Month: May 2014

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“The subsidy on wheat has been withdrawn under a conspiracy to push the region towards further poverty,” said AAC Chairman Advocate Ehsan Ali.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 The incentive continued for decades regardless of which party came into power, but has recently been withdrawn.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.

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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

Gilgit-Baltistan: Opposition Leader Fears More Clashes on Boundary Dispute between KPK & GB

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GILGIT (ET):  Opposition leader in the GB Assembly, Janbaz Khan has warned that more clashes between the residents of Diamer Valley and Kohistan can follow if the territorial dispute remains unsolved.
At least seven people were killed and a dozen others injured in an exchange of fire between residents of Thor in GB and Harban in Kohistan in February.
The nearly 10-kilometre stretch of land on both sides of the Basari check post, which separates Kohistan from Gilgit-Baltistan, has long been a bone of contention between Thor Valley, Diamer and Harban Nala, Kohistan. The disputed land is among the areas being demarcated for acquisition for the much-awaited Diamer-Bhasha dam project.

“Diamer residents will be taking their livestock to the pastures on this land, as grazing season has begun in G-B. This might lead to more clashes,” the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker told reporters on Thursday.
Khan accused the centre, which is led by his own party, of taking the issue lightly. “The people of this region hold little value in the eyes of the rulers.”
Following the bloodshed earlier, the warring tribesmen agreed to put down their guns for 40 days after a truce was brokered by a local jirga. The jirga, comprising representatives from both G-B and Kohistan, assured the tribes that the issue would be resolved permanently through a boundary commission set up by the federal government. However, the commission reportedly failed to convene a single meeting to this effect.
Last month, the G-B legislative assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) for alleged encroachment near the proposed dam site. It called for immediate settlement of an issue that continuously sparks unrest in the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Government to to Legislate on Climate Change Adaptation

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Gilgit (PT): The Provincial Minister for Information and Broadcasting GB said that  being a mountainous region GB is facing enormous challenges from all sides among which climate change is biggest development challenge affecting the people of the region due to extreme weather patterns,temperature change,melting of glaciers,increase in climate induced disasters and outbreak of various diseases. She said to overcome these challenges the GB government will make legislation on climate change adaptation and other necessary measures through the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. She was addressing the opening ceremony of a two days conference on “Climate Change Adaptation” at Karakorum International University on Tuesday. The conference is being jointly organized by Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan, an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network, and the Department of Earth Science, Karakorum International University.

“The objectives of this conference are to explore the science of climate change in order to have a shared understanding of the issue, to discuss best practices in climate change adaptation at community and institutional levels and to advocate inclusion of climate change adaptation as a core component of future development” said Dr. Haleem Zaman Magsi, Chairman of the Department of Earth Sciences KIU while sharing the conference objectives in his speech.

Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan’s Chairperson Khadija Jamal Shaban said that in this conference the leading academicians and practitioners from the national and international horizon will share their knowledge and experiences and suggest ways and means for protecting lives and properties of the mountain communities.She said that the conference is being held as part of a project ” Harnessing Capacities in Disaster Risk Reduction in the Hazardous Areas of Pakistan” supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. She urged the provincial government to take initiatives for legislation on protecting Gilgit-Baltistan from the impact of climate change and include this as chapter in the academic curriculum

Gilgit-Baltistan: Share of GB Youth in PMYSDP is 1.6 Percent

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ISLAMABAD (D.Times): The federal government has started the Prime Minister’s Youth Skills Development Programme (PMYSDP), under which technical and vocational training will be imparted to 25,000 less educated and jobless youth across the country.
The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) has been mandated to complete the task.  Under the programme, technical and vocational training will be imparted to 25,000 less educated and jobless male and female youth from the most neglected, underprivileged and marginalized sections of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Islamabad, FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
According to a press release issued by the NAVTTC media section, funds of Rs800 million have been approved for the programme.
The break-up of 25,000 youth to be trained is: 200 from Islamabad, 500 from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 300 from Gilgit-Baltistan, 400 from FATA, 3,000 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2,000 from Balochistan, 5,850 from Sindh and 12,750 from Punjab. Out of a total of 25,000 youth, 8,524 females will be given technical and vocational training.
In the mid of last year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced seven development schemes for the youth. Maryam Nawaz Sharif was appointed chairperson of these schemes. The PMYSDP is also one of these schemes and MNA Maiza Hameed was appointed chief coordinator of the PMYSDP.
The admission notice advertisement of the PMYSDP has been published in leading national and regional dailies on April 6, last Sunday, keeping in view the target audience all over the country.
A third-party firm will be selected for monitoring and evaluation of the PMYSDP from start to its completion.
It may be mentioned here that as a result of technical education and vocational training to 25,000 youth, they will themselves not only become economically sound, but their families will become economically and socially prosperous as well. This skilled manpower will soon avail employment opportunities in the country and abroad, and will certainly result in reduction of poverty.

Gilgit-Baltistan: AAC Call for Region Wide Strikes

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GILGIT (ET): The administration of GB has imposed Section 144 in the city ahead of the Awami Action Committee’s (AAC) call for region-wide strikes.
The AAC, an alliance of 23 religious, nationalist and political parties, has given a call for a complete shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on April 15 in an attempt to press the government to bring down the price of wheat to the 2009 rates. G-B has already witnessed a similar strike last month which was also called by the AAC.

“Protest rallies and demonstrations are not allowed in Gilgit,” said Deputy Commissioner Sibtain Ahmed while speaking to the media on Sunday, “All violators will be taken to task.”
He accused the AAC of misleading the public on the issue of wheat subsidy as Ahmed claimed the subsidy has been in place for decades and remains unchanged; however, transportation charges have increased over the years due to a spike in petroleum prices, resultantly pushing the price of wheat up as well.
AAC Chairman Ehsan Ali flayed the administration’s decision to ban rallies and termed it an attempt to curb freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.
“This decision of the G-B administration is against the law and reminds us of the days when we lived under martial law,” Ali told reporters on Saturday.
Rejecting the ban, he said the strikes would continue as per the plan chalked out earlier. The chairman claimed AAC’s efforts had led to the revival of sectarian harmony in the region that otherwise frequently witnesses violent clashes.
“Instead of suppressing the voice of the poor, the bureaucracy should help AAC achieve its goals,” said Ali, “Our people are deprived of basic amenities like water, electricity and wheat.”