Astore (Obs.): Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) has rich tourism potential and the government is utilizing all available resources for its promotion. This was stated by Advisor to Tourism Gilgit-Baltistan Miss Sadia Danish in a telephonic conversation with meida on Wednesday.
She said negotiations had been held with various renowned companies of the country to develop the region on modern lines. She added due to the efforts of Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah the tourism department was developing at a rapid pace.
Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is strategically important for Pakistan both in terms of water security and because of the Karakoram Highway, which links Gwadar with China. Consolidating a road that intercepts the Karakoram highway is critically important in times of war for rapidly severing this link that has been deeply detrimental to India’s security. Moreover such a road can provide rapid access to Central Asia should either of two extremities eventuate – the collapse of Pakistan, or a rapid warming of India-Pakistan ties. This article, however, attempts to explore the implications of opening and consolidating the Kargil – Skardu road as a step towards the opening of GB and its pacification, which has been in turmoil for years.
In recent years, the Sectarian violence in GB has, in fact, intensified leading to an attempted exodus to Kharmang in Pakistan, compounded by a human rights problem. Two issues are central to the problem – divided families and a depressed local economy. That cross-border routes alleviate emotional alienation as a result of families divided by borders has been proven by the opening of the Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawlkote routes for Kashmir and Jammu respectively. Now attention needs to be focussed on Ladakh – especially the Shia Baltis of the Kargil and Skardu regions.
Haji Abdul Hamid, a native of Zanskar symbolises this. In 1948 the retreating Pakistan Army, which had occupied the Zanskar heights took many locals and settled them in Skardu. As a result of tight travel restrictions they can only meet in Saudi Arabia or Iran during pilgrimages. Since the Baltis do not identify with the Kashmiri culture, the alleviation of Balti concerns significantly reduces the scope of what is referred to as the “Kashmir Issues” taking further wind away from the sails of this monolith construction.
Historically, the all weather Kargil-Skardu route was a jugular of intra-regional trade on which the local economy was heavily dependent. The events following partition, specifically the India-Pakistan war of 1948 resulted in the closure of this historic route isolating Baltistan from its natural linkages to the outside. The road from Skardu to Kargil via Srinagar is almost a stretch of 1,700Kms while, at the same time, Skardu is a 173kms or a five to six hours drive from Kargil. The entire route is, at present, suitable for four wheeled vehicles and may need some widening for a small stretch of about half a kilometre near the Line of Control (LoC). The utility of the Kargil-Skardu road also lies in its durability in winter months. At present there is only one pass Zoji-La (NH1) which connects the Ladakh region on the Indian side with the rest of the World. But this lifeline is cut off for more than six months in winters due to heavy snowfall and people spend their life in isolation specially in Kargil (Leh has an aerial connectivity from Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi).
This route can become an important trade and tourism link for the people of Ladakh. Several studies indicate the existence of a large smuggling based black market in the region. Formalizing this trade carries the potential of increasing governmental income, which can strengthen the local economy by providing impetus for further growth independent of what happens in the Kashmir valley. As trade between India and Pakistan are carried out in a third country, significant revenues are lost, profit margins are reduced, and costs go up. Formalization of direct trade by eliminating these three undesirable aspects brings an immediate improvement to the quality of life in the region.
GB and Kargil have extensive tourism potential, especially adventure tourism – trekking, mountain biking, river rafting and a host of other such activities. In addition, there are number of routes suitable for high altitude Jeep Safaris. The exploitation of these depends on open circuits with several contingencies and shorter access routes, which are cut off by the border as of now. Moreover, given that the link to Kashmir is snowed in for half the year, this route delinks what is otherwise an all weather tourist destination to the climactic undesirables of weather patterns in Kashmir. As a result, the seasonal unemployment that Kashmir suffers from is unwittingly imposed on the Kargil region, which need not be the case.
Leaders of the Hill Development Council in Kargil have demanded a Greater Ladakh which would include Gilgit, Skardu and Baltistan precisely because the local economic development is being held hostage to events in Kashmir even though the underlying causes are completely divorced from the more contentious issues there. This card if played right can be the first step towards the pacification if not the solution of the Kashmir problem.
Zainab Akhter, Research Intern, IPCS, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“In Phase II of the program we are funding the completion of two dams (Gomal Zam and Satpara) and the accompanying irrigation systems. These dams in FATA and Gilgit-Baltistan are on track to be completed by early 2012 and ultimately will irrigate over 180,000 acres, bring power to 30,000 households, and provide 3.1 million gallons of drinking water daily. By 2012, Phase I and II projects in total will add approximately 900 MW of power generation capacity, which is enough to provide electricity to millions of households.”
Newswise — Researchers from North Dakota State University, Fargo, and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan, are working together to design a solar water heating system for harsh climates.
The project between the two universities involves developing an eco-friendly heating and cooling system for citizens in the underdeveloped region of Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan, where low winter temperatures and wind chill prevent using existing solar energy technology.
Sumathy Krishnan, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Samee U. Khan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, are leading the NDSU group, while Nasrullah Khan Kalair and Waqar H. Bokhari are leading the effort for COMSATS Institute of Information Technology. Together, they are working to harness solar energy efficiently, even in harsh subfreezing conditions, using carbon dioxide as its working fluid and a direct-expansion heat pump to ensure continuous and efficient operation. One of the project’s goals is to create an affordable prototype costing less than $300 that will be ready for field tests in Gilgit-Baltistan over the next two winters.
The collaboration is part of a larger Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program that awarded NDSU and COMSAT research teams a two-year grant for the project. The Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program was established in 2005 to increase scientific collaboration between researchers of both countries for mutually beneficial, practical and applicable projects. It was developed by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, and Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of Pakistan. In the U.S., the project is managed by the National Academies.
According to Kelly Robbins, manager of the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology program at the National Academies, this project was one of 25 selected out of 270 proposals for the competitive program, which is jointly funded by the governments of both countries.
“Our Pakistani and U.S. review panels and program sponsors noted that the project will not only help build Pakistani research capabilities but also develop a product that would directly benefit people living in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Robbins said. “The new system could also be deployed in other countries with harsh winters, including the northern United States, and if the project is successful, it could result in a commercializable product that could create new opportunities for manufacturers and installers in both countries.”
For more information on the hybrid solar water heating system joint project, visit sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/dsc/pakistan/PGA_058762
For more information about the program, visit http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/dsc/pakistan/index.htm
COMSATS Institute of Information Technology was established in 1999 and since has expanded from 350 students to more than 17,000 with seven campuses throughout Pakistan.
North Dakota State University, Fargo, is notably listed among the top 108 public and private universities in the U.S. in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s elite category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” As a student-focused, land grant, research institution with more than 14,000 students, NDSU is listed in the top 40 research universities in the U.S. without a medical school, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation. www.ndsu.edu/research