GILGIT (ET): Professors and lecturers across Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have launched a ‘token strike’ against the suspension of their colleagues, threatening to intensify their protest if their demands are not met within four days.
“This is the first phase of our strike and we will expand it if our demands go unnoticed,” G-B Professors and Lecturers Association President professor Muhammad Zaman told The Express Tribune.
Teachers attended classes, but wore black bands on their arms in protest. The ‘strike’ was simultaneously observed across all government colleges in the region. Zaman added they will boycott work duties in the second phase.
Last week, Professor Rubina, the principal of a women college in Skardu, was suspended along with seven male teachers ‘for inciting students to protests against the government’ last month. The teachers included professor Mir Ahmad Khan, associate professor Hashmat Ilhami and assistant professor Hasan Shad among others.
Zaman claimed the Skardu administration forcefully tried to vacate official residences of principals of women and boys degree colleges on August 27. Though the professors did not leave their homes, the action provoked teachers and students to take to the streets.
“Charges against the professors were leveled by the Skardu administration after they boycotted classes on a call from the professors and teachers association against trying to evict the principals,” said Zaman. He, however, denied inciting students to protest.
Zaman maintained the association took up the case with the chief secretary and secretary of education and also showed them evidence, but to no avail.
“It was an insult to the profession of teaching,” he added, referring to the attempt of the police to vacate official residences. “Government teachers have also assured us of their support if our demands are not met within the stipulated time
HUNZA (ET): Mohammed Rehbar is a teacher and a librarian in Hunza valley with an insatiable thirst for words. His love for learning made him collect old newspaper clips when he couldn’t afford the luxury of books.
Apart from serving as a school teacher for 34 years, Rehbar is also responsible for setting up the first library in the area, and is considered as an institution by the residents of the area.
“Mein hoon Muhammad Rehbar, mein hoon Pakistan (I am Mohammed Rehbar, I am Pakistan),” says the Hunza resident.
“I even have a newspaper that mentioned Quad-e-Azam’s death at that time,” he says. Rehbar also has a collection of newspapers containing important news, such as the creation of Bangladesh or the changing governments in Pakistan.
He says that people from the Hunza valley started taking interest when he first opened his library in the area, including illiterate elders that would come to the library and listen to Rehbar reading out the newspapers.
“It’s more of a resource room than a library. Rehbar’s resource room hosts the entire history of Pakistan,” says head teacher at FG Girls High School in Gulmit Muhammad Hussain.
Locally known as Ustad Rehbar, the librarian provides the locals with a vast collection of newspaper articles, photos and archives on various subjects.
GILGIT (ET): The ‘Teacher Mapping and Projection Model’ (TMPM) project was launched in Gilgit on Saturday. The project hopes to improve data collection methods in the region.
“The initiative aims to bring in modern data collection software tools to generate better and reliable information for institutions,” said USAID Teacher Education Project’s Provincial Director Jawad Ali at the inauguration. The project has been sponsored by USAID.
G-B’s Education Planning Director Muhammad Abideen remarked with the increasing number of schools, enrolment and teachers, old techniques can no longer be relied upon to maintain and update information.
He said an authentic data record is vital to develop an education planning document. “It is encouraging that the Education Management Information System (EMIS) department, G-B has recently upgraded its data collection and processing facilities,” Abideen said.
Explaining the project, he said the teachers mapping exercise provides details of teachers and their qualification at district and provincial levels. “This is something we have been lacking in the past.”
“With district wise information available, the district managers will be able to better plan future recruitment and infrastructure needs,” Abideen further said.
He hoped the initiative will also facilitate provincial authorities in planning and monitoring educational activities in the province. A large number of staff from districts of G-B was trained during the teacher mapping exercises, he informed.
“I also recommend that all district managers learn how to operate the data processing and projections software used by EMIS,” he said, adding this will keep them updated about the figures pertaining to their areas.
Abideen also appreciated the hard work of the EMIS staff and hoped that data collected during the mapping will be regularly updated.
The project has also extended support in provision of scholarships to trainee teachers, capacity building of the faculty of Government College Elementary Teachers, provision of equipment and furniture, and establishment of a directorate for staff development.
The TMPM project is part of the comprehensive US education assistance programme for Pakistan, which includes building or rehabilitating more than 850 schools across the country, establishing centres for advanced study at three Pakistani universities to focus on applied research in energy, agriculture and water, and expanding English skills of more than 5,000 students from low-income backgrounds.
ISLAMABAD (ET): After spending a year at a US high school and living with an American family as part of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Programme, 25 students from different parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan recently returned home.
Sharing their experiences at the YES Re-entry Seminar held in Islamabad on June 28, these young alumni said it was a life-changing year for them.
Zaheerullah, who hails from Gilgit, is the youngest of nine children and his father owns a fabric store. He says his year in the US has taught him to speak up against the ills of society. “I gave 21 presentations about Pakistan during my studies; most of these were in a local church my host mother worked at. And somehow, I now find myself strong enough to fight against sectarian violence which prevails in Gilgit and Hunza,” said Zaheer.
Ibsan Mall, a student of Peshawar Model High School, said in his year abroad he managed to change the perception people had of his background. “In one year I made my American family and friends cry over my departure – the very same people who seemed sceptical of my background when we first met.”
A major part of the students’ experience is to take upon the role of youth ambassadors as they give presentations about their country to school peers and at youth conferences.
Many students also find the academic experience exciting as American high schools offer a range of subjects which usually are not a part of the Pakistani syllabus.
Umme Habiba, who belongs to Hangu but is currently living in Peshawar, discovered some hidden talents in the US as she became part of her school’s dance team, swimming league and art club. “I did not have any restrictions in Pakistan as well, but in the US I got so many more opportunities in all fields,” said Habiba.
The challenge of the whole experience is to make friends in the face of existing stereotypes in both countries. Zaighum Abbas, a resident of Abbottabad, said he loved reaching out to people. “I met people who thought I was a terrorist, but I took the initiative and became friends with them and showed them real Pakistanis are completely different,” he said.
These students are now part of the YES alumi network comprising over 700 people from all over Pakistan. They are geared up to join their seniors in existing community service projects and to come up with new ideas to contribute to society as was emphasised throughout their year abroad.
The YES scholarship programme is being run in Pakistan by the Society for International Education since 2003. It aims to send students aged between 15 and 17 belonging to middle and lower-middle class families to various states in the US for cultural exchange.
Alumni weigh in
The alumni network’s Youth Programme Coordinator for the southern region, Bilal Zubair Khan said, “I know from experience that it is not easy to spend a year abroad with total strangers. The students have to strike a balance between their lives and the people they live with and in the process they become more mature people.”
“During the exchange year, students get the opportunity to engage in various extracurricular activities and volunteer services which helps them get a better understanding of American norms and values,” said Hassan Saeed, the Youth Programme’s Coordinator for the northern region. “It builds their confidence and they become more independent, open minded and ready to take on challenges.”
On to an adventure
Savita Noreen from Gilgit will be heading to the US for the next YES academic year. “I read an advertisement on Facebook and downloaded the application form. I was very excited to be selected for the programme. It was hard to convince my family at first but they caved in in the end.”
Islamabad(APP): The Higher Education Commission (HEC) would establish sub-offices at Bahawalpur, Sukkar, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit to facilitate young people and general public from remote and far flung areas of Southern Punjab, upper Sindh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. According to an official of HEC, the sub-office at Bahawalpur would be inaugurated this month while remaining sub-offices would be established subsequently.
Through these offices, HEC would guide youth of far-flung areas about various HEC programs/initiatives; scholarships and close liaison with higher education institutions of the areas would also be established. The Higher Education Commission HEC has paid special attention towards increasing access to higher education in remote and far flung areas of the country. Within last few years, out of total 55 new university campuses;31 have been established in rural areas throughout Pakistan.
A number of scholarships and other programmes have been launched aiming at equitable access to higher education throughout the country. HEC is also implementing Prime Minister’s Tuition Fee Payment Scheme for students of Balochistan, Gilgit/Baltistan and FATA which has been recently extended by the federal government to northern Sindh and southern Punjab.
HEC’ four regional centres at all four provincial headquarters are already coordinating and managing different academic activities and events meetings, workshops, seminars, trainings, HRD and Quality Assurance programs in collaboration with different divisions of HEC as well as regional institutes of higher learning.
Gilgit (APP): The Chief Court of Gilgit Baltistan reinstated services of 183 teachers on Friday, who were dismissed a month before by the higher authorities of Education Department. Court Sources said that on March 14 senior authorities dismissed 183 teachers declaring their appointment illegal and without fulfillment of laid down procedure. The terminated teachers filed a writ petition in the Chief Court seeking relief.
Meanwhile on March 23 the Chief Secretary Sajjad Salim Hottiana withdrew the orders of Secretary Education and said rules for termination of services were not adopted. The Chief Court while disposing off the petition said that since the Chief Secretary has withdrawn notification of termination which was issued by Secretary Education, there is no justification to hear this petition.
Karachi (Nation): NOP scholar Sardar Karim (BS Economics Major 2010) – who also went on two exchange programmes during his stay at Lums – has been offered Fulbright Scholarship for 2013-15. Karim is the 14th NOP scholar who has got the prestigious Fulbright scholarship award. He is also among the eight successful candidates, who have received a Joint Japan-World Bank Graduate Scholarship.
Each year, the scholarship is awarded to eight candidates from 140 World Bank member borrower countries. Karim will join Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government for a two-year Masters in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID).
Karim calls his experience at Lums matchless, saying: “Lums was a matchless experience in terms of knowledge, exposure and learning. I am grateful to my college (Aga Khan Higher Secondary School, Gilgit) and NOP for opening this door of excellence to me. Since it was the first time I had moved out of Gilgit-Baltistan after 18 years of my life, Lums was a unique place for me.”
In his encouraging message for the upcoming lot, Karim said: “Always strive for the best. You are the lucky ones to be at Lums, make it count. You are lucky to be anywhere you are, because there are many out there who only dream for what you have already. Make your efforts count and strive for the best.”
In response to his choice of concentration for studying at Harvard, Karim said: “For Mahatma Gandhi ‘Poverty was the violence of worst kind’, and for Nelson Mandela ‘Overcoming poverty was an act of justice’. As a young lad in a remote village of Gilgit, I was ignorant not only of these proverbs, but also of their meaning.
“It was only after I attended Lums that I started to perceive the meaning of poverty and connect it with violence and injustice. I could compare the opportunities at Lums and those in Gilgit. Moreover, exposure to cities of Tokyo, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin and Rome gave me yet another perspective of deprivations Pakistan was facing as a country. Later, working at Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) Islamabad, I travelled extensively to interior Sindh. I observed even griever deprivations and injustices of poverty. When I read about Africa, there are millions in need of food and shelter; health and education are even farther for them.”
Talking about the latest on the professional front, Karim said: “I am working as Programme Officer with the RSPN in USAID’s Assessment and Strengthening Program (ASP). Lums is also a partner in the programme. I have been associated with the RSPN for 2 and half years now. As a volunteer I am affiliated with Aga Khan Social Welfare Board for Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Mardan, Abbottabad Region as Honorary Secretary of the institution.”
Governor Pir Syed Karam Ali Shah has lauded the role of media for strengthening of durable peace in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Talking to a group of journalists in Gilgit‚ he said that media can brought a positive change in any society and the efforts of Gilgit-Baltistan journalists for the promotion of unity among all schools of thought is appreciable.
He asked journalists to discourage negative journalism and file their stories after verification and maintain objectivity at all cost.
Gilgit (RadioPk.): Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah says efforts are underway for timely completion of ongoing development projects to facilitate the masses.
He said this while visiting the recently completed 30 bedded hospital and degree college building project in Danyor‚ Gilgit.
The hospital project was completed at a cost of 50 lac rupees.
He said that provision of water to the hospital and college would be ensured shortly so that they could start functioning.
Talking to mediamen on the occasion he said that the Government is providing health and education facilities to the people at their doorstep.
Earlier‚ secretary Works Zafar Abbas briefed the chief minister about the completed projects.
Karachi (Dawn): Gilgit-Baltistan might be the last thing on the minds of Pakistan’s election-contesting parties — none of them have included these far-flung northern areas in their manifestos — but its more politically inclined residents are keeping a close eye on who gets to form a government in Islamabad come May 11.
“Our fate-politically, economically, legally — remains in the hands of Islamabad, thanks to the quirks and tragedies of history,” says Tahir Hussain, a Skardu resident. “We might have nothing to say — we will not be voting — but the next election will matter. The new government in Islamabad could help enshrine, or remove, our rights.”
While the rest of the country goes to the polls, the two million-strong population in this northern mountain range will have nothing to say when it comes to deciding who gets to sit in power in Islamabad.
Its marginalization from Pakistani politics is nothing new. In 1948, when this area acceded to Pakistan, it was promised constitutional recognition by the Pakistani state.
Instead, Pakistan linked Gilgit-Baltistan to Jammu and Kashmir, hoping to ensure a favorable vote for the latter to accede to the newly formed Muslim nation in case a United Nations-promised plebiscite, meant to clarify whether Jammu & Kashmir belonged to India or Pakistan, took place.
“The people of the region have since been bearing the brunt of this flawed policy and resultantly, the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan has been in limbo,” said Syed Ansar Hussain, a resident of Gilgit-Baltistan.
A long road to nothing?
Until 2009, the area had been governed directly by Islamabad — a state of affairs that many say continues until today. After accession in 1948, the government declared the area an agency of the central government, and deployed a political agent to administer its affairs through the Frontier Crimes Regulation — the notorious set of laws that allows collective punishments, outlaws political activity, and denies basic rights like appeal, wakeel and daleel (the right to appeal detention, the right to legal representation and the right to present reasoned evidence) in the tribal areas (Fata) today. Though the FCR was lifted by the former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1971, the region remained largely outside of Pakistani politics. Its development works were administered by a council with representatives from the centre and the region, that either did not function, or, say experts, remained dominated by a chief executive appointed by the Pakistan government.
An attempt to turn the fate of Gilgit-Baltistan around has also been met with scathing criticism. In 2009, the PPP passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, thereby introducing an ‘autonomy package’ meant to turn the fate of this area around. Other than renaming the region (it used to be called the Northern Areas) and establishing the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA), it gave Gilgit-Baltistan full internal autonomy. The package replaced direct rule from Islamabad with a 33-seat assembly that is supposed to function as a provincial legislature — with the right to formulate its own Rules of Procedures, legislate on 61 ‘subjects’ or areas, and allocate and invest development funds given by Islamabad.
However, internal autonomy never meant that Gilgit-Baltistan had the constitutional authority to function on a par with Pakistan’s provinces. As a result, the relative improvement in Gilgit-Baltistan’s status vis-à-vis the centre failed to convince the area’s more critical or nationalist voices — they rejected the package, calling it a “gimmickry of words”.
“We want complete constitutional rights declaring this region as a fifth province of the country,” said Dedar Ali, a newly nominated provincial minister in the GBLA.
Ali and other critics also say that the governance package can be removed by the whiff of a presidential hand — or order. With no constitutional legitimacy as a province, its administrative status makes it especially vulnerable to the whims of the next party in power.
Meanwhile, the chief minister has limited authority — like the appointments, postings and transfers of civil servants below grade 18. His financial powers are limited, and he finds himself having to “turn to Islamabad with a begging bowl” according to one critic, far too often.
Some critics go further, saying that the present administrative package is an obstacle in the region’s development.
Some, like senior journalist and chief editor of Daily Siachen Gilgit Baltistan, Syed Bahadur Ali Salik, think that the present administrative package is an obstacle when it comes to the development of the region — half of the allocated budget goes to non-development spending, i.e. spending on the governor’s, chief minister’s and ministers’ salaries and perks.
“That was why we have seen no development works being completed in this region over the last three years,” says Salik.
Keeping a close watch
“Why watch the general election? Because when the GBLA goes to elections in two years, we’re going to have to make sure that we elect a central party to power, so they can help us develop this region,” says Salik.
In the run-up to elections, more pro-government factions find it realistic to align themselves with the party that will hold power in the centre, and therefore power over the development funds and ultimate future fate of the region.
In the last election for the GBLA, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan fully supported the PPP and managed to establish a government under its party banner. The election result had many hoping that the PPP would solve its problems. Many, however, feel cheated.
“The former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, changed the 2009 ordinance into an executive order, which means Gilgit-Baltistan remains vulnerable to the whims of a central government,” says the former deputy chief executive of Gilgit-Baltistan, Haji Fida Mohammad Nashad. “They went ahead and disappointed a lot of those people who supported them — there were hardly any development projects to speak of. Gilgit-Baltistan is hoping for a political change in the country,” he said.
Salik hopes that the PML-N will bring about a major change. “I hope Mian Nawaz Sharif will upgrade the administrative package of Gilgit-Baltistan — he has announced that he will if the PML-N wins. He has also promised to transform Gilgit-Baltistan into a constitutional province by converting the current order from 2009 into an ordinance,” says Salik.
Nationalists: Independence, not elections
Nationalist parties go much further, and say that the elections are a sideshow that remove focus from the real issue.
The chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement, Engineer Manzoor Hussain Perwana, is disappointed that the Pakistan government has deprived his people of basic human, constitutional and democratic rights. He says that the government has kept Gilgit-Baltistan in a conflict scenario for six decades — within the framework of the Kashmir dispute. The annexation, as he calls it, of Gilgit-Baltistan is illegitimate. Instead, the indigenous Gilgit-Baltistanis who overthrew the erstwhile Dogra regime on Nov 1, 1947, to form an independent government should be considered the real local authority of the region’s indigenous population — and thus be considered one of the three interim governments recognised by the UN as parts of the disputed former state of Jammu & Kashmir (the other two governments are at Muzaffarabad and Srinagar).
Instead, Perwana argues, the Pakistan government has colonised Gilgit-Baltistan, and mishandled and misrepresented the real situation to the international community.
“This region Baltistan, which operates under the de facto administration of Pakistan, has no identity, no constitution, no system, no freedom of expression, no impartial judiciary, no free media, no free movement, no human rights, no rights of vote and no freedom of expression. Instead, it is one of the last colonies of the 21st century, and what Baroness Emma Nicholson, a member of the European Parliament, called a ‘Black Hole’,” says Perwana.