Month: August 2013

Gilgit-Baltistan: Policeman and a Civilian Shot in Gilgit

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GILGIT (Dawn): A police official from an elite force and a civilian were shot dead in separate incidents of violence in Gilgit city, senior administration and police officials said.

“One police official and one civilian was killed by unidentified people,” Deputy Commissioner Gilgit Shahbaz Nadim Bhatti said.

Earlier, Superintendent of Police, District Gilgit Muhammad Ali Zia said two police officials were hit by unknown people in Sakwar point of Gilgit city when they were returning to a police recruit training center.

“A motor bike chased the policemen and targeted them at Sakwar with pistols after which the attackers escaped,” a junior police official said requesting not to be named.

The injured policemen were shifted instantly to the City Hospital Gilgit and health authorities operated upon them. However one police official succumbed to his injuries, while another was in critical condition.

Police identified the deceased policeman as Sher Bahadur while the hospitalized policeman’s name is Muhammad Bilal.

Within a short time of this incident, armed men opened fire in old PIA Link Road shooting and injuring two people who were taken to DHQ Hospital where one of them later died.

The other injured person was being treated and doctors hoped he would recover as his condition was stable.

District Magistrate Shahbaz Nadeem Bhatti told that it was not possible to ascertain the motives behind the two incidents.

“We are looking into the incidents.. whether they are linked with ongoing terrorism in the country.

“we received a threat alert that government officials particularly policemen could be hit or there could be sectarian motivated violence,” he said.

Bhatti added that investigators were interrogating the matter.

He said raids are being conducted in the town for the potential suspects.

Earlier, security was tightened in the city as several new checkpoints were set up in the city while vehicles were being searched for weapons after a terror alert was conveyed from the Crisis Management Cell of the interior minister.

After the incidents of violence, security in the city was further beefed up as patrolling by law enforcement agencies was enhanced and police contingents were deployed at sensitive parts of the city.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Precious Stones are Imported Back to Pakistan After Value Addition, CEO Rupani Foundation

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GILGIT (ET): A new project for Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) gemstone industry was inaugurated in Hunza valley on Saturday.
‘Technology Transfer and Skill Development in Gems Sector’ is a two-year project funded specifically by Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund of USAID and will be executed by Rupani Foundation, a non-governmental organisation working for socio-economic development in the mountainous regions of South Asia.
“It’s a good initiative and we hope people will benefit from it,” G-B Assembly Speaker Wazir Baig said while speaking at the inauguration ceremony in Aliabad, Hunza.
The first gemstone mine in Gilgit was discovered in 1951. Since then, locals have been engaged in exploration, extraction and exploitation activities albeit informally.
According to estimates, there are over 60 different types of precious and semi-precious stones, with more than 8,000 people involved in artisanal mining. This is why G-B is considered a ‘treasure trove’ of gemstones with ruby, emerald, topaz, aquamarine, sapphire, and tourmaline said to be in abundance.

“It is aimed at creating jobs with special focus on skill development among women and poor people.” said Chief Executive Rupani Foundation Jalaluddin while sharing details about the project. “It will increase the mobility of women and access to cash income.”
Two well-equipped training centres with state-of-the-art machinery have been set up in Chitral and Hunza valley where a Sri Lankan master trainer will train 20 others – 10 from Chitral and Hunza each. After graduating from the six-month course, these master trainers will further train 10 individuals each during the next six months, taking the total number of professionals to 200.
Jalaluddin explained the best lot of trainers will be provided cutting machines, which people will use to work from home or training centres. “This way the centres will gradually turn into semi-workshops and facilitate individuals who want to work in the field,” he added.
According to Jalaluddin, Pakistan has not been able to benefit from its natural resources due to lack of skills, technology, knowledge of processing mining material and then taking it to national and international markets.
He emphasised on immediate intervention to develop expertise in cutting and polishing gems, capacity to make products locally and, finally, linking them to the correct markets.
“With appropriate value addition skills such as the right cuts and finishing of gemstones, the sector has immense potential to contribute to the country’s economy,” said Rupani’s chief.
He added precious and semi-precious stones are presently sold for a fraction of their actual price through middlemen in Peshawar, and then exported to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and European countries. “Interestingly, the same stones are imported back into Pakistan after value additions,” said Jalaluddin.

Gilgit-Baltistan: New Management At Sost Dry Port Amid New Agreements with China

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GILGIT (ET): A new management has taken over the affairs of Silk Route Dry Port Trust in Gilgit – Baltistan (G-B) where elections were held after almost five years.
As per the law, elections for key posts in the port trust are to be held every three years.
In the elections held last week, Zafar Iqbal was elected chairperson of the trust as he bagged 155 votes out of 281 votes cast, replacing Afsar. Iqbal is a bureaucrat who has also served as head of government-sponsored Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) for several years and turned it into a profitable venture. Darvesh Ali, on the other hand, followed with 119 votes for the same post.
Abdul Rauf has been elected vice chairperson while 11 directors were also elected.
Located in Sost town of Gojal valley, the importance of Silk Route Dry Port has doubled due to agreements signed recently by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in China for projects like a railway track connecting China with Pakistan via GB.
“It is a good omen that elections were finally held and a competent body came into existence,” said Fazal Rabbani, a trader from Sost, the last town before China’s border along Karakoram Highway [KKH].
“We are thankful for the confidence reposed in us by the voters and we will try to come up to their expectations,” the newly-elected chairman said in his victory speech.
Iqbal has announced to serve the port without any compensation and has asked others not to join his team if they cannot offer their services voluntarily.
More than 340 shareholders are registered voters, but many people could not exercise the right to vote as they were out of town. Each share starts from Rs10,000.
Also known as Sost Dry Port Trust, the building was constructed in 2005 with financial assistance from China. Due to heavy snowfall at Khunjerab top, trade with China remains suspended from December to May every year and the port remains deserted during that time.
The former chief executive of G-B, Mir Ghazanfar Ali became its first chairman who was replaced by Afsar, after a legal and political battle against the latter and his family in 2008.
Besides internal politics and non-professional handling of the port, Attabad Lake in Hunza has also affected Pak-China trade as more than 25 kilometers of KKH is still under water.
Rabbani, however, believes proper drainage of Attabad Lake will help restore the volume of trade with China that was once over a billion rupees per year but has plunged to about Rs250-300 million per year.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Ex PM Responsible of Delay in Construction of DBD

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GILGIT (ET): Former Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was subjected to much criticism in the Gilgit – Baltistan (G-B) Assembly on Friday as treasury benches held him responsible for the delay in the construction of the Diamer – Bhasha Dam.
“It is the former premier who diverted funds for the dam in G-B to his constituency just to woo voters before the general elections,” said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Syed Raziuddin on a point of order in the house as the proceedings entered their fifth day.
“He did it as if it was his personal money and he had the authority to use it for whatever he wished,” added Raziuddin, who has recently joined PPP.
Opposition leader Janbaz Khan also accused Ashraf of spending Rs15 billion – the cost of the dam – in his constituency during the election campaign.

“Much of the work would have been completed if the government had the funds at its disposal,” said Khan, a resident of Diamer valley, where the dam is under construction.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazal (JUI-F) legislator Rahmat Khaliq went a step further in criticising the former prime minister, whose last days in the office saw approval of the controversial ‘forest policy’ for G-B, and said he must be answerable for all this.
Speaker of the assembly Wazir Baig said it is hoped that now the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) government in the centre would settle the issue.
As the proceedings progressed, PPP lawmaker from Ghizer valley Ayub Shah drew attention to the sale of drugs without doctors’ prescription.
“Young people have become addicted to drugs which are openly available in the market,” said Shah, asking the government to impose a ban on the sale of such items without doctors’ prescription.
Another lawmaker Nawaz Naji seconded Shah and added that the use of narcotic drugs is also common in Ghizer valley and police has rather “diligently” helped smugglers in the past.
Upon hearing these statements, Baig asked the house to make a legislation that declares this practice illegal.

Gilgit-Baltistan:GB Assembly Condemns LoC Aggression

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GILGIT (Geo): Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly on Friday adopted unanimous resolution, condemning Indian aggression at Line of Control, Geo News reported.

The resolution was presented by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) member assembly Sheeri Fatima.

The resolution stated that India was responsible for aggression at Line of Control.

It also paid rich tribute to the Pakistanis, martyred at LoC by Indian unprovoked firing and mortal shelling.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Assembly Rejects Ban Imposed on Recruitment by Federal Govt.

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GILGIT (ET): Lawmakers in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Assembly unanimously rejected a ban on recruitment imposed by the federal government terming it ‘against the interest of the region’.
“G-B is a new province and thus has to make its own decision in running government affairs,” said Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl lawmaker Rahmat Khaliq. Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) legislator Mirza Hussain and Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Syed Raziuddin also endorsed the idea, requesting the speaker to declare the federal government’s order null and void.
Lawmakers said since the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh assemblies have already passed judgment against the ban, G-B should follow suit.
Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed, who conducted the third day’s proceedings in the absence of Speaker Wazir Baig, asked all lawmakers to raise their hands for a vote.
The majority, including Opposition Leader Janbaz Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, were in support of rejecting the ban. The deputy speaker then declared the federal government’s decision invalid and asked the cabinet to continue their business as per routine.
Nawaz Khan Naji, an opposition bench lawmaker, raised the issue of tax collection, claiming G-B was not getting its due share from the taxes collected by the centre from mineral, tourism and power sectors of the region. PML-Q’s Mirza Hussain also vehemently demanded that revenue collected from G-B should be returned.
Minister of Taxation Muhammad Naseer Khan said he was not aware of the situation, adding he would inform the house after speaking to concerned authorities.
The response triggered a sharp reaction from the opposition benches who asked the ‘ignorant’ minister to resign.
Earlier Raziuddin and Rahmat Khaliq voiced concern over Karakoram International University Vice Chancellor Dr Najma Najam’s position claiming she should be terminated as she does not have the confidence of the students and faculty. They proposed a male VC for the post.
The remarks provoked women lawmakers in the house who appealed against the request, calling it ‘gender discrimination’.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB has Enormous Potential of Hydroelectric Power

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Gilgit (ET): Energy is, perhaps, the only context in which Punjab can be described as the relatively poor province. Sindh and Balochistan have abundant hydrocarbon reserves and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan have enormous potential for producing hydroelectric power. That leaves poor old Punjab reliant on imported primary energy. During the previous administration, the PML-N had the luxury of blaming Islamabad for the province’s energy shortages. But now, with the PML-N in power in the federal capital, the Punjab PML-N no longer has an excuse.
So, it is a welcome sign that the Punjab government has announced measures to attract investment in coal and alternative energy sources that are expected to produce up to 350 megawatts of electricity. On the energy front, at least, the Nawaz Administration really does appear keen on making the best of the resources and authority now available to it. One might think that, given voter frustration about the chronic power crisis, such measures would merely be the logical political choice. Alas, not all parties think this way.
For five years, the PPP-led coalition governments both at the centre and in Sindh made absolutely no progress on extracting the supposedly vast coal reserves in Thar. Why they did not do so remains a mystery.
While the Sindh government continues to sleep on vast hydrocarbon reserves — not just coal, but also 50 per cent of Pakistan’s oil and 71 per cent of the nation’s gas — Punjab is moving on to newer technologies, including two projects that will generate a combined 140 megawatts of solar electricity, in what would be the first major solar power project in the country.
Politicians in Sindh must realise that, while their grievances may have been true in decades past, Punjab’s wealth today is reliant not on stealing resources from other provinces, but making the best of what it has. We hope, for the sake of the residents of Sindh, that they realise this soon.

Gilgit-Baltistan:Stay Order Stalls Decision to Abolish Wheat Dealership

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GILGIT (ET): A court in Gilgit has stayed the government’s decision to replace the existing system of wheat distribution through dealers in the region.
The stay orders came on Saturday after some politicians and wheat dealers filed a petition in the Gilgit civil court challenging the government’s decision to abolish ‘dealerships’ for wheat distribution in the market and replace it by ‘sale points’.
“It’s our victory, a victory of the aggrieved families,” petitioner Hasan Khan said on Sunday. Khan is a senior leader of former president Pervez Musharraf’s party – the All Pakistan Muslim League – in G-B.
On the directives of Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and G-B Barjees Tahir, the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) administration had announced ‘sale points’ will replace dealerships. In a meeting held earlier this week, Chief Secretary Mohammad Younus Dagha decided 70 sale points will be set up in Gilgit to replace dealers. These would be supervised by the food department and village committees to ensure a smooth supply of wheat to the public.
The move came on the back of the minister’s maiden visit in July. Tahir was hounded by allegations of mass corruption in the dealership system; critics termed it a “goldmine” for politicians.
Talking to journalists, Tahir had wondered why G-B had more than 50 flour mills given the mountainous region’s capacity to produce wheat is very low. In addition, he pointed out, the federal government had been supplying two million wheat bags to G-B on subsidised rates since some time.
Under the dealerships system, listed vendors across G-B have a wheat quota from flour mills to sell it forward at a fixed price.
However, after the decision of doing away with the dealership system, authorities failed to set up any ‘sale points’. As a result, a wheat crisis started brewing in the region.
“We are sure the court’s decision will end the crisis now,” said Khan. The court has summoned the G-B food department and the aggrieved dealers to the next hearing, scheduled for Friday.
The dealers had earlier threatened to protest against the government if the dealership system was not restored.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Shandur Polo Festival Cancelled

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GILGIT (ET): After all the delays and deliberation over the Shandur Polo Festival, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has finally decided not to hold the event this year.
“This has been officially decided and the festival has been cancelled,” confirmed Ghizer valley’s Deputy Commissioner Sibtain Ahmed on Saturday.
The move comes days after the K-P government contemplated holding the event from August 24-26 as suggested by the G-B government. “The decision has been taken in light of the destruction caused by floods, mainly in K-P,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
He said Malakand division was one of the areas severely affected by floods triggered by monsoon rains this summer. The annual festival had to be postponed earlier as a major road linking G-B to Chitral was blocked, suspending traffic between the two regions.
Gilgit’s senior administration official, Zafar Taj said organisers from K-P recently visited Shandur Top to see whether the area was still suitable for playing polo at 3,700 meters. “It was okay for the festival as far as availability of water in the channels was concerned,” said Taj, referring to the water that will be required for the thousands of spectators who come to watch the festival.
Apart from the devastation caused by floods, security concerns are also believed to be a potential factor in cancelling the festival. “Obviously K-P and now G-B are under threat from terrorists,” said DIG Ali Sher recently after gunmen shot dead three security officials investigating the murder of foreign tourists at Nanga Parbat base camp in June.
Shandur is the world’s highest polo ground where teams from G-B and Chitral play polo in its original form as it was played in the early 20th century. The festival attracts nearly 10,000 people including celebrities and public figures each year. It also boasts of folk music and dance, in addition to a camping village.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Pak-China Joint Venture of Road & Rail Links to Boost Trade & Tourism

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Islamabad (APP): The modern road and rail link between Pakistan and China will not only help boost trade and industrial activity in the region but will also help in promoting tourism in Pakistan, especially in Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and coastal areas of Makran.
Pakistan and China have recently agreed to establish an economic corridor between Kashgar in China and Gwadar in Pakistan.
This $18 billion joint venture will include road and rail links passing through the mighty Karakorum and Himalayas in the northern Pakistan.
Elaborating the importance of this link for boosting fragile tourism industry in the country, President Sustainable Tourism Foundation Aftab Rana told APP that this road and rail route will pass through the most spectacular mountain ranges where we have world renowned high mountain peaks, glaciers and beautiful valleys.
He said improved accessibility created through this modern road and rail network will also attract large number of tourists from across the globe and especially from China which has already achieved the No 1 position in outbound tourism market in the world with over 70 million Chinese travelling abroad each year.
Aftab Rana said especially the rail route along the Karakorum Highway has great potential to become one of the top 10 rail journeys in the world because of the incredible landscape value of this region.
Similarly the railway link between Kashgar and Gwadar passing through the mighty Karakuram will defiantly attract millions of tourists, foreign as well as domestic, he added.
He urged that while planning this rail link, the government should also pay special attention to develop the areas along the route with the tourism point of view.
“While developing tourism industry along this rail link, other businesses such as hotels, restaurants, transport, handicrafts, shopping, local recreational resorts and local entrepreneurs get simultaneously boosted and create thousands of new jobs and income generating opportunities for common people,” he said.
He suggested that tourist destinations in Gilgit-Baltistan should be specially focused in the near future.
This railway network will not only play a key role in the economic uplift of our country but will also open doors of prosperity for the people of remote mountainous areas giving boost to our sluggish tourism industry.