Month: September 2013

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Government Plans to Hold Rama Polo Festival in September

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GILGIT (ET): To make up for the Shandur Polo Festival which was earlier cancelled due to recent floods, the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government plans to hold the Rama Polo Festival in September.
The festival is scheduled to be held from September 10 to 12 in Rama, a tourist hotspot in the scenic Astore Valley, about 110 kilometers
from Gilgit.
“Hopefully it will be a success,” said Adviser to Chief Minister on Tourism Sadia Danish on Saturday. “We have to work particularly hard to make it a success especially in the wake of Shandur Polo Festival’s cancellation.”
The Shandur festival was cancelled after both G-B and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) governments mutually decided to not hold the event this year.
The decision was made in light of the damage caused by monsoon rains along with security concerns. The festival, which is usually held in the first week of July, was postponed twice before being scrapped altogether.
To the surprise of the management, women had also attended the Rama Polo Festival held last year. In light of this, special arrangements have been made for them this year. “The management has allocated a separate pavilion for women to sit and enjoy the matches,” said Danish.
Eight polo teams from G-B will be participating in the competition and host district Astore will be allowed to field two teams. A special polo match involving donkeys will also be played between two local teams.
In addition, a Meena Bazaar will also be set up in Rama, allowing local women to display and exhibit traditional handicraft. Danish believes the turnout will be high and tourists not only from G-B but other parts of Pakistan will also attend.

Gilgit-Baltistan: FIA Launched a Crackdown to Ministers Offices

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GILGIT (ET): The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) launched a crackdown against power theft in Gilgit on Thursday, disconnecting illegal connections to some ministers’ offices on the first day.
The crackdown was a part of the federal government’s countrywide drive against power theft.
The FIA task force, led by Deputy Director Babar Khan, first raided Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Education Directorate and cut off illegal connections going to the offices of Education Minister Ali Madad Sher, director colleges and director education.
Sher left his office soon after as the operation was conducted in the presence of the public and media.
According to an official on duty, the illegal connections supported at least 11 air conditioners in the offices.
The team then went to the Public Works Department (PWD) office and severed illegal connections to the offices of G-B Finance Minister Mohammad Ali Akhtar, chief engineer Muhammad Shafie, secretary finance, secretary works and secretary water and power. At least six ACs installed in these offices were being run on illegal power supply.
According to unofficial statistics, power theft incurs a loss of about Rs150 million in G-B every month.
The team plans to continue the drive and extend it to other parts of G-B as well. The crackdown has been welcomed by residents in Gilgit, as the town is suffering from long power breakdowns.
The legislative assembly of G-B, during its last session, strongly criticised the allocation of ‘special electricity lines’ to certain individuals in G-B and asked the government to withdraw this facility to lessen load-shedding.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Representative of German Think Tank Laud Beauty of GB

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LAHORE (Nation): Lauding scenic beauties in Pakistan, a foreign couple has admired the country as one of major tourism industries in the world. Felix Mengel, a representative of a German think tank (European Council on Foreign Relations), and her spouse Marianna from a London-based multilateral bank are on a Pakistan trip. “Pakistan will be one of the best tourism industries, if law and order issue is addressed,” the couple said.
The German couple said, “Pakistan is a unique land with a spectacular northern side. Not a single European mountainous range matches the heights of Himalayas. Gilgit Baltistan, the northernmost entity sandwiched between the Hindukush and Karakoram ranges, is a paradise for tourists. It is the centre where the world’s three famous mountain ranges, the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush meet. The climate of Gilgit Baltistan vary a lot as it is sunny some time and foggy the other moment,” said the couple.
Praising Pakistan, the tourists said, “The fascinating northern Pakistan is a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers, with many of the mountains with height more than 7000m. The presence of more than one hundred peaks with 7,000m height in the Karakoram Range and hundreds of nameless mountains below 6,000 metres are dashing points on the atlas for tourists.”
“Hunza Valley is a worth watching locality in Pakistan that could be considered another heaven. The K2 and Nanga Parbat are the most feared mountains in the world. Their shape, formation, size and colour provide tremendous contrast, which resist human being praising their beauty and description. K2, the undisputed monarch of the sky,” they held.
There are several high-altitude lakes in Gilgit Baltistan. The northern areas of Pakistan are rich in flora and fauna because of varied climatic conditions and ecosystems. Karakoram, connecting Pakistan to China, twists through three huge mountain ranges – the Himalaya, Karakoram and Pamir. The Indus River which covers entire Pakistan  flows northwest, and divides the Himalaya from the Karakoram, before being knocked south by the Hindu Kush. On the other hand, you may come across miles and miles of barren land with rocky mountains.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Chief Secretary Orders Inquiry for Delay of Mega Projects

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GILGIT (ET): The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government on Wednesday took notice of the delay in two major projects in Gilgit.

“Action was taken by G-B Chief Secretary Younas Dhaga after he was flooded with complaints,” an official said. The chief secretary has directed authorities to identify those responsible for the delay.

The latest complaints were lodged by the regional leadership of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who pinpointed projects worth millions, including the construction of the RCC Bridge connecting Gilgit to the Karakoram International University via Zulfiqarabad and repairing the road heading from Public Chowk to Sakwar area were still pending.

“We want a fair investigation on these projects,” said a spokesperson for the PML-N in Gilgit. He also confirmed the party had filed the complaints because it did not trust the regional government.

Dhaga directed the chief minister’s inspection commission to investigate both projects and submit their findings within 10 days. He demanded the findings must identify those responsible for misappropriation and lack of seriousness.

The construction of the RCC Bridge, which was initiated during General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf’s regime, remains incomplete even though those responsible for completing the project have been paid.

Similarly, the contractor awarded the road project also received his payment in advance, but left the work incomplete, which has troubled commuters.

During the G-B Assembly session last Friday, opposition lawmakers raised the issue of corruption with respect to incomplete projects, and requested the chief minister to hold a fair inquiry.

Frustrated by the lack of a proper response, opposition member Nawaz Naji termed the legislature as a ‘fake’ assembly that did not have the powers to address issues of public interest.

“There are so many incomplete projects in G-B, but nobody is willing to take stock of the situation,” said Naji during the last session.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Center Refuses Repaying Foreign Loans Sought for Energy Projects

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ISLAMABAD (ET): The federal government has refused to take on the responsibility for repaying foreign loans being sought by Gilgit-Baltistan for energy projects, raising the specter of a halt to international lending to the autonomous region.
The issue was highlighted in a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) held in mid-August, according to sources.
In an earlier meeting with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for financing two hydroelectric power projects, approved by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), the matter of relending and repayment of loans by the Gilgit-Baltistan government also came up for discussion.
One project is of 26 megawatts that will be developed in Shagharthang, Skardu and another is of 4MW to be constructed in Thack, Chilas.
Gilgit-Baltistan is extremely rich in hydro resources, but electricity generation there is well below the potential. Hydropower projects with foreign financing are a necessity for the region.
Meeting participants told the ECC that the Gilgit-Baltistan government was not in a position to repay foreign loans for the two projects and other foreign-funded projects in the future. Therefore, the government of Pakistan should take on such loans and pave the way for implementation of projects.
They said the region had no financial resources and solely relied on the annual federal grant to finance its development plans and meet non-development expenditures. Gilgit-Baltistan neither has any taxation outlay nor gets any share from the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award.
The revenue from sale of electricity is also meagre because of consumers being mostly domestic, absence of industry and lack of any income-generating activity in the area. The region is also not connected to the national grid.
However, it is developing micro and small hydro power projects to meet its energy needs from the annual grant provided by the federal government.
Gilgit-Baltistan is not a province as per the Constitution of Pakistan. It has been given administrative autonomy through the Self-empowerment and Governance Order (SEGO) 2009.
To resolve the loan issue, government officials approached the Finance Division and Economic Affairs Division for their views, the ECC was told.
According to sources, though the Finance Division had not yet come up with its views, the Economic Affairs Division replied that the two hydro power projects would apparently be a property of Gilgit-Baltistan and they were expected to generate revenues. Consequently, the region should be able to pay off the debt being taken for the construction of the projects.
It would, therefore, be appropriate that the loans were forwarded to the entity that would be operating the projects as per the policy in vogue, it said.
However, in the event that the projects did not, for any reason, produce the required revenues, the government of Pakistan should consider picking up the liability, it said.
It was proposed that these projects should be exempted from the condition of re-lending. The ECC did not approve it.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Lawmakers Urge Taming Troublemakers

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GILGIT (ET): Lawmakers say the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government needs to tame troublemakers before they set off another bloody spate of sectarian violence akin to the one witnessed across the region last year.
Over 70 people lost their lives in sectarian clashes across G-B in 2012, particularly paralysing life in Gilgit, the capital city.
“The government must take measures to nip the evil in the bud,” a member of the G-B Council, Attaullah Shahab said on Tuesday while referring to latest incidents which claimed the lives of a policeman and a civilian in Gilgit.
Police constables Sher Bahadur and Muhammad Bilal were ambushed in Sakwar on August 24 as they were heading to a police training institute. Bahadur died in the hospital while Bilal was critically injured. Half an hour later, a civilian was shot and injured in the same area, as a result of which he later died. Senior police official Ali Zia said both incidents appeared to be incidents of sectarian killing.
Although Gilgit has remained peaceful this year due to the collaborative efforts of the masjid board, peace committees, politicians and law enforcement agencies, the most recent incidents have one again triggered panic.
“If terrorists are not punished, violence would spread to other parts of the region,” Shahab told The Express Tribune, adding attacks on security forces might be a plot to demoralize them and then launch into sectarian violence.
Shahab, who served as adviser to prime minister on G-B in the previous government, urged the incumbent government to investigate the attack on policemen in Gilgit as rigorously as they did the killing of security forces investigating the Nanga Parbat incident in Chilas.
Regional Minister for Works Bashir Ahmed urged residents to dissociate from those fueling sectarian conflict and aim for revival of love and peace between the followers of all sects.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Government & UN Hold Consultations over Development Programmes

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Islamabad (APP): A comprehensive consultation took place on Monday, in collaboration with the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan and the United Nations on the One UN Programme II, a five-year development initiative, developed in partnership with the Government of Pakistan, which was endorsed in December 2012.

The consultation was co-convened by the Planning and Development Department and UN Women Pakistan. Participants included senior government officials from Gilgit Baltistan, legislative assembly representatives, experts from academia, civil society organization representatives, media and the United Nations.

The prioritized areas of synergy and cooperation between the United Nations and the Government of GB, as well as the eleventh Five Year Development Programme were discussed. Key areas included sustainability, inclusive location specific development measures aimed at boosting institutional capacity, increased resource mobilization and extended reach to the most marginalized segments of population.

At the opening of the consultation, the Minister for the Planning and Development Department, Mr. Raja Mohammad Azam Khan, highlighted that the UN had the potential and comparative advantage to work with the Government of GB as a strategic partner to achieve national development and progress on the Millennium Development Goals. He recognized and acknowledged the fact that numerous development interventions under the umbrella of UN had been instrumental in bringing about positive changes and for improving the social indicators of GB.

He aspired for the government of GB to engage with the UN in the formulation of the next five-year plan for greater synergy and impact. The Deputy Representative, Officer in Charge of UN Women Pakistan, Ms. Sangeeta Thapa stated that while the United Nations system continued to be a close partner of the Gilgit Government in its development endeavors, there was still much scope for the idening of their growing partnership.

She expressed her immense gratitude to the government of GB and the participants, whose inputs she maintained would be crucial in further refining of the One United Nations development assistance to the province. Furthermore, she announced that UN would be working with the Planning and Development Department in setting up a Steering Committee to provide oversight for the implementation of the OPII interventions in the Gilgit Baltistan. The consultation concluded with a joint declaration to further enhance the commitment of working together on mutual development priorities.