LONDON (News): Pakistan has been urged to utilise the potential Gilgit-Baltistan to connect itself with Central Asia, Afghanistan, India and beyond.
Influential right-of-the centre think tank The Henry Jackson Society held an event titled “Gilgit-Baltistan: South-Central Asia’s Socio-Economic Integration and Regional Politics” at the House of Lords which focused on reviving the infamous southern branch of the Silk Route to help transform the resource-rich region from being a battleground of three nuclear states into a hub of trade, tourism, economic integration and cultural exchange.
Baron Sir Clive Soley of Hammersmith facilitated the discussion and the panel consisted of Mumtaz Khan, Executive Director of International Centre for Peace and Democracy, and Senge H. Sering, President of the Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies. This is for the first time that Henry Jackson Society, which has the backing of several senior politicians and ministers linked with the ruling Conservative party and military, hosted an event of this nature.
Senge H. Sering stated that revival of travel across the line of control between Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh would help more than ten thousand divided family members meet each after almost seven decades. At the same time, it will help revive the Himalayan culture to counter rapidly growing extremism as well as transform the economy of the poverty stricken region. Gilgit-Baltistan can interlink Central Asia with Ladakh, Nepal and Tibet which will boost potentials for eco-tourism and bring the much needed revenue, he said. The recent statements by US Foreign Minister Hilary Clinton, he said, on reviving the Silk Route were encouraging and have brought Gilgit-Baltistan into the limelight.
He emphasised upon Pakistan to revise its policy such as the confidence building measures (CBMs) on different regions of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan. He said: “The people of Gilgit-Baltistan deserve to enjoy same travel facilities like the one currently exists between Kashmir and Muzaffarabad.
The idea of liberalizing trade between India and Pakistan cannot materialize if the border remains open for some people while closed for the others. Gilgit-Baltistan has the potential to enhance regional trade to tens of billions of dollars however; such a trade should be able to bring prosperity to the local people while promoting political stability in the fragile region.”
Mumtaz Khan, Executive Director of International Centre for Peace and Democracy, described how closed borders, a lingering war and presence of armed forces and Taliban affiliated militants have impacted the religious, cultural and economic composition of Azad Kashmir, and how the opening of trade routes could contribute towards greater stability in the region.
He reiterated that closed borders only help areas like Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan become spawning grounds for the extremists.
He said: “The people of the Himalayan regions will confront the extremist elements and become allies of democratic governments when they will see monetary benefits coming from liberalized trade, tourism and travel across the ancient Silk Route. Governments cannot reform the societies on their own and they need to rely on local communities as their partners in eliminating terrorism.”
He urged the governments of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan to expedite work on the TAPI gas line which will interlink economic destiny of all these warring nations.
He talked about Indo-China trade models which has help commerce boom to over $70 billion despite lingering border disputes.
He said that border disputes should not be used as an excuse to deprive people of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan the right to free travel and trade with their kith and kin across the LoC.