Month: October 2013
ISLAMABAD (ET): The Senate Standing Committee on Interior asked the federal government to constitute a special task force to enhance security for workers engaged in constructing several world-class economic zones in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
The Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2012-15 worth hundreds of billions of dollars will promote G-B, Pakistan’s northernmost territory, as a significant economic zone, for which Islamabad was working with Beijing.
The Senate committee also asked the government for increasing security for the Karakoram Highway, bordering areas with China, and the Wakhan Corridor. China also offers to cooperate with Pakistan to set up proper security near the Xinjiang area. However, the government told the Senate panel that it lacked financial resources to do the needful.
“We must upgrade our security system in G-B, Pakistan’s next economic hub,” Senate Standing Committee on Interior Chairman Talha Mahmood said.
Meanwhile, G-B Scouts Director General Brig Babar Alauddin has requested for more manpower to confront security challenges to fulfill Pakistan’s hopes of converting Gwadar and G-B into the new economic face of South Asia by 2025.
“Although Karakoram Taskforce, G-B Scouts and Punjab Rangers are delivering, there are serious security threats to Chinese workers and we have to pick up this issue seriously,” he observed during the meeting.
The Senate Committee has also recommended deployment of proper security at Kashgar-Gwadar corridor – a 2,000-kilometre transport link connecting Kashgar in northwest China to the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan.
The senators also expressed concerns over the poor manpower of G-B Scouts and other civilian law enforcement forces deployed in these areas.
Senate committee chairman Talha Mahmood also advised G-B Scouts to stop smuggling of drugs from India and China, but did not explain how drug dealers were running this notorious business.
Brig Babar informed the committee that majority of criminals involved in the Nanga Parbat tragedy had been arrested, and apprised that the federal government has established more check posts in remote G-B areas.
Senator Najma Hameed surprised fellow parliamentarians when she recommended imposition of taxes on those who smuggled drugs and poppy to China. “If drug smuggling cannot be stopped, some extra taxes on smugglers should be levied,” she remarked to everyone’s surprise.
ISLAMABAD (SANA): Senate Standing Committee on Interior Affairs has directed Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan for preparing draft for making law regarding the scouts of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The committee was informed that no arms were purchased for the FC during the two years and committee was also informed that the same group was involved in the terrorist incidents in Nagabarbat and Babusar and seven members of the group have so far been arrested.
The committee directed the interior ministry for in-camera briefing, in view of the involvement of the foreign hands in the terrorist incidents.
The committee also recommended for meeting all the requirements of the FC deployed in the area of kohistan for effective security measures in the areas.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Talha Mehmood made it clear that in the tenure of the previous government 120 illegal licences were issued to the Americans on the letter of the US ambassador to Pakistan, saying that he has the copy of the letter and other evidences in this regard.
Gilgit (Dard.Times): The 5th and 6th joint convocation of Karakuram International University held here in the main campus of the University. Pir Karam Ali Shah, Governor Gilgit-Baltistan deigned give away degrees to the graduates. The convocation started around 10 A.M and it looked all crimson and blue as the graduates seated in the convocation gowns.
About 800 graduates were awarded degrees upon successfully completing their under- graduate and graduate programs. The governor congratulated the graduates and, with that, reminded them of the greater role that a graduate caries on his shoulders.
‘I extend my heartfelt congratulation to all the graduates at this happy occasion and I hope you realize the profound role upon your shoulders to ignite the spirit of peace, prosperity and constructiveness. You are the one who can become the agents of change for a better future and you are the one to build your society” Karam Ali Shah said.
The governor specifically spoke about the law and order situation in Gilgit. He urged the students to play a role to end racism, sectarianism and discriminatory practices in the society.
The VC of the University, Dr. Najma Najam also congratulated the graduates. She expressed her optimism that her students, for sure, be responsible citizens and future leaders. She said that the University is striving to provide quality education to the students at their door-steps despite considerable challenges. She said that steps are being taken to expand scope of programs in order to accommodate maximum career options.
The VC told that the University is in the process of starting law, Fine Arts and Engineering departments quite soon.
The governor awarded more than 30 Gold and silver medals to the high performing graduates. The graduates finished their studies in the fields of Business Management, Linguistics, Social and Natural Sciences.
The University campus was filled with faces smiling, hopeful and confident. This scribe got a chance to speak with Muhammad Karim, a business graduate who runs his own community school, to know about his feelings.
“Man, I am delighted to be called a graduate. KIU was a great experience and I am proud to be its student. I am sure my degree would definitely help me in my practical life.” He said.
Karakorum International University is the only University in Gilgit-Baltistan established during Musharaf regime in 2002. It has two campuses with more than 2500 students and 150 faculty members. The university has 15 academic departments along with a Professional Development Center (PDC) and an Early Childhood Development Center.
GILGIT (ET): The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) swept the by-elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), claiming both G-B legislative assembly seats contested in the polls held on Sunday. Two seats in the Baltistan region – G-BLA 9 Skardu-3 and G-BLA 23 Ghanche-2 – were rendered vacant this year after former law minister Wazir Shakeel became a judge and Maulana Abdul passed away.
According to unofficial results, Fida Nashad of PML-N won the polls in G-BLA 9 Skardu-3 by securing 8,391 votes, followed by All Pakistan Muslim League’s (APML) Abbas Mosavi, who bagged 2,528 votes. The total number of registered voters was 231,669 in the constituency, whereas turnover stood at 50%. Polling was held in 55 polling stations in the constituency.
Interestingly, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) did not field its candidate for G-BLA 9 Skardu-3, which was once considered to be a stronghold of the party. Skardu is also the home-town of Chief Minister Mehdi Shah, who is the president of PPP’s G-B chapter.
In G-BLA 23 Ghanche-2, PML-N candidate Sultan Ali secured 4,207 votes, while his opponent Ghulam Hussain of PPP bagged 3,764 votes. Haji Muhammad Iqbal, an independent, obtained over 3,300 votes. The total number of registered voters was 25,000 and polling took place in 48 stations.
PML-N’s victory in the by-elections in G-B is said to be a major blow to the PPP, which has just completed four years of its government in the region amid a flurry of accusations regarding corruption and mismanagement.
Regional president of PML-N, Hafizur Rahman termed his party’s victory in the by-polls the “dawn of a new era in G-B.” Talking to The Express Tribune, Rahman said: “The results are reflective of the people’s wishes of wanting to get rid of PPP.”
He hoped his party will achieve similar success in the general elections due to be held across G-B by the end of next year
GILGIT (ET): Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) Supreme Appellate Court Bar Association on Wednesday passed a resolution demanding the implementation of a Supreme Court judgment in the Al-Jehad Trust case.
In the May 1999 judgment of the Al-Jehad Trust vs Federation case, the apex court directed the federal government to ensure the constitutional rights of G-B’s residents within the next six months.
“The existing governance order called ‘Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009’ is in violation of the Supreme Court’s directives as it has curtailed powers previously delegated under the Governance Order, 1994,” said Advocate Shehbaz Khan who chaired the meeting of the bar association. Held in the bar room, the meeting was also attended by office bearers and executive committee members.
Participants noted under the Governance Order 1994, the regional government had powers over revenue-generating resources of G-B, including forests and minerals among others. They claimed that under the current setup, these powers have been taken from the elected representatives and assigned to the G-B Council, which is headed by the prime minister. The council comprises 12 members, including six from G-B and six from the federal government.
Much to their dismay, G-B’s elected representatives lack the authority to amend the 2009 order. “The present governance system is a willful attempt to violate the Supreme Court’s orders,” claimed Shehbaz.
Members complained Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif overlooked their demands forwarded to him in May through the Ministry of Kashmir and G-B Affairs, asking the premier to address the matter during the government’s first 100 days.
The meeting also voiced concern over delays in establishing administrative courts and service court tribunal in G-B. Moreover, it called for appointing more judges in G-B’s Supreme Appellate Court to clear the backlog of cases as requested earlier by the apex court.
Other demands included the appointment of local lawyers on two vacant posts for judges in G-B’s Chief Court and a ban on contractual appointments for the posts
By Izhar Hunzai
The wheat subsidy system under the Civil Supply Act was extended to GB in the 1990s as an important component of Pakistan’s social safety net, helping to protect the poor against food shortages in these remote areas. Since the establishment of this subsidy, no significant effort has been made to evaluate the efficacy, cost efficiency and positive or negative impacts of this program. The new government is under tremendous pressure from Pakistan’s creditors to remove all subsidies. A sudden removal of this subsidy, which has deeply distorted markets and altered food production systems in GB, will trigger a new crisis in this already volatile and vulnerable area.
A White Elephant
The Department of Agriculture has estimated that this highly subsidized program costs close to PKR 1.5 billion per annum, which translates into a general subsidy of about PKR 15,000 on a per capita basis, or PKR 75,000 for a family of seven members. If the urban population of GB is excluded from this calculation, this subsidy amounts to even higher. This constitutes a huge part of the resources allocated to GB by the Federal Government. However, much of this huge subsidy is a huge white elephant as more than half of this amount is leaked from the system through corruption. If we include wastage, low quality, distortion of local markets and production systems, the benefits are even fewer compared to the high cost.
It is clear that the current system of procuring large amounts of grain from the plains of Punjab, transporting it all the way to remote corners of GB, storing it at various locations and administering and monitoring a large distribution network is highly inefficient. It serves neither the interest of the Government nor the poor families for whom this subsidy is intended. A careful revamping of this large and untargeted subsidy can result in real benefits.
While a proper study is needed to fully assess the flaws of the current system and to suggest alternative ways to ensure food security for the poorest and the needy, this summary presents a number of quick options to reform this wasteful program in its current form.
Alternatives to Reform this System
Food vouchers – Giving power to the beneficiary
The current cumbersome system can be replaced by a simple food voucher scheme for the poorest households, who are roughly estimated be 25% of the population. A one-time survey can be conducted in each UC with the help of LSOs and the local Zakat Committees, to identify those who live below the poverty line. These vouchers would be redeemable at private shops. The shop owners can exchange the collected vouchers for cash through easy paisa. The availability of ‘food purchasing power’ in remote rural arras will stimulate food production and rural food markets will sprout.
The food vouchers can be classified into two income categories: Red Vouchers for the most vulnerable with income less than half of the poverty line, and Yellow Vouchers for those who are just below the poverty line, which is PKR 8,800 per year. The red Vouchers would be valued at PKR 5,000, while the yellow vouchers can carry a face value of PKR 3,000, and can be given once a year.
Even if people trade these vouchers for cash to pay for other needs, such as the education of their children, it would not matter much because these are poor people, and it would still be part of the state’s social safety net.
This approach would also help minimize the growing problem of unemployment, and even provide an opportunity for women to engage in self-employment in their own villages. The food vouchers could cover not just wheat, but a “basket” of food items for a balanced diet, including maize, potatoes, and honey produced in surplus in GB, which is difficult to market in down country, thus creating a beneficial effect on local agricultural production and income. Once the survey is conducted and the poorest of the poor are identified, the cost of administering and monitoring this system would be minimum.
The total cost of subsidizing access to food in this manner would be only a fraction of the current cost, considering an average subsidy of PKR 4,000 for 25,000 families believed to be below the poverty line in GB. In this option, there is flexibility to increase the average level of subsidy or increase the number of households served, or even add other needs, such as primary education.
This would do away with the hugely inefficient government procurement, storage and distribution operations. The storage infrastructure can be leased out to local companies for storing potato seed, which is a major constraint, thus generating revenue for the government. The savings in the annual budget in this sector in one year alone would be more than enough to make generous severance payments to redundant civil supply employees, thus reducing annual recurring budget for the government. Moreover, the resulting competition among shops to attract these vouchers from consumers would minimize irregularities: customers with food stamps would visit shops that did not impose illicit fees or shortchange customers on either quantity or quality.
The system can effectively address the diversion of supplies and curb the losses during transportation.
Increasing local production of wheat
The government can make a five-year plan to remove the subsidy in three stages. In the first two years, Rs. 500 million should be given, each to a) food vouchers, b) agricultural research and extension and, c) for expanding landholdings through irrigation and land development schemes. In 3-4 years the funding for funding for land expansion can be phased out, and in year five food vouchers can be withdrawn, after a proper survey.
As referred to earlier, there are local and better nutritional alternatives to the mite-infested wheat procured from down country and transported on a 1000 km journey. These include meat, maize, buckwheat, potatoes and honey, which are nutritionally superior, and locally produced in significant quantities. Poor people are adaptable to a slight change in nutritional habits, which would require a small additional effort.
Lahore (PT): Young representatives from Gilgit-Baltistan participated in the 4th National Youth Peace Festival 2013 (NYPF), held in Lahore from 26th to 28th of September.
The festival was arranged by Chanan Development Association (CDA) in collaboration with Karachi Youth Initiative (KYI), Y-PEER, USAID and United Democracy Fund (UNDEF). Six hundred and forty delegates had participated representing Gilgit-Baltistan, FATA, PATA, Karachi, Punjab, Peshawar, Azad Kashmir, Malir, Sawat and Islamabad territory.
On the first day there were different sessions like workshop, seminar and question answer sessions. The situation of FATA, PATA and Karachi was the especial concern of the first day. The TV programs “Sawal hai Pakistan Ka” by Rizwan Jafar and “Democracy and Peace’’ by Kamran Shahid were also recorded. Later on, AAJ News and Duniya News broadcast recorded programs. Guests from various parties played an important role in making the sessions successful.
On second day many renowned achiever, like Samina Baig and Mirza Ali from Gilgit-Baltistan, Saima, a swimmer who has participated in swimming competitions globally, and the late wiz kid, Arfa karim’s, mother attended the festival and shared their experiences. Workshops and presentations on different topics like Peer Education, Peace and Democracy were also held, followed by a cultural night in which regional colours of Pakistan were represented.
On the last day, scholars from various Universities of Punjab delivered presentations on peace, harmony, democracy and governance. Youth package of PM Nawaz Sharif was also discussed. Later, certificates were distributed among the delegates and souvenirs were also presented to the volunteers, who helped make the event successful.
After the three days festival the youth came to the conclusion that Pakistan needs peace, good governance, strong foreign policy and eradication of poverty, inflation, cultural discrimination, sectarianism, suicide attacks and terrorism. Theses all can be possible only and only through education. There should be seminars for youth in different provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. There focus must be on dialogue between youth belonging to diversified backgrounds of culture, religion and ethnicity. These should preach inter-faith, acceptance of diversity and inter-cultural harmony and peace to cope with regionalism, extremism, conflicts and discrimination.