Month: June 2013

Gilgit-Baltistan: Lack of Facilities and Infrastructure Keeps Tourist Away in Pakistan

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By Tahmina Qureshi

To say that the tourism industry in Pakistan is still untapped would be absolutely incorrect. It has been tapped, but only to the extent of governmental interest.

When the country was rocked by terrorism after 9/11, the government suddenly remembered the forgotten tourism industry and tried to use it to project a ‘soft image’ of the country. But like everything else done in this country, the government’s efforts at boosting tourism have been sporadic and projects have been marred by characteristic mismanagement. The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) is in financial crisis and the government keeps announcing mega tourism projects without any thought towards developing basic infrastructure and peace — factors imperative for leisurely travel.

However, of late tourist events such as jeep rallies in Malam Jabba and Cholistan have been organised. Surprisingly enough, despite the volatile law and order situation the number of domestic tourists has increased by around 20pc according to PTDC officials who also boast of generating $306 million during 2010 from over 900,000 foreign tourists of which 200,000 were from the South Asia region.

Yet there does not seem to be a cohesive strategy behind seriously developing tourism as an industry and exploring new avenues. Moreover, devolving the tourism ministry is of no help in this regard at all.

Places where infrastructure is in better shape tend to attract the most tourists; in our country that happens to be the Kaghan and Swat valleys. The PTDC has around 37 motels all across Pakistan and more than 25 of them are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan. The rest are distributed among Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan and don’t see much traffic, if at all. Most of the lodging facilities in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are managed by private hotels which compete with each other for customers and rates.

Sharing his experience, a psychology student Attaullah Khan says, “Northern Areas which are the main focus of domestic and foreign tourism do not have good transportation. The vehicles are old and a lot of times overloaded which is extremely dangerous on narrow and slippery roads.”

He felt that the tourism department didn’t do enough to manage hotels on the whole and said that hotel fares should be regulated.

Even a five-star hotel in a city like Multan was below par in its facilities, according to a telecommunication professional Mudassir Hussain. “I travelled to Multan in 2011; though I stayed at a five-star hotel the facilities, including room service and accessories, were no better than a three-star hotel,” he says.

Saad Raza, a business executive, had a similar experience when he travelled to Naran and Kaghan valleys. He felt that the prices were too high compared to the facilities provided by the hotels. “Given the service, the prices were not justified at all,” he says. “I have stayed in Turkey and China in better places but at similar prices. In those countries, there are either four or five-star hotels or no-star hotels — not in between.”

Private tour contractors have stepped in to fill the gap and that may partly be the reason for the increasing number of domestic tourists. Logistics and facilities may also depend on how much money one is willing to spend but in areas with only a couple of staying options, money might not be the answer.

Andleeb Gufran, a faculty member at NED university, is a fan of Shangrila and Shigar resorts in Skardu but feels that a lot more could be done. “Some hotels are good some are bad,” she says. “Except for the PC chain, there are no five-star hotels up north.”

Another area where tourism in Pakistan lacks is adventure sports for which the potential remains untapped to a great extent, even in areas other than Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Abdullah Wasim, a sports journalist who loves adventure sports, laments that “Except for Malam Jabba there isn’t any other ski resort when there could be so many. There are also not many camping facilities, except for a couple of private tour contractors.” He further adds,

“Tourism-wise Gilgit-Baltistan is the most attractive part of the country. Though there are not many facilities, the hospitality of the people is amazing.”

However, Waleed Rashid, a student at a private university, seems to be more or less satisfied with the infrastructure and value for money, especially during off season — winter or late autumn. “I noticed a great deal of improvement in the overall infrastructure. Landslides that occurred after rain were cleared up in only three to four hours,” he says. “The roads are better too. Obviously one can’t expect four-lane highways that high up in the mountains.”

As usual Balochistan and the Sindh seem to be the most neglected provinces. The PTDC does operate a couple of motels in Balochistan and one in Moenjodaro in Sindh but has to arrange special tours for remote areas. But the resorts managed by Sindh government at Keenjhar and Haleji lakes are as good as closed.

Perhaps a lesson or two could be learnt from Sri Lanka which remained a popular tourist destination in South Asia even when the country was in turmoil  or from India whose clever marketing of its qualities while covering its flaws invoke the interest of any wayward explorer. But what both have is a cohesive plan, a strategy in which all stakeholders carry their equal share which cannot be seen so far in Pakistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Top GB Officials Suspended after Nanga Parbat Incident

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ISLAMABAD (INP): Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Inspector General Police and Chief Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan have been suspended after Nanga Parbat incident, in which gunmen killed 10 people including nine foreign tourists.

Speaking in the National Assembly, he strongly criticized the apathy on part of security institutions in thwarting such acts of terrorism. He, however, said that there was no question of point scoring.

He said that the Chief Secretary and IG Gilgit-Baltistan have been suspended and an inquiry would be carried out against them. He told the house that gunmen entered the base camp in security forces’ uniform and gunned down three Chinese, five Ukrainian and a Russian tourist by forcing them out of their huts.

Nisar said that a Chinese tourist was recovered from the base camp. “I talked to Chinese ambassador who asked whether Chinese tourists were militants’ target. I told him Pakistan was the target of the attack,” Nisar said. He said that the attack was aimed at giving the message to the world that Pakistan was an insecure country.

He said in view of the militants strategy to launch attacks at sensitive places by using security forces uniform, it has been decided that no army personnel would enter the Red Zone in Islamabad without being searched. He said that nobody would be able to stop only six terrorists if they enter the parliament in uniform.

He said the incident took place at the base camp of Nanga Parbat which is away from Ferry Meadows. He said as per the initial reports, the terrorists’ were disguised in Gilgit Scouts’ uniforms. He said the terrorists hired the services of two local guides, one of them has been martyred and other is in the custody and being interrogated.

The Interior Minister said it were the military security agencies who responded to this incident quickly and now they are also cooperating the civil security agencies.

The Interior Minister proposed the House to convene a separate National Assembly session on security matters and discuss the pros and cons in detail, so as to formulate a comprehensive security policy to confront the challenges.

Leader of the Opposition Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah condemned the killing of twelve persons in Gilgit-Baltistan and said terrorists want to single out Pakistan. He said opposition will never exploit such incidents and we all will collectively overcome the menace of terrorism.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi also condemned the attack and said that we cannot imagine that such places like Ziarat and GB will be targeted. He said that we need to change our political mindset to eliminate the scourge of terrorism.

The PTI leader said this incident can affect our relations with China and Russia. He said the transition phase in Afghanistan in terms of NATO withdrawal and Presidential elections has started affecting Pakistan. He said in this realm Pakistan needs to focus on the national security policy and change its paradigm. He assured his party’s full support to government in this regard.

Mahmood Khan Achakzai proposed the House to write letters expressing sympathies with bereaved families of foreigners.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Attack on Tourists is Attack on Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD (ET): Calling the attack on foreign tourists in Gilgit-Baltistan an attack on Pakistan, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the visitors should be monitored from the moment they land in Pakistan.

Nisar was speaking during a National Assembly session on Sunday.

Late Saturday night, five Ukrainians, three Chinese, a Russian and their guide were killed in an attack in a remote resort area near the base camp for the snow-covered Nanga Parbat mountain.

Condemning the incident, the interior minister said that all the institutions in the country are weak and have failed to prevent such attacks.

He further criticised the lack of accountability against irresponsible officials, whose failures lead to security lapses.

Nisar vowed to work beyond his responsibility to ensure security across the country.

He informed the parliamentarians that his ministry is working on a national security policy which will soon be presented in the National Assembly.

The interior minister said that the recommendations made by all the political parties will be accommodated to make it a comprehensive national policy.

The National Assembly also passed a resolution today, condemning the killing of the foreign tourists.

Gilgit-Baltistan: NA Passed Resolution Condemning Tourists Killing

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Islamabad (Nation): National Assembly (NA), Sunday, unanimously passed a resolution condemning killing of Tourists in Gilgit-Blatistan.

This House strongly condemns the ghastly and shocking terror attack near the Base Camp of Nanga Parbat in Gilgit-Baltistan, in which tourists/climbers from China, Ukraine and Pakistan were attacked and killed by terrorists.
This is clearly a deliberate attempt to undermine Pakistan’s image internationally, so as to portray it as an unsafe place for foreign tourists.
This House expresses its deepest sympathies with the families of the victims. It appreciates the action taken by the Minister of Interior in issuing necessary instructions to the law-enforcing and security forces and conveying condolences to the Ambassadors of the countries concerned.
This Houses calls upon the Government to:-
(a) immediately takes all necessary measures against these anti-state elements;
(b) re-arrest the professional capacity of the security and intelligence set ups and ensure greater coordination amongst them.
The resolution was moved by Mekhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi, Sheikh Aftab Ahmed (Minister for State for Parliamentary Affairs), Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, Sahibzada Tariq Ullah, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Mr. Adbul Rashid Godil.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Nine Tourists Killed in Fairy Meadows, Diamer

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Karachi (Seattle Times): Gilgit-Baltistan, a region of snow-peaked mountains and glacial valleys at the juncture of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges, where nine tourists and their guide were killed is listed as one of 50 places worldwide “to see before you die.”

Nine tourists preparing to climb a Himalayan peak in an idyllic region of Pakistan bordering China were killed at their hotel overnight in the country’s worst attack on foreigners in five years.

The tourists — five Ukrainians, three Chinese and a Russian — and their local guide were shot by extremists at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, a 26,600-foot-high mountain at the western end of the Himalayan mountains. The attackers were dressed in uniforms of the Gilgit Scouts, the paramilitary security force of Gilgit-Baltistan, a Pakistan-administered area of the Kashmir region disputed by Pakistan, India and China, whose borders meet there.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a region of snow-peaked mountains and glacial valleys located at the juncture of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges. It was the setting for Shangri-La in the book, “Lost Horizon,” by James Hilton.

Gilgit-Baltistan has been ruled by China, Tibet, Britain and the ruler of Kashmir, who chose to join India upon its independence in 1947. The Gilgit Scouts rebelled and the region’s hereditary leaders joined Pakistan, newly formed from India’s Muslim-majority northwest provinces.

The opening in 1978 of the Karakoram Highway, an 800-mile highway known as the world’s highest, connected Islamabad through Gilgit-Baltistan to the western Chinese city of Kashgar. It made the previously cut-off region accessible by road, and it became a favorite fixture for adventurists and hippy-trailers, who flocked to the valley of Hunza, the setting for Shangri-La.

It is annually listed by National Geographic magazine as one of 50 places worldwide “to see before you die.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is to visit China on Monday, and while there plans to seal an agreement for the construction of a high-speed railway line through Gilgit-Baltistan to a Chinese port on Pakistan’s Indian Ocean coast, near the mouth of the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The envisioned railway line would be a feat of engineering that would exceed China’s construction of a rail into Tibet, which has similar terrain.

Tourists were the major source of income for the region’s scattered population of 1.4 million until the September 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the United States, and tourists had started to return only this year.

The overnight attack was the first ever on tourists in the region, known as a haven from the terrorist violence that plagues the Pakistani hinterland, although it does suffer from frequent, if small, outbursts of violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims living there. Unlike the rest of Pakistan, where Sunnis are the vast majority, the population of Gilgit-Baltistan is split equally between Shias, Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan, and Sunnis.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the self-described Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in retribution for a suspected U.S. drone strike last month that killed Wali ur-Rehman, the second in command of the terrorist group.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Shandur Polo Tournament Postponed Till August 2013

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CHITRAL (Dawn): The three-day Shandur polo festival scheduled to start from July 2 has been postponed till August.

Official sources said that the reason behind postponement of the festival was the deteriorating condition of the road in Gilgit-Baltistan leading to Shandur. They said that the extended rainfall in the area had damaged the road and that could have affected the participation of GB people in the festival.

The hotly-contested polo matches between the teams of Chitral and GB at the highest polo ground of the world was the main event of the festival during which the passions run high as the matches virtually turned into a sort of battle.

The festival is being held regularly for the last three decades on fixed dates from July 7 to 9, but this year the event has been rescheduled. The festival is usually being organised by the district administration, Chitral.

Meanwhile, local people said that early August would the most appropriate time for holding the festival as after that tourists would not come due to cold weather.

Gilgit-Baltistan: SMEDA Proposes Promotion of Trade with China Via GB

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Karachi (Monitoring Desk): Lahore—Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) has proposed promotion of trade with China through Gilgit-Baltistan, with Iran through Quetta, with Afghanistan through Quetta/Peshawar and with India through Lahore for effective implementation of the Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2012-15.

Establishment of special economic zones in the border areas has been proposed as one of the recommendations submitted by SMEDA to the Ministry of Commerce regarding Strategic Trade Policy Framework Supplement 2013-14, a spokesman for SMEDA said here on Tuesday.

The authority also recommended a sector development strategy for logistics to be implemented in collaboration with NTTFC and SMEDA.

In its proposals, SMEDA expressed its support to the Ministry of Commerce for establishing institutional framework announced in STPF 2012-15 for promoting trade and commerce, especially regarding taskforce for facilitating development of e-commerce, leather promotion council, export-import bank and service trade development council.

The Strategic Trade Policy Supplement 2013-14 is being developed as a roadmap for effective implementation of the Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF 2012-15).

Appreciating the comprehensive approach adopted by the Ministry of Commerce, SMEDA expressed SMEs concerns regarding regulations and procedures to avail the announced incentives that are cumbersome as SMEs neither have the time, nor the financial strength to benefit from these incentives at times.

Procedure for exports by SMEs in terms of documentation etc must be simplified vis-a-vis those required by large enterprises and related information should be widely disseminated, he added.

SMEDA has also proposed inclusion of additional monetary concessions, for selected high growth sectors, such as gems & jewellery that may also be included in the list of sectors for which mark-up support of 2% on LTFF on purchase/import of machinery.