2009, hardly 30 per cent of G-B’s total budget is spent on the development works, while the rest goes to official protocol, including those of the chief minister, the governor and his cabinet. The slow pace of development in G-B has affected many, especially the contractors who have time and again protested against non-payment of dues.
G-B Minister for Works Bashir Ahmed said the proposal to downsize PWD came under discussed in the G-B assembly in the preceding sessions. “However, no formal decision to this effect has been taken as yet,” he added.
GILGIT (APP): The people of Gilgit-Baltistan can earn very good revenue through taking care of wild life.
This was stated by Program Manager Wild Life Conservation Society Mayor Khan while talking with APP said here on Saturday.
They said if they will save their wild life then the government will give them the amount earned from trophy hunting.
He said that every year several foreign hunters come to Pakistan and get the license for hunting wild life in different places.
The government charges them in dollars and the 70% amount goes to the local community and the remaining 30% goes to the government treasury.
He said that if the local people contribute more for saving their wild life then the number of foreign hunters will be increased and the revenue will also be increased.
This will help to develop the community of that area.
Like other valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, the valley of Gojal in Hunza is host to a number of historical monuments in each of its villages. Gulmit, the main town in Gojal valley, is dotted with wooden mosques, maktabs (religious schools), shrines and a fort.
There are many forts and fortresses in Gojal valley, such as Qalanderchi fort in Misghar valley and Rashit fort in Chipursan valley. But Ondra fort is the most prominent. This fort is perched on Ondra hill, which overlooks Gulmit and Ghulkin villages. The fort is believed to have been built by one Qutlug Baig in the 16th century. He was the first Wakhi ruler to establish rule in Gulmit, threatening the Mirs of Hunza. Before him, Gulmit was under the control of Hazur Jamshid (1550-1556), who was the ruler of Gilgit. His sons Su Malik and Mir Malik were deputed to collect the tax from Gojal. Once, returning from a visit to collect tax from Yishkook in Chipursan valley, the two stopped in Gulmit and liked it. They decided to live in Gulmit. After the death of Hazur Jamshid, Su Malik, the elder son, rushed to Gilgit to sit on his father’s throne. He became the new ruler of Gilgit (1556-1578). According to Muhammad Zia, celebrated genealogy-keeper (zon) of Gulmit, Mir Malik also eventually left for Hunza. Taking advantage of the absence of Su Malik and Mir Malik, Qutlug Baig with the help of locals captured Gulmit and the surrounding villages. Qutlug Baig belonged to the Charshambi Kator lineage of the Wakhis of Gulmit.
The territory of Qutlug Baig started from Khyber village and ended at Chaman Gul. In order to secure his territory from invaders, he built two gates, one at Khyber and the other at Chaman Gul. The gates were closed at night and opened during the day. In wartime, these gates remained closed, thus keeping the enemies away from his dominion. The remains of both gates and fortification walls can still be seen at Khyber as well as in Chaman Gul.
In order to rein in the probable advance of the enemies from North and south, Quitlug Baig built the Ondra fort. To the north lay the State of Hunza, and to the South the power of Kirghiz invaders who used to attack Gulmit to control the pastures for their livestock.
The height of the fort’s ramparts ranges from 6 to 13 feet above the ground. There were many living quarters inside the fort. One can still find them at two places, one on the southern side and the other on the northern side. These living quarters were separated by a central wall of the fort that runs east-west. The central rampart is higher than the southern and northern fortification walls. The northern quarters were constructed for the army of Qutlug to keep an eye on the enemy advancing from the north, while the southern quarters were built to keep check on the enemy coming from the south, particularly the army of the Mir of Hunza. The fortification walls have been provided embrasure and merlons. Only the northern and southern fortification walls have been provided embrasure. All the ramparts of the fort are still in a good condition. However, the eastern and western fortification walls are in a crumbling condition.
The Ondra fort reflects the power of the Wakhi ruler Qutlug who was never defeated by the Mirs of Hunza. He was famous for his gallantry and swordsmanship in the battlefield. Mirs of Hunza were scared by the rising power of Qutlug. They never dared to cross his territory. Qutlug was poisoned to death by one of his elderly female servants. She was sent by then Mir of Hunza Mir Malik. She admisntered poison in the food of Qutlug and his courtesans. After the death of Qutllug, Gulmit was recaptured and Ondra fell into hands of the Mir of Hunza.
Qutlug Baig was buried in Gulmit along with his courtesans. According to Afzal Khan, one of the notables of Gulmit, the grave of Qutlug was located where there is now the Government Girls High School in Gulmit. Qutllug ruled over Gulmit and its adjoining areas for twelve years. During his rule, land and life was safe and secure. He pushed the advancing Kirghiz back to their land and never let them succeed in their mission and goals. The heroic stories of Qulug still dominate the daily discourse of the Wakhi people living in Gulmit, Shimshal, Chipursan, the valleys of Gojal. Many storytellers still amuse both audience and themselves by narrating the stories of their ruler Qutlug Baig.
This fort is still a destination for domestic and international tourists. From Ondra fort one has a panoramic view of Gulmit. From the south one can see Gulmit and as far as Shishkat villages and from the north one can view the Ghulkin village. From the north one can enjoy seeing Ghulkin glacier, the passu cones and Qaroon peak. From the west, there are amazing views of Gulmit Glacier, Gulmit Tower, Shisper Peak and Utlar Sar. And from the east there is a spectacular view of the Hunza River.
Keeping in view the tourist potential of the spot, the concerned authorities should save the fort from further destruction and preserve it. Or the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP) should make efforts to save and preserve the Ondra fort. They have preserved many heritage sites of the Northern Areas, such as Balit and Altit forts, Ganish Khun, the Hunza Matktab in Ghulkin, and old houses in Sost and Gojal.
The writer is research Anthropologist at Pakistan Institute of development economics (PIDE), Islamabad. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Karachi (Monitoring Desk): Up to 43 organisations, trusts and groups have been outlawed so far by the government for alleged involvement in terrorist activities, according to figures released by the interior minister.
Of the 14 organisations that were banned in the current year, most were based in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. A detailed list of terrorist bodies was presented in the National Assembly by Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday. From amongst the 43 banned groups, two were banned before the 9/11 attacks for propagating sectarian violence namely Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipha-e-Muhammad – both declared illegal in 2001
Islamabad (News):Sharing the pain and anger of communities affected by sectarian and ethnic violence can forge a new beginning, said Chairperson Bardasht Nilofar Bakhtiar while addressing a conference on ‘Peace in Gilgit- Baltistan.’
The conference was the fifth civil society peace dialogue organised by Bardasht, which addressed major challenges that contributed to violence and intolerance in the society. Conference sessions were held on complex emergencies, disaster management and pro-women legislation and were addressed by experts from Gilgit-Baltistan.
Nilofer Bakhtiar stated that the Bardasht forum on peace has provided an opportunity for victims of violence to voice their concerns and share the challenges they have experienced in the past and continue to face.
She recalled that a record number of participants had turned up to attend the Bardasht peace conference in Quetta held in August. She stated that sectarianism and extremism were the gravest issues confronting Pakistan today and had led to fragmentation in the Northern Areas as well as major urban centres like Quetta and Karachi.
Other participants of the conference stressed the urgent need to restore peace by initiating dialogue. Lack of education and economic opportunities were cited as major causes of social and political discontent. Nationalist leaders from Gilgit-Baltistan expressed distrust of the federal government and lack of faith in the current provincial leadership. Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah condemned the rise of sectarianism in his province and urged all segments of the society to strengthen peace-building efforts.
He pointed out that his province struggled for independence against the Dogra Raj and had chosen to join Pakistan in 1958. He added that Gilgit-Baltistan was a symbol of tolerance and federal unity, and it was crucial that it was represented in the federal legislature.
A large number of youth from Gilgit-Baltistan also took active part in the conference. They said that despite disappointments, the youth look towards the federal capital for the solution. They disclosed that in their areas, suicide ratio among youth is very high.
The women group demanded crisis centre and shelter home in Gilgit-Baltistan to provide relief to women who have lost men of their families in recent clashes. They shared that all women related legislation has not been extended to their province.
The event was also addressed by MNA Rubina Qaimkhani, Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights Mountaineer Nazeer Sabir, Adovcate Mohammed Aslam and Chairman Hilal-e-Ahmer Mohammad Asif Hussain
GILGIT (ET): In an unprecedented move, 35 doctors were suspended while 15 others were served notices by the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Ministry of Health on Thursday for being absent from duty.
The doctors who have been suspended were all permanent employees, an official of the health ministry told The Express Tribune, requesting not to be named. He said that those who have been issued notices directed are to report on duty or face consequences. The ministry has also withheld salaries of the said doctors, he said, adding that it is the first time the G-B health ministry has moved against the doctors not attending duties.
Official sources said that most of the doctors against whom action has been taken are working abroad, exacerbating the plight of already understaffed hospitals. “Understandably, the obvious reasons for preferring jobs abroad are monitory benefits,” said an official of the health ministry.
Last year, the regional government raised doctors’ salary package and brought them at par with their counterparts in Punjab after they went on strike over low salaries.
G-B Health Minister Haji Gulbar said the government could not afford to offer the doctors a package equal to that of the Punjab government as it required at least Rs0.5 billion, which wasn’t feasible within the government’s limited resources. “The doctors in G-B could best be offered a package similar to those serving under the federal government,” he added.
The minister said that 45 new doctors have been hired on contract to meet the shortage of doctors in G-B.
Gulbar said the ministry requires an additional Rs20 million to purchase medicine for hospitals, adding that they would be making the demand to the government as the existing budget falls short of fulfilling requirements. He said a feasibility report on construction of a medical college in G-B is in progress.
Gilgit (PT): The Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) Tuesday approved a resolution demanding complete provincial status for the Gilgit-Baltistan region. The resolution was jointly tabled by MLA Muhammad Ayub (Ghizar) and Mutabiat Shah (Hunza-Nagar) of PPP, Amina Ansari (Ghanche) of PMLQ and Agha Muhammad Ali and Raja Azam (Skardu) of MQM. Independent candidate Deedar Ali was also part of the group moving the resolution.
The house approved the resolution and supported the idea and demand of granting constitutional provincial status for the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
The resolution was supported by vast majority of the assembly’s members, save for a couple of people who had reservations about it.
The resolution will also have to be approved by the GB Council, headed by the sitting Prime Minister of Pakistan.
MLA Nawaz Khan Naji, Supreme Leader of the Balawaristan National Front – the only nationalist leader in the house, opposed the bill. He said that the resolution is useless because the status of GB is tied with the resolution of Kashmir dispute, which is pending at the UN for almost 6 decades. He, instead, demanded internal autonomy for GB under the supervision of the United Nations.
MLA Rehmat Khaliq while opposing the law suggested that a committee should be formed within the house to further improve the resolution and launch a strong drive for constitutional status.
MLA Raziuddin Rizvi also said that the resolution is likely to remain ineffective because GB is part of the Kashmir dispute and even the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan cannot do much to change the situation.
Kashmiri nationalist and other political groups have also opposed the resolution, calling it an effort to divide the “undivided stat of Jammu and Kashmir”. They have said that giving GB a provincial status will provide precedence for India to annex the parts of Kashmir under its control. It is pertinent to note that Kashmiris claim GB to be “an integral part of Kashmir”, a claim that has been widely opposed and condemned by majority of people of the Gilgit – Baltistan region.
Majority of the people of GB are in favour of becoming a part of Pakistan and the approval of the resolution today at GBLA seemingly reflects the popular will of the people.
The regional lawmakers ignored the UN laws, saying they meant nothing because the UN is an ineffective organization, unable to resolve any international dispute during the last several decades.
Skardu – Kargil Road
MLA Amina Ansari from Ghanche district of Baltistan presented a resolution demanding the opening of the historical Skardu – Kargil road. Amina’s resolution was unanimously approved by the house.
Opening of the road is likely to create ease of traveling for the people of Baltistan who have cultural and familial ties across the border.
GILGIT (ET): Despite being blocked for traffic, passengers travelling from Danyore to Gilgit forced their way through the dilapidated Danyore Bridge on Saturday, risking their lives on the suspension bridge that was declared unsafe for travelling earlier. However, it was shut down once again when authorities found out about it three hours later.
The 510-feet-long bridge that connects Danyore to the capital city of the mountain region was shut down for traffic on July 24 after a team of engineers inspected it and declared it unsafe for traffic. According to an official at the Gilgit Control Room, no decision had been made to resume traffic since then.
However, defying government orders, people removed the barriers and started using the bridge which has been weakened by heavy traffic.
“We want the authorities to know that the bridge is important to us and it should be repaired,” said one of the passengers while criticising the delay in repair work.
Dubbed as “Pul-e-Sirat”, the bridge connects to a 10-metre curved tunnel that tests a driver’s nerve more than his skills as an abrupt stop can leave a vehicle stranded in the middle of the stream. It was built around 40 years ago, and has served as the only route to Gilgit for thousands of people in Danyore, Bagrote and Jalalabad after the China Bridge collapsed four years back. Currently an alternate bridge, built four months back near the former China Bridge, is the only link to the capital city.
GILGIT (ET): An independent legislator has asked the federal government to declare Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) a tax-free zone and allow duty-free import of essential commodities from China.
The proposal was floated by Syed Raziuddin in a resolution that he tabled during the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) session on Thursday. Tax issues dominated the third-day of the 24th session of the house.
“The region should be declared tax-free considering the level of poverty and backwardness of the region,” said Raziuddin while speaking on his resolution.
He added that transportation cost skyrockets prices of essential commodities and most of the daily use items are brought to the region from down country.
Other lawmakers also supported the resolution. However, Speaker Wazir Baig referred the matter to a committee headed by the law minister to assess its viability.
The issue of tax collection and disbursement by the federal government was also discussed. Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) legislator Mirza Hussain pointed out that the federal government receives Rs26 billion in taxes from G-B. However, he lamented that very meager portion of that amount is given to the region.
“Steps should be taken to collect taxes at the regional level as it is being practiced in other provinces,” he stated.
In his reply, the speaker said that levying of tax was the domain of the G-B Council (GBC). The issue could be discussed in a joint session of the GBLA and GBC. He added that the governor should summon a joint session of the GBLA and GBC and take up the issue for discussion.
Nawaz Khan Naji, a nationalist member, said the biggest threat to the country was not any external force, but the corrupt rulers who are “plundering the national wealth and resources”.
The lone outspoken legislator said that the rulers should pledge to curb corrupt practices. He said that the overall situation of the industrial sector is on the verge of collapse, except for the “industry of Jihad”. He urged the government to take measures to help revive the industrial sector.
Law Minister Wazir Shakeel Ahmed tabled the child welfare and protection bill, which was referred to the select committee for review.
Baig maintained that the Accountant General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) has failed to submit financial reports for the past two years to the assembly.
Rehmat Khaliq, a Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam lawmaker, said the importance of Defence Day has been overlooked by declaring it a working day. He called for dedicating the day to pay tributes to those who have rendered sacrifices for this nation.
GILGIT (ET): Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif, who visited Gilgit on Tuesday, voiced concern over growing incidents of sectarian killings in the region and criticised the government for failing to take any effective action to ensure peace.
“Unfortunately, incidents of terrorism are on the rise while the government is doing nothing to stop them,” he told a ceremony at a hotel in Gilgit.
He lashed out at Gilgit-Baltistan’s governor and chief minister for not paying due attention to regional issues, saying that instead of spending time in the region to settle the crises, the top officials prefer to stay in Islamabad. “Under these circumstances it is illogical to expect them to maintain peace,” he said.
Nawaz, who was accompanied by his wife and other family members, distributed cheques for Rs500,000 among 53 families of victims of the Siachen avalanche tragedy, which claimed the lives of over 135 people in April.
The PML-N chief also met with Sunni and Shia clerics and urged them to work towards peace and tranquility in the region. “Those shedding the blood of innocent people do not deserve to be called Muslims,” he said, while urging the clerics to not issue decrees against each other.
About the issue of new provinces, Nawaz said that they would not accept the formation of new provinces on ethnic basis.
Earlier Hafizur Rehman, the regional president of PML-N, and other leaders received Nawaz and his family at the Gilgit airport and briefed him about party activities in the region