Month: May 2014

Gilgit-Baltistan: Transporters End 5 Days Wheel Jam Strike Against Convoy System

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MANSEHRA (Dawn): Transporters ended the five-day wheel-jam strike against the ‘convoy system’ after the Kohistan administration accepted their majors demands.“The convoy earlier consisted of 70 vehicles but now it will be of four vehicles. If both the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan governments agree, the current convoy system could be abolished,” Deputy Commissioner of Kohistan Syed Mohammad Shah told a jirga, where local elders and transporters from both the regions were in attendance.

He said representatives of transporters would meet Deputy Inspector General of Hazara police Akhtar Hayat Gandapur shortly to apprise him of their problems for necessary action. District Police Officer Akbar Ali, who was also in attendance, said the government and police knew by and large, people of Kohistan strictly followed the law and had never been involved in terrorist activities. He said miscreants from Derail and Tangir areas on the border between Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were behind attacks on passenger buses and coaches.

The DPO said if the Gilgit-Baltistan government took responsibility for the passengers’ security on Karakoram Highway in areas under its jurisdiction, then the convoy system could be ended in Kohistan. Speaking on the occasion, president of Kohistan transporters body Gul Khan said transporters were ending their wheel jam strike on the announcement made by the Kohistan deputy commissioner. “The convoy system is not ended completely but it is an encouraging sign that now the convoy will comprise four vehicles to the relief of passengers and transporters alike,” he said.

Mr Gul said the struggle for the end of convoy system would continue though legal means. He warned the district administration that if it didn’t fulfil its commitments, transporters would go on the wheel jam strike again.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB not Given Political and Administrative Rights, Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights

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GILGIT (Dawn): Members of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday urged the federal government to give full administrative and financial powers to Gilgit-Baltistan to improve governance in the region. Addressing a press conference here on Tuesday, the committee’s chairman Afarsiab Khattak said that Pakistan’s economic future depended on uplift of Gilgit-Baltistan. He said construction of railway track between Pakistan and China through Karakuram Highway was important. Mr Khattak said that during the three-day visit, the committee members interacted with social and political representatives and held meetings with different religious and ethnic groups and got their input about improving human rights situation in the region. He said that the committee observed that the GB was not given the political and administrative rights envisioned in the Gilgit-Baltistan Governance and Self-Rule Order, 2009.

He said Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly was not entrusted with powers, and the decision making rested with the federal government and the GB Council. He said people of GB had to go to Islamabad to get even petty issues resolved. He said the GB governor was a representative of the ministry of Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan rather than of the president. “We have received complaints that people face problems in court matters; no labour laws exist in region and due to absence of a grid station, the people face electricity shortage,” he noted.

The Senate committee chairman noted that if GB was a disputed territory then it should be given an autonomous status as given to AJK, and if it was part of Pakistan then it should be given status of a province with its representatives in the Senate and National Assembly. He said the committee would table a resolution in Senate calling for provision of all rights to the people of GB. Speaking on the occasion, Senator Farhatullah Babar said political reforms were needed in GB and that the region’s legislative assembly needed to be made a powerful institution. He added the committee would raise the issue in the Senate. The senators also attended GBLA proceedings on Tuesday. Mushahid Hussain Syed, Hidyatullah, Nasreen Jalil, Sahar Kamran, Khalida Masood, Farhat Abbas and Soryya Ameerudin were also part of the delegation

Gilgit-Baltistan: Project to Enhance Quality of Various Fruits in GB

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GILGIT (ET): A recently initiated project aims to increase the quality and production of various fruits of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). “We have launched separate courses for apple, potato and apricot farming so farmers can better understand how to increase their yield,” said Muhammad Irfan, the project’s coordinator, while talking to journalists in Gilgit.

In this connection, renowned experts have been invited to train farmers in Ghizer, Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar and Bagrote – areas with comparatively better climatic conditions and potential for increased yield of fruits.

The project has been launched by Star Farm Pakistan, an agro-consultancy firm, with the support of USAID’s Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Programme, to improve quality and increase production of G-B’s key fruit species. “The soil here is fertile and best suited for mass production,” said Irfan, adding the produce can be increased considerably by helping farmers with technicalities.
Every year, a considerable volume of apple, potato and apricot is transported from G-B to other cities for export. However, a lack of modern techniques, incomplete utilisation of available resources and restricted market access are some of the obstacles farmers face in G-B.
The project would also help farmers improve packaging of fruits to link them with national and international markets. “We are sure this initiative will improve production as well as the economic condition of locals associated with farming,” said Irfan.

Gilgit-Baltistan: People of GB Feeling Sense of Alienation

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Gilgit (Dawn): THE ongoing popular protests that have roiled Gilgit-Baltistan over the past 10 days are reflective of the growing sense of alienation the region’s people are beginning to feel. Thousands have taken to the streets in various towns of GB, with major sit-ins taking place in Gilgit and Skardu. The ostensible trigger for the protests was the recent withdrawal of the wheat subsidy, which has sent prices of the essential food item spiralling in the underdeveloped region. However, the demonstrations, organised under the banner of the Awami Action Committee, an umbrella group bringing together over 20 political, religious and nationalist parties, are about more than just the price of wheat. The protesters have issued a charter of nine demands, which range from reduction in the prices of other basic items to bringing down load-shedding. The demonstrations are also being seen as a manifestation of popular frustration with the regional government for alleged corruption, especially in the GB education department, where jobs were reportedly doled out through questionable means. It is also noteworthy that protests have cut across sectarian and sub-regional lines, as both the Shia and Sunni communities are participating and people from all districts in the region are marching for their demands.

Though steps had been taken to give GB greater rights during the Musharraf regime and the last PPP government — especially increased autonomy for the region — the protests indicate that Islamabad still considers Gilgit-Baltistan a remote locale not at par with the rest of Pakistan. The major reason for the region remaining in limbo is its historical link to the Kashmir dispute. However, ensuring that the fundamental rights of the people are respected should not have to wait for the resolution of the Kashmir question. While giving the region an elected legislature was a major step forward, democratic goals will not be realised until the regional government is transparent, autonomous and responsive to the demands of the people. Both the GB government and Islamabad — which only awoke to the crisis several days after the protests started — must look into the protesters’ legitimate demands in the short term while in the long term, more must be done to ensure that the local people enjoy the same rights that others in Pakistan are supposed to.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Transporters Asked the Government to End Day Time Convoy System on KKH

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MANSEHRA (Dawn): The bus and coach owners union of Kohistan has threatened to go on wheel jam strike from if the government does not end daytime convoy system in the district and ensure 24-hour traffic from Kohistan to GB.

“The passenger transport is not allowed to move ahead from Kohistan to GB from 4:00pm till next morning and this routine has been causing huge financial and time loss to us,” said Gul Khan, president of the transporters union, while talking to media persons here on Friday. The government had banned travel during night and asked for movement of vehicles in convoys during daytime after 39 passengers were killed in Harban area of Kohistan and Babusar Top area of Mansehra in two incidents in 2012. He said that because of the convoy system the Rawalpindi-GB travel time had increased to 28 hours from 14 hours and travel through road was stopped at Chakai checkpost in Kohistan all the night after 4:00pm.

“The passenger buses and coaches are allowed travel from 8:00am to 4:00pm, which is perturbing both for the travellers and transporters,” he said.

Mr Khan said that all transport organisations whose passenger vehicles passed through Chakai checkpost would go on a wheel jam strike if the government failed to end the convoy system on KKH in Kohistan. He said that the GB transporters had already taken up the issue with the deputy commissioner and other relevant authorities, but they said that it was an internal matter of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

He appealed to the KP chief minister and governor to order the deputy commissioner, Kohistan, to end the convoy system in the district. He said that the KP and GB authorities should enhance security for the passengers in their respective jurisdictions instead of banning travel.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Emerging Patterns in GB

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By Shabbir Mir

Strikes and counter strikes along sectarian lines had what described GB politics in the recent past. The trend escalated especially after 2011-12 when passengers travelling by bus on the strategic Karakoram Highway between Gilgit and Rawalpindi were attacked and killed.
While the sectarian motivated murders strengthened the clergy, it widened the existing gap between Shiites and Sunnis. Subsequently, Gilgit city stood divided between the two sects, making life hell for the commoners.
But in 2014, G-B witnessed a change. Inhabitants of G-B set aside sectarian differences and waged a joint struggle for a common cause. That happened due to efforts from Awami Action Committee (AAC). Formed this year by a group of comparatively little known politicians, including advocate Ehsan Ali and Baba Jan, the AAC made ‘restoration of wheat subsidy’ the centre of its politics.
It was in 2013 when the prices of wheat began escalating. The regional government of G-B gradually started lifting the subsidy that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had sanctioned for the G-B at least four decades ago — sanctioning rampant poverty in the administrative region.
The subsidy withdrawal, however, proved to be a turning point in the region’s politics, with the AAC grabbing the opportunity with both hands. As part of its strategy, the AAC, instead of approaching top clerics and leaders, reached out to the second and third tiers of the leadership of religious and sectarian groups to beg their support before launching the mass movement. The response was incredible as within no time another 22 nationalists, sectarian and political groups joined it. The bitter enemies of the past became good friends overnight as frequent meetings for the cause brought them closer to each other.
In March, a delegation comprising top Shiite clerics, including senior vice president of Anjuman Imamia Muhammad Shafie was able to visit Chilas town. No wonder he got a rapturous welcome in the town defined by sectarian differences.
However, having said that, the real test for the AAC leadership will come if, God forbid, incidents like attacks on processions occur during religious months or passengers come under attack on highways yet again But if its leadership sustains these potential onslaughts and stands united, the future must belong to them no matter whether they win the elections or not.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Kashgar-Gawadar Economic Corridor to Help GB Economy

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Gilgit (BR): Construction of Kashgar- Gwadar economic corridor would help Pakistan to earn billions of rupees every year through export of fruits and livestock to China and other neighbouring countries. 

The main strength of economy of GB depends largely on fruits and horticulture, and after the construction of the said economic corridor, GB would be able to introduce locally produced items in international markets besides earning foreign exchange, said Deputy Director Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP)- Gilgit, Sabz Ali Khan. There is an increasing demand of fruits and vegetables in China it would be a great opportunity for GB to export local produce to big Chinese market He said efforts have to be made to improve the livelihood of the mountaineers in the years ahead, and added that one of the options available is to process the fruit locally to increase its shelf life and to add to its value, so that it may be transported economically. 

He said due to lack of interest of past governments towards Gilgit- Baltistan’s infrastructure people here remained unable to gain maximum advantages from locally produced items including fruits, vegetables, live stock, gems, minerals and tourism sector. The present government, in collaboration with China, is working on war footing to develop infrastructure of Karakorom Highway, from China to Islamabad, he said. 

Presently fruits and vegetable producers of GB often complain that they are facing difficulties in exporting their produce to China because of a number of health and sanitary requirements such as product certification, labelling standards, import approval requirements and delays in customs clearance, he said 

Sabz Ali suggested the provincial government to establish a local institution with the capacity to inspect organic produce intended for export, under the guidance of the Chinese State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ). These trained inspectors should also assist the farmers and exporters in complying with certification requirements, he added. 

To a query he said incident of Ata Abad, land sliding and damage to Hunza River, badly hurt transportation system in Gilgit-Baltistan. The road which leads Gilgit- Baltistan to China got completely disrupted but now the work on reconstruction of road has been completed and the imports and exports activities through Sost border are continuing without any interruptions.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Shutter Down Strike in GB Paralysing the Region

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GILGIT (ET): Staying true to its word, the Awami Action Committee (ACC) succeeded in its call for a shutter down and transport strike in parts of GB. In hopes of pressuring the government into reinstating the subsidy and reducing the price of wheat, AAC has threatened to continue the strike unless their demands are met. The AAC is an alliance of around 23 religious and political groups, which was formed earlier this year to fight for lower wheat prices.

This was the second strike of its kind in less than 40 days and the AAC has hailed it a success. Traffic remained at a standstill in most areas, while markets were closed in Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, Ghizer, Skardu and Chilas. Groups of lawyers also lent their support to the strike and boycotted courts. G-B Supreme Court Bar Association President Shahbaz Khan said the boycott was observed to express solidarity with the AAC.
“The subsidy on wheat has been withdrawn under a conspiracy to push the region towards further poverty,” said AAC Chairman Advocate Ehsan Ali. In view of GB being under-developed, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced subsidised wheat in the region. The incentive continued for decades regardless of which party came into power, but has recently been withdrawn.
Though the G-B government re-imposed Section 144 across the region on April 14 to discourage rallies and public gatherings, AAC obtained permission from the deputy commissioner in Gilgit to hold a rally in Ghari Bagh, on the condition there would be no disturbance for commuters.
Others attending the demonstration included President of Anjuman-e-Imamia (G-B) Faqir Shah and President of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) Himayatullah. They asked people to fight in unity for their rights that have been denied by rulers over decades.
In Hunza-Nagar, protesters blocked Karakoram Highway disrupting traffic throughout the day.
“The support from the people is unprecedented, which shows they know who is looking out for their interests,” Senior AAC member Baba Jan said while speaking to The Express Tribune in Hunza.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Progress on DBD Dam Reviewed by PM

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ISLAMABAD (BR): Prime Minister has said that the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam (DBD) will not only cater for energy requirements of the country but at the same time, it would be a source of development for Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Dam will prove to be an economic milestone for the country, he said while reviewing progress on Diamer-Bhasha Dam Project here at the PM House. The Prime Minister directed that 1% of the project cost should be allocated, specifically for environmental conservation so that local vegetation and wildlife resources are not affected. He said the first preference for unskilled jobs, should be given to locals of the project area.
He further directed that the security of foreign consultants, working on the project, should be ensured and security costs should be adjusted in the project cost.
The Prime Minister was apprised that a separate unit of Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts was being raised, specifically for security of this project and in this regard an MoU has been signed with the Interior Ministry.
It was informed during the meeting that 100 kilometers of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) will be affected after the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and an alternative route, stretching 142 kilometers, will be built on KKH.
The Prime Minister directed that the Chairman WAPDA should visit the project site immediately and report the updated status regarding the progress of work.
The Prime Minister further said that he will personally monitor the project’s progress and will visit the site soon.
Earlier, the Prime Minister was briefed that the project will provide a gross storage of 8.1 million acre feet (MAF) and live storage of 6.4 MAF and the total cost of the project is US $ 13.87 billion with 9 years completion time.
The project will have an installed capacity of 4,500 MW generated from 12 units of 375 MW and will generate revenue of US $ 2.216 billion per annum.
The project will pay back its cost in 8 years and would also extend life of Tarbela reservoir by 35 years by blocking the sediments upstream.
The Prime Minister was apprised that land acquisition for the project was in process.
The Prime Minister was informed that three (03) model villages at Thak Das, Harpan Das and Kino Das, with all basic amenities, shall be developed for resettlement of 4228 affected households/families who are dislocated due to the project.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Culture The Centre of Authority in a Society Like GB?

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By Aziz Ali Dad

Gilgit-Baltistan is home to diverse linguistic, religious and ethnic groups. During the last two decades the word culture has become very popular among the people there, the youth in particular. That is why culture is invoked by different sub-regional groups, nationalists and language communities to lend legitimacy to their respective causes.

However, the debate about culture in Gilgit-Baltistan does not stem from a clear definition. Within localised discourse the very word ‘culture’ is employed to signify an assortment of things, ranging from history, tradition, mythology, rituals, folk literature, cuisine, material heritage, dance, art to entertainment and incompatible entities. That means that the word culture is internalised not in all its theoretical purity, rather it has been appropriated by different groups to provide a unifying point for their practices and ideas, which are not always shared by all people in society.

A practice or act becomes part of culture when its meaning is shared by the members of a society. The signifying practices in society tie its diverse members within the unifying whole of culture. For the last ten years the region of Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed a mushrooming of organisations that claim to protect and promote culture. Most of their effort aim to revive rituals and lifestyles that were products of a bygone age and space, which was to a great extent immune from external influences.

An analysis of prevalent practices that have been covered under the rubric of the culture of Gilgit-Baltistan shows that the very debate over culture and efforts of cultural revival stems from an identity crisis begotten by disruption of power centres in society. A society sans power and authority of culture operates in an ideological vacuum. Such a rudderless society is more likely to be at the mercy of forces that have the power to change its course. Similar is the case with the culture of Gilgit-Baltistan.

A culture with a vacuum of political, economic and intellectual power within cannot survive the changes of time. But narcissistic and nostalgic guardians of culture in the region tend to ignore the very question of power in culture for fear of actors who subjugate culture either for their myopic agenda or support the status quo to perpetuate existing power arrangements. They remain oblivious to the obsolete nature of certain practices and rituals, increasing role of modern means of cultural production and subjugation of culture to a sectarian form of religion.

Gone are the days when local princely states in the region decided about their fate. The people of Gilgit Baltistan had to rely on locally available intellectual resources to create their life world. With the dissolution of local power centres and social structure, and dominance of new lifestyle and ideas, the role of exogenous forces has become more important.

There are internal and external dimensions of power. The new and modern power structure permeates every aspect of life and yields its influence in imperceptible ways. The collective power of a particular society in the modern age manifests in the form of political authority. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan the disconnect between culture and power is best evident at the political and constitutional level in Pakistan where it is still in a state of limbo.

Now the question that arises is: where does the internal power or authority lie? Matthew Arnold in his book ‘Culture and Anarchy’ terms culture as the centre of authority in a society where state and religion fails. Since this authority is internal, it is, therefore, imperative to develop a counter-narrative and strategies against the actors and factors that inhabit or are in control of the internalising process by establishing their hegemony over society and state.

The structural hegemony over cultural transmission and communication can be illustrated through the example of local languages in Gilgit-Baltistan. Language contains the whole life world of a particular culture. It is through language that human beings connect with the world and form their selves through interaction with the society, collective consciousness, and historical memory.

With the dissolution of the old order in the region the connection between language and the world was severed. It is not necessary that a rupture in continuity always lead to total disengagement with the fountainhead of culture. Modern schooling could have provided a strong platform for indigenous languages to further cement the bond between language and the world. Being powerless the society of Gilgit-Baltistan was not able to do so.

Another factor that is playing a crucial role in the formation of contemporary culture in Gilgit-Baltistan is the modern means of cultural production and communication. The communication revolution of today has rendered all the traditional and even early modern mediums obsolete. Along with these mediums, the associated processes of message formation have also been rendered obsolete.

In the early period of modernity in Gilgit, modern mediums, such as cinema, radio, newspapers, magazines, television and to some extent rudimentary theatre found a space within society. These developments could have paved the way for new modes of cultural production or activities. Unfortunately, society took a different turn under the influence of commercialisation and conservatism fostered by clerics who are averse to every novel medium and message. Today the cultural landscape in Gilgit has been turned into a wasteland as cinema, theatre, entertainment and other modern forms of aesthetics were nipped in the bud.

Culture is a space for interface between the internal and the external. Therefore, internalisation is considered an important process in cultural refinement. By creating a habitus for beauty, civility, rationality, and empathy in the external world, we can create a mental ambience for the emergence of the cultured self.

In the existing scheme of things in Gilgit-Baltistan, the clergy has assumed authority and subjugated all other sides of human personality to the religious. Religion is a part of the whole called culture, but it is subsumed under religion. Today the external world or society of Gilgit-Baltistan is filled with religious hatred. Therefore, the prevalent cultural ethos is marked by sectarianism, which manifests itself in bloodshed, mayhem and chaos in society.

Matthew Arnold believes that religion is only one of the many voices of human experience. A society dominated by religiosity is inimical not only to multiplicity of experiences and expressions, but also to the very experiences of the religion. Religion can freely express itself in its varied forms only by blending within a particular culture. However, because of its blind zeal of painting everything in the world in religious colours, the religious thought police has reduced diverse ways of religious expressions and interpretations into a monomaniac mode.

After capturing religious space and imaginary, this mind is intruding into the cultural space. Emancipating culture from the clutches of parochial authority will not only enable it to flourish, but also open multiple avenues for religious experience and expression.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad and can be reached at email: azizalidad@gmail.com