Month: May 2013

Gilgit-Baltistan: HRCP Termed Elections as Grossly Mismanaged

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ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) declared on Sunday that not only were the 2013 polls the ‘costliest’ in the country’s history, but also ‘grossly mismanaged’ by the election commission. It put forth a string of recommendations, including a year-to-year review of electoral rolls.

“The May 11 election has been rated by most of HRCP’s observers as a most poorly managed affair,” said a preliminary report based on several months of observation and the May 11 polling in several parts of Pakistan.

According to the report, polling stations were not properly selected, and many did not even have enough room for the staff to be properly accommodated. At 17 of the 57 National Assembly constituencies observed – 8 in Balochistan, 13 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 19 in Punjab and 17 in Sindh – the required material was short in supply or not available at all.

“It seems the returning officers selected polling stations without inspection of sites by themselves or their responsible deputies,” the document further stated, recommending a scheme of permanent polling stations, with the possibility to add or delete stations as warranted by circumstances.

“The HRCP recommends that the legal obligation to review the electoral rolls on a year to year basis should be strictly honored and the election staff and the political parties given adequate training in the use of new lists a considerable period in advance of the polls,” it said.

It also highlighted that no fresh delimitation of constituencies was carried out this time around, though the need for it was obvious. To resolve this issue, the HRCP recommended the government give due priority to holding the national census.

Additionally, the HRCP said people deserved an explanation for the undue delay in announcing results for several constituencies in Baluchistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan:GB Residents Watched Rest of Pakistan Vote

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GILGIT: Even though they did not cast their ballots, residents of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) remained glued to their television screens watching the rest of Pakistan vote amid fever pitch and continuous updates on social media.

“That’s not fair. The election commission should take immediate note of poll rigging in parts of Karachi,” complained Mohammad Din while referring to media reports of a certain party’s activists trying to sabotage the polling process in some areas.

Huge crowds were gathered outside offices of political parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Gilgit. Elsewhere, tea stalls were abuzz with political discussion and speculations on the turnout. “I am sure change will come,” said a PTI supporter.

Reports from other parts of G-B indicated a similar atmosphere in Skardu, Hunza, Ghizer and Astore, with residents eagerly awaiting the outcome. Traffic, however, remained thin as most people preferred to stay indoors and stay up-to-date with the news.

Though G-B is not represented in the National Assembly and Senate, the regional government is represented by mainstream parties. Currently, the PPP governs G-B while Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement are coalition partners.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Many Politicians Switch Sides in GB

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GILGIT (ET): Anticipating a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) victory on Election Day, at least a dozen regional politicians from various parties have recently defected to the party in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).

The newest PML-N members were recruited on Thursday when Haji Qurban, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Nagar Valley president, and Jan Alam, a politician from Hunza, announced they would be joining the party’s ranks along with their supporters.

The announcement was made in a ceremony held at a local hotel, which was attended by senior leaders of the PML-N including regional chief Hafizur Rahman. Welcoming the new arrivals, Rahman hoped the party would sweep the elections.

Last week, Malik Miskeen, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) from Diamer valley, also joined the party taking with him hundreds of his supporters and friends. Miskeen, a notable politician, was the speaker of the G-B Assembly during the government of ex-president Pervez Musharraf – the man responsible for sending PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif packing.

Similarly, dozens of influential people from Barmas opted to join the PML-N, expressing confidence in the regional leadership.

Last month, Ghulam Mohammad, a key leader of the PPP in G-B, defected to the Nawaz League after he was sidelined by his own party. A resident of Ghizer valley, Mohammad remained PPP’s general secretary for several years.

Haji Fida Mohammad Nashad, a senior leader of the PML-Q, joined the PML-N in 2012. Nashad was the deputy chief executive of the G-B government during Musharraf’s tenure.

The PML-N’s popularity in G-B, at least amongst veteran politicians, is rising day by day in the run up to the polls. Independent observers believe the defections may increase in the coming days if the PML-N wins a majority.

Meanwhile, even though residents of G-B cannot cast their votes on Election Day due to constitutional reasons, they will be closely watching who forms the country’s next democratic government in Islamabad come May 11

Gilgit-Baltistan:Mainstream Political Parties Shunned Reservations of Religious Parties

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GILGIT (ET): Leaders of mainstream political parties in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) shunned the reservations of religious parties against the G-B Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, claiming the fault lies with the rulers and not the system itself.

“There is nothing written against any sect in the legislation, so we will not support any struggle on sectarian lines,” said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) regional head Hafizur Rahman on Wednesday.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Ahle Sunnat Waljamat (ASWJ) on Tuesday observed a ‘token strike’ in parts of G-B against the 2009 legislation, asking authorities to revoke it and amalgamate G-B with Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). They alleged the order and the chief minister were both biased and favoured a particular sect.

Some nationalist parties also joined the protest, carrying banners and convening rallies in valleys, including Ghizer and Diamer. The government shut down all educational institutions, markets, cellular services and the Karakoram Highway due to the protest as a precautionary measure on Tuesday.

Rehman blamed G-B Chief Minister (CM) Mehdi Shah and his cabinet for mismanagement, bad governance and rampant corruption, saying it had stained the reputation of the legislation. However, Rehman acknowledged registering a protest was the legal right of any party.

Independent lawmaker Didar Ali said he supported the legislation because it was in the region’s best interest. “The order is not carved in stone. It can be improved by sitting together, but not by issuing decrees against it and launching strikes,” said Ali, who was recently inducted into CM Shah’s cabinet as a minister. “We want G-B to be made the fifth constitutional province of Pakistan,” he added.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) senior leader and lawmaker Rahmat Khaliq also rejected the demand to revoke the order, but said his party will not oppose any amendments if proposed.

Self-Governance Order 2009 paved the way for the first elections ever to be held in G-B. As a result, a chief minister and governor were elected.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Country Can Generate upto 100 MW of Electricity

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Gilgit (BR): Pakistan Poultry Association (PPA) former Chairman Abdul Basit has urged the government to generate electricity up to the available capacity as country has full capacity to meet energy demands. In a statement issued here on Monday, the PPA former chairman said that it is appreciable that the government has given a true picture to the masses by deciding to produce 13000MW of electricity on May 11.

He said that it was very unfortunate despite having the capacity to meet electricity needs, the government did not produce it under one or the other pretext. Abdul Basit said that the country can produce 100,000 MW of electricity for next 100 years through its coal reserves, 50,000 MW of electricity through hydel resources in Gilgit-Baltistan and the country has an installed capacity of 21,000 mega watts but due to lack of interest of the people sitting on the helm of affairs and bureaucratic hurdles, country was facing 16 to 22 hours load shedding in urban and rural areas of the country.

He said that the government’s indecision kept the trade and industry hostage during the last five years that resulted in slow down of economic activities. He said that only because of power shortage, the country lost over 3 percent of its GDP growth while brain drain and industrial drain remained the most prominent features in the last five years. Abdul Basit said that if the government was unable to run power sector in a winsome manner, it should private it without delay of a single day as the business community has the ability to ensure good governance.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Hydro Projects in GB and their Implementation Status

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ISLAMABAD (APP): The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) has completed a detailed engineering design and tender documents for 7100 megawatt (MW)-Bunji Hydropower Project, and will soon initiate the process to undertake construction of the country’s largest hydro power project. WAPDA Chairman Syed Raghib Abbas Shah expressed these views in a meeting with Gilgit Baltistan Chief Secretary Sajjad Saleem Hotiana at WAPDA House in Lahore, said a press release issued here.

Speaking on the occasion, the WAPDA Chairman said that the mega projects such as Bunji and DBD, would not only help stabilize national economy but also usher in an era of social and economic development in Gilgit-Baltistan.

He appreciated the cooperation being provided by the Gilgit Baltistan government in implementing WAPDA projects in the region. He further said that WAPDA would fulfill all its commitments vis-a-vis construction of the projects and resettlement of their affectees.
Later, implementation status of the decisions taken on January 17, was discussed in detail. The meeting was informed that the GB administration would complete the ground survey as well satellite imageries for geographical mapping of Diamer Basha Dam (DBD) Project in two weeks.
The matter pertaining to handing over Government land to WAPDA also came under discussion. The Chairman said that in view of the significance of resettlement of Diamer Basha Dam Project affectees, priority should be given to acquire land for the construction of model villages in the area.
Deliberations were also made about Satpara Dam, Harpo, Bashoo and Phander hydropower projects. It was decided in the meeting that a study would jointly be conducted by WAPDA and Gilgit Baltistan to address the issues relating to Satpara Dam. The study would also assess the future requirements of water in Skardu and adjacent areas, their fulfillment through Shatung Nullah, its environmental impact and a way forward for the purpose.
The meeting also agreed to devise a perpetual operation and management (O&M) methodology for Satpara Dam Project with active involvement of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Heli-skiing in the Karakoram

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By Samyra Rashid

Standing on top of the Karakoram mountains for the first time at about 15,000 feet, looking out at what could only be described as a moonscape, miles of undulating snowfields ahead of me, pin-drop silence all around, I felt my heart pounding in my chest. It was the first time since discovering that I would have the opportunity to ski the highest mountain range in the world that I asked myself the question, “What the hell am I doing here?” It was a bit late for second thoughts, however, as the army helicopter that had dropped me off on top of the ridge was out of sight and there was now only one way down… On the two skis attached to my boots!

Two months earlier I had found out that the company I had recently joined, Walkabout Films, was not only active in the field of exceptional wildlife documentary filmmaking; they also organized events based on extreme sports. The CEO of Walkabout Films, Nisar Malik, is an extreme sports enthusiast: he is a former international rower, an expert windsurfer and an accomplished deep-sea diver. One of the first adventure films to come out of Pakistan was one he made for National Geographic called ‘Surfing the Northern Frontier,’ in which he windsurfed the three highest (freezing cold!) lakes of Pakistan for a program called ‘Adventure Challenge.’ So he had conceived of this skiing event several years before, and I just latched on to the opportunity and cajoled, wheedled and manipulated my heart out until he finally realized that there was no way of stopping me, short of chaining me to a large tree in Islamabad while they took off for Skardu.

This event was organized by Walkabout Films in partnership with ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations), so the Army also had to be on board with taking a woman along. I have to say that both Nisar and the ISPR could not have been more supportive. Once they realized I was serious about joining the team of crack international heli-skiers, and that I did indeed have 30 years of skiing experience, they went out of their way to facilitate my participation. Although I am sure they all collectively thought I was mad, they never voiced it and never made me feel anything less than a full and valued member of the ski team.

I first met the rest of the skiers at Islamabad Airport as we launched into a pre-event Press Conference. I wasn’t sure what they would make of me or how friendly they would be, and though we were all a little reserved initially, by the time we deplaned at Skardu after a hair-raising flight over the mountains surrounding the airport, we were already building the bonds of a team faced with adventure, and the excitement was palpable.

It took a couple of hours to get all our bags and equipment (ski and film) collected. I think we had over 100 pieces, and Skardu airport has a very unique baggage handling system. It has a luggage belt on which your bags enter the baggage hall, but it is not a circular belt. It runs in a straight line for about 5 or 6 meters into the hall and then just loops under itself and deposits your bags in a heap on the floor. Consequently, a large pile of bags collects at the end of the belt, crippling feet and bruising the legs of those trying to dig out their luggage from the pile. Needless to say, the foreigners among us found the system quite interesting!

We had a super-impressive army escort to take us from the airport to the Shangrila Resort (where we stayed courtesy of the owner, Arif Aslam Khan), with two jeep loads of highly armed and smart soldiers. They had been assigned to accompany us at all times and even to guard our cabins at night! I’m not sure that such a high level of security was needed as the people in Skardu, especially the locals, were so friendly, but at the end of the day, in the current climate, I can appreciate the Army’s tendency to err on the side of caution and we greatly appreciated their efforts on our behalf.

The skiing kicked off the next day with a trip to the 5 Aviation Squadron Airbase from where we boarded the Mi17, a big helicopter used to ferry us to a location at the base of the mountains. The army pilots, on seeing me jump into their helicopters, asked me how I came to know Urdu. They assumed only a foreign woman would be nuts enough to do this and were shocked to find out that I was a Pakistani.

We set up camp with the press and the army support team in a field near a small village at the base of the mountains. You can only imagine what the villagers thought had descended into their field as tall foreigners dressed in ski-gear and helmets mounted with small cameras, carrying skis and poles and snowboards and backpacks with airbags, now came down from the steps of that helicopter. The village children came running in droves to see what was going on. The looks on their faces were indescribable but swung between disbelief, fear and utter delight.

We got into the smaller Ecureuil Helicopters to take only the skiers up in twos and threes to the base of the runs that our lead guides had selected for the days skiing. Once we were all assembled at the base we would be ferried up again in twos and threes to the top of the runs to ski down.

I can say without reservation that all the foreigners who came (and they came from France, Russia, Serbia, Canada and Switzerland) were blown away and totally awed by what they saw in those mountains. Although they had skied the world over they had never seen anything that even came close to the Karakoram Mountains. The mountains are so big as to make the scale unimaginable till you are standing at the top. You can get an idea of the scale when you see the pictures with the helicopters looking like small gnats against each mountain peak. They are so majestic and forbidding that they make you quake with wonder, especially if you know you are about to be dropped off on top of one of them! To a man all the visitors commented that the trip had far exceeded their expectations, and they all wanted to come back and to bring friends and families to experience for themselves the extreme and unmatched beauty of the Karakorams and the friendliness of the Pakistani people.

For myself, I can only say that the 7 days I spent in Skardu were the most unforgettable days of my life. If I have one regret, it is that we didn’t make it to K2, as bad weather closed in on us the day we should have gone. But there is always next year…

Courtesy: Friday Times

Gilgit-Baltistan:Naltar Chair Lift Project Launched

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Gilgit (PT): The ground breaking ceremony of Naltar Chair Lift Project was performed by Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan today at Naltar, the globally renowned ski resort, where ski championship tournaments are held annually under the auspices of Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Ski Federation.

According to details shared by the Chief Secretary, the ambitious chairlift project will cover an area of 1.41 KM of slope, supported by 16 pillars. The highest point of the chairlift will be at around 3453 meters, the base being at 2889 meters. The total rise and fall will be around 584 meters.

Speaking at the occasion, Air Marshal Farahat Hussain Khan said that it will turned into a world class skier resort, within one year. Machinery required for completion of the project is being imported from Switzerland in the month of June, 2013.

Later, the Air Marshal met Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shahat his office and the two leaders expressed resolve to make Gilgit-Baltistan an attractive spot for national and international tourists.

The project is likely to cost around 31.90 million rupees and it will be completed by June next year.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Court Reinstates Teachers Sacked Earlier on Illegal Appointments

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Gilgit (APP): The Chief Court of Gilgit Baltistan reinstated services of 183 teachers on Friday, who were dismissed a month before by the higher authorities of Education Department. Court Sources said that on March 14 senior authorities dismissed 183 teachers declaring their appointment illegal and without fulfillment of laid down procedure. The terminated teachers filed a writ petition in the Chief Court seeking relief.

Meanwhile on March 23 the Chief Secretary Sajjad Salim Hottiana withdrew the orders of Secretary Education and said rules for termination of services were not adopted. The Chief Court while disposing off the petition said that since the Chief Secretary has withdrawn notification of termination which was issued by Secretary Education, there is no justification to hear this petition.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Ministry of Climate Change wants Revocation of Timber Policy in GB

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ISLAMABAD (ET): While conveying the reservations of environmentalists on the recently notified timber movement policy, the Ministry of Climate Change has forwarded a summary to the Cabinet Division secretary to revoke the policy.

The policy, which was notified by the G-B Council and approved by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on his final day in office, allows for the transportation of around four million cubic feet (cft) of timber from Diamer in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to others parts of the country.

Environmentalists fear the policy will lead to rapid deforestation in Diamer. In the absence of strict and scientific mechanisms to monitor the illegal felling of timber, environmentalists say forest contractors will cut down more trees illegally to replace those already transported.

In an April meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, the ministry’s secretary Muhammad Ali Gardezi said that he would request the cabinet secretary to reverse the policy, citing the concerns of environmentalists and the risk presented to Pakistan’s international commitments on deforestation.

A ministry official requesting anonymity confirmed that the summary had been forwarded to the cabinet secretary and a reply from the Cabinet Division was expected soon.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations in Islamabad — such as the Sustainable Development Partnership Institute (SDPI), Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Centre (AHKRC) and the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) — have been campaigning against the harmful effects of the timber movement policy.

“This is a continuation of really poor governance on behalf of the government of Pakistan and the G-B government,” Dr Anisur Rahman, chief executive officer of the HWF, said. “It is a collaboration to denude our forests and take them to such a stage where they will not be recoverable.”

The HWF has also written a letter to the G-B Supreme Appellate Court asking it to take note of the policy’s effects. Rahman said that the HWF was also planning to send a similar letter to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Rahman said the timber policy gives little or no benefit to the local communities except destroying the forests and benefiting the contractors.

“If the timber is about to rot, it should be given to the local communities on cheap rates so that they do not have to cut more trees for firewood,” Rahman said.

“The forest that has been cut cannot be brought back,” he said. “It is a complete loss.”

It is worth noting here that the policy lifted a decades-old ban on the transportation of timber from Diamer to the rest of the country. In addition to the legally-cut timber, which locals claimed had begun to rot, the policy also stated that around 1.9 million cft of illegally cut timber could be transported down the country after contractors pay a fine that varies depending on the type of trees.

However, environmental activists allege that the corrupt forest officers and contractors will collude to cut more trees illegally and easily transport them outside the region because of the existing policy.

Chilas native Khan Muhammad Qureshi, who is trying to raise awareness about deforestation in Islamabad and Diamer, claims the contractors have raised the rates they pay locals for illegally cutting timber to Rs60 from Rs25 to pacify them, as Diamer forests are legally the property of the local communities.