Month: June 2014

Gilgit-Baltistan: Government Directed to Lift Ban on Gemstones Trade

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Gilgit (ET): On a point raised by Wazir Hasan of PPP, the speaker directed the government to lift the ban on trade of gemstone for residents of GB till laws are formulated by the assembly. “There is no justification to keep people associated with the gemstone business jobless in the name of making laws,” said the speaker.
Moreover, the speaker also directed the government to transfer Skardu DIG police for making derogatory remarks about the lawmakers. The DIG had allegedly warned a lawmaker from Baltistan, Sultan Ali, against “interfering in matters pertaining to police”.
Wazir Baig has sought details of Rs10 million sanctioned last year for sports and tourism.
“Tell me who pocketed the money. If I ask these questions, it is said I play the role of opposition,” said Baig, known for making blunt comments. He asked the minister for information to conduct an enquiry and submit a report to the house.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GBLA Unanimously Condemns Police Attack on Ismaili Leader

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GILGIT (ET):  The Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly on Friday unanimously condemned the attack on the president of the Ismaili Regional Council by a police official, which has triggered protests across the region. Colonel (Retd) Ubaidullah Baig sustained injuries on his head on Thursday evening after he was allegedly hit by a police constable. Baig was reportedly trying to refrain police from demolishing a boundary wall of a graveyard in Zulfiqar colony when he was attacked.
Followers of the Ismaili sect protested and blocked roads in Gilgit, Ghizer and Hunza-Nagar valleys, demanding the arrest and punishment of the culprit. “Is this the reward for increasing salaries of police?” Fida Nashad of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) asked during the question hour on the third day of the G-B Assembly proceedings chaired by speaker Wazir Baig. “Instead of improving law and order, they themselves are creating a situation of lawlessness,” said Nashad.
Maulana Sarwar Shah of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) also condemned the incident and termed it an attempt to widen the sectarian divide between communities living in the region. Criticism also poured in from lawmakers, including Mirza Hussain, Bashir Ahmed and Amina Ansari of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Janbaz Khan and Sultan Ali of PML-N, Ayub Shah, Shireen Fatima and Wazir Hassan of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who termed it ‘police terrorism’.
Replying to the onslaught, the law minister said the culprits would be taken to task as soon as the chief minister takes up the matter.
Wazir Baig, in his ruling, directed the government to arrest the police officer before conducting an enquiry so as to cool the tempers of those on roads. “The accused should be arrested first,” said the speaker. “This is not an ordinary incident. The president of the Ismaili Council is a representative of his Highness Aga Khan.”
Meanwhile, protesters dispersed on Friday after Ismaili Council leaders were assured of action against the accused.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Shandur Polo Will Start on June 20, 2014 after a Lapse of One Year

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GILGIT (ET): The celebrated Shandur Polo Festival is set to start from June 20 with arch-rivals Gilgit and Chitral preparing for their annual showdown 12,000 feet above the sea at the highest polo ground in the world. The festival, thronged by thousands of locals and tourists, was cancelled last year as heavy rains damaged major roads linking Shandur to the rest of the region.
“The dates for the festival have been confirmed and we are looking forward to it,” said Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) tourism and culture minister, Sadia Danish, on Thursday. “All possible steps are being taken to make the event a success and worth remembering for all visitors,” she told The Express Tribune. The minister, who is also head of the festival’s steering committee, hoped the event would help project a soft image of G-B, which was tarnished last year when 10 foreign tourists and their local guide were shot dead in a ghastly attack at the base of Nanga Parbat.
The so-called ‘game of kings’ is played between Gilgit and Chitral every year and witnessed by sports and travel enthusiasts, both local and foreign.
In Shandur, the game is played under the ancient rules that governed it when it was first invented by the Persians and later adopted by the British, with a complete duration of an hour separated by a 10-minute break.
The tournament was initiated in G-B by Colonel Evelyn Hey Cobb, a British political agent in the area in the 1930s, who was a keen polo player himself. It has morphed into an annual event since then and is a major tourist attraction for the region. The three-day festival, now an integral part of the culture of Chitral and Gilgit, is not just about polo – other events include tug of war, paragliding and various other sporting competitions. A camping village is also set up next to the polo ground for visitors to have a memorable experience.
In 2010, Gilgit boycotted the event in protest against the federal government’s decision to assign the management and organisaton of the event to Khyber-Pakthunkhwa (K-P) and over a dispute as to which government has ownership rights over Shandur, which lies between G-B’s Ghizer Valley and Chitral.
In 2011, the boycott was reluctantly ended and Gilgit won the tournament 7-4. However, the following year, Chitral reclaimed the title in a 10-5 victory.
The governments of G-B and K-P hold the event together, with the government in Gilgit allocating approximately Rs6 to Rs7 million for the festival against K-P government’s allocation of over Rs22 million.

Gilgit-Baltistan: GB Govt. Revised Salary Package of Doctors Equivalent to Federal Doctors/Staff

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GILGIT (ET): The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government has approved the federal government’s salary package for doctors and other paramedical staff in G-B, accepting their long-standing demand.
The announcement was made through a notification issued by the regional finance department on Wednesday, mentioning that the decision will be retroactively in effect from January, 2014. Heath allowance and increment in pay will be given to doctors of BPS-17 and above along with nurses of BPS-16 and above of the G-B health department, stated the dispatch.
“With it, pay of doctors will increase by at least 35%,” said a doctor, adding up to 250 doctors and 30 nurses will benefit from the decision.
The doctors showered praise on Chief Minister Mehdi Shah and Minister for Health Gulbar Khan for keeping their promise. “This is a historic decision and we are thankful to the authorities,” said Dr Ghulam Haider of the Pakistan Medical Association in G-B.
The demand for a package, equivalent to doctors employed by the federal government, was voiced earlier in G-B. Given the limited resources, the G-B government kept delaying the issue for more than a year.  However, earlier this year, as part of the protest to get higher salaries, doctors stopped treating patients in private clinics as well as government hospitals for a week in Diamer, Hunza-Nagar and Astore valleys.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Teachers in GB Protesting for Service Structure /Clear Promotion Rules

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GILGIT (Dawn): Demanding service structure and clear rules for their promotion, hundreds of male and female teachers of government schools staged demonstrations in the seven district headquarters of Gilgit Baltistan and announced boycott of classes across the region till June 10.

The teachers, who had also brought their students on roads, said that if their demands were not accepted they would continue their protests. The protesters also blocked the main roads of Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza Nagar, Ghizar, Diamer and Ghancha besides the Karakoram Highway.

Because of the protests traffic remained suspended between GB and rest of the country. Addressing the protesters in Gadi Bag, Gilgit, the GB Teachers Association’s president Shahid Ali said that the teachers had been demanding their genuine rights for last many years, but the authorities were not paying heed.

He said that it was an injustice that the government school teachers retired without promotion to the next grade. He said that the government should announce proper service structure and promotion criteria for teachers. He vowed that they would continue their strike till acceptance of their demands. He announced the boycott of classes till June 10 in all government schools across GB to build pressure on the government to solve their problems. Dilawer Shah, the association’s information secretary, said that they had not asked the students to join the protest, but they were just supporting their teachers voluntarily.

Another teacher, Ahmed Hussain, said that the government and officials of the education department had not been showing interest to solve their problems. He said that the GB chief minister had announced approval of time-scale promotion formula for the teachers two years ago in Skardu, but it was not implemented.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Five Year Tax Exemption for Setting up Processing Plants in GB

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Gilgit (APP): One of the Salient feature of the budget of 2014-15 is to help the locally grown fruits in Balochistan Province, Malakand Division, Gilgit-Baltistan and FATA reach the bigger markets and to promote investment, growth and employment in these areas, a five years income tax exemption is proposed for persons setting up processing plants for locally grown fruits.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Vacant Post of Regional CEC causing Problems for Free and Fair Elections in GB

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GILGIT (ET): The absence of a chief election commissioner in Gilgit-Baltistan has halted the process of computerised electoral lists, raising suspicion over fairness of the upcoming polls in the region.
“The process will not move ahead unless a chief election commissioner is appointed in G-B,” said an official at the G-B Assembly Secretariat.
General elections will be held in G-B in December or early next year following the completion of the assembly’s five-year term. However, the credibility of the polls will be under question if elections are held without computerised electoral lists.
The previous elections of 2009, which were won by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), were marred by allegations of rigging as the electoral list was prepared in just two weeks.
“The elections of 2009 were massively rigged and that resulted in our defeat,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) regional president Hafeezur Rahman told The Express Tribune on Wednesday. “We hope this time around the lists are computerised to ensure transparency and fair play for every party.”
The G-B Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution last year, demanding appointment of an independent chief election commissioner (CEC) in the region. However, the resolution went unheard as the post is still lying vacant.
The issue was reportedly taken up by Chief Minister (CM) Mehdi Shah with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday during a meeting held in Islamabad.
“The CM has made it clear that the process of [preparing an] electoral list has been delayed due to the absence of an election commissioner,” said a spokesperson at the CM Secretariat. The regional government has forged agreements with NADRA for computerised lists and the CEC must therefore be appointed immediately, he added.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Rs. 9.2 Billion Allocated for ongoing Projects in GB

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ISLAMABAD (APP): The government has allocated Rs. 21357.41 million for various ongoing and new development projects for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan under Public Sector Development Programme for 2014-15.
According to the official budgetary document, Rs 9230 million for Gilgit Baltistan have been earmarked for the ongoing schemes. The ongoing schemes of Gilgit Baltistan include Rs 8200 million for Gilgit Baltistan (Block Allocation), Rs 500 million for construction of 14 MW Hydel Power Project Naltar-III and Rs 300 million for construction of 14 MW Hydel Power Project Naltar-V.
The government has allocated Rs 400 million for execution of new schemes for Kashmir Affairs including Rs 100 million for Mir Waiz Muhammad Farooq Shaheed Medical College, Muzaffarabad. While Rs 50 million have been allocated to Gilgit Baltistan for new scheme of establishment of Regional Grid, Gilgit Baltistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan: AAC in Action Against Corruption in GB

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GILGIT (ET): The Awami Action Committee (AAC) has said it will foil the government’s attempts to undo the decisions taken by former Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) chief secretary Younus Dagha against corruption and corrupt officials in the region. Dagha, who was replaced by Sikandar Sultan Raja in April this year after serving as the region’s top administrator for around nine months, had initiated enquiries against corrupt elements in various government departments.
As a result, nearly 700 employees who were appointed after allegedly bypassing protocols over the years were sacked and those responsible for their hiring were suspended. The purging of government officials in G-B who were appointed under dubious circumstances, however, was disliked by the rulers and resulted in Dagha’s reposting. “We will not allow this to happen,” said Ehsan Ali, a senior leader of the AAC – an alliance of around 23 religious, nationalist and political groups that rose to prominence recently over its protests against the increasing prices of wheat.
“Attempts are being made to stop the enquiries and restore all those appointed over the years in violation of merit,” Ali told reporters on Sunday.
In Skardu, senior AAC leaders Maulana Saqib and Syed Ali accused the government of plundering national wealth and warned of agitation if steps are not taken to end corruption. Instead of expediting efforts against corruption, attempts are being made to stop the ongoing enquiry which is regrettable, said the leaders.
In January this year, Chief Minister (CM) Mehdi Shah’s office issued a letter to then chief secretary Dagha asking him not to conduct any enquiry without prior permission from the cabinet. There were reports of the CM not being happy with Dagha’s ‘over-arching’ action against corruption which led to his removal from the post. A number of decisions taken by Dagha were reversed as soon as he was posted out of G-B while many others are expected to be overturned in the coming days.The officer now serves as the federal secretary of Housing and Works.
Meanwhile, the CM has vowed to take decisions on merit in cases put forth in light of the enquiries.
“Injustice will not be meted out to anybody,” stated a press release issued by the CM’s Secretariat recently, adding that merit will be followed in making decisions based on the enquiry and decisions will not be made on the wishes of certain people.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Discrimination in 3G/4G Services by the Telecom Regulator with GB

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GILGIT (Dawn): The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been left high and dry as the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has not allowed launch of 3G and 4G internet facilities in the region.

According to the licence description available on the PTA website, mobile companies have been asked not to provide Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir the next generation mobile service (NGMS), as PTA considers the two regions outside of Pakistan.

PTA’s licence description for different NGMS modes states that the licensee is to establish, maintain and operate the licensed system and to provide NGMS in Pakistan, excluding AJK and GB.

It states that licensee shall provide NGMS, including the mandatory services, throughout Pakistan except AJK and GB. It further says that the license does not authorise the provision of telecommunication services in AJK and GB.

The decision has attracted criticism by the GB people, particularly students, of PTA. “The PTA decision shows that GB is not part of Pakistan and that the people of the region cannot have the right to avail the 3G and 4G facility,” said Fazal Abbas, who is doing MSc in economics at the Karakuram International University.

Talking to Dawn he said that a backward region like GB should not be deprived of the fastest internet facility which has been launched across Pakistan.

Sajjad Hussain, another student, said that the region had already been facing communication issues as Special Communication Organisation was the sole internet service provider in the area, which wasn’t satisfactory. “In this context, the decision of PTA has greatly disappointed us because we would be unable to get easy access to fastest internet for accomplishment of our research work,” regretted Mr Hussain.

Nadeem Ahmed, who is doing PhD at the KIU, said, “We were hoping that 3G and 4G services would help overcome internet speed issue in the region, but the PTA move has disappointed us”. He demanded of the concerned authorities to review the decision.

Mr Ahmed said that due to lack of internet service, students and employees of government and non-government organisations would face numerous issues.

Mohammad Arif, a local resident, said that the PTA decision to keep the people of GB deprived of basic facility amounted to discrimination against them. He pointed out that while mobile companies operated freely in the region, they were not allowed to extend 3G and 4G services to the people, which is violation of fundamental rights of the people.