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Gilgit-Baltistan: Religious Parties to promote sectarian harmony in GB

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GILGIT (ET): Four religious parties in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have joined hands to promote sectarian harmony in the region. They expressed the concern that G-B had become the centre of foreign powers’ attention over the years owing to its geographic location. The decision was taken by the leadership of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Jamat Islami (JI) and Shia Ulema Council (SUC) during an Iftar dinner held here recently.

“Since the political government has failed to maintain peace, it is now up to the religious organisations to come forward and play their due roles,” said Advocate Mushtaq of Jamat Islami.

Sheikh Nayyar Hussain represented the Wahdatul Muslimeen, while Maulana Maqsood represented JUI-F. Advocate Mushtaq and Maulana Abdul Sami represented JI while Shia Ulema Council was represented by Sheikh Mirza Ali.

The religious parties’ alliance is viewed as the first major breakthrough in the region after the worst sectarian bouts that claimed 23 lives and wounded over 50 others recently.

The clerics decided to form Milli Yakjehti Council to cement ties of the rival sects whose clashes have stalled all development activities in the region. The first meeting of the council has been scheduled for the first week of September.

Abdul Sami said that nefarious designs of the enemies could only be defeated by observing patience and removing mutual mistrust.

The leaders also agreed to use the platform of Milli Yakjehti Council for celebrating religious events jointly in future. Moreover, they decided to form similar setups at district level to forge unity among the followers of respective sects.

Gilgit-Baltistan:DBD Funding linked to Indian Agreement by WB

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Islamabad (ET): Amidst strained relations with the US, Pakistan was unable to obtain a positive response from Washington-based World Bank to help finance the $11.7 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam project.

Sources in the ministry of finance revealed that the World Bank has again linked the financing of the multi-billion dollar project with Indian concurrence. Pakistan was unable to receive a firm commitment from World Bank’s Vice President for South Asia Isabel Guerrero to co-finance the mega project when Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh met with the former on Monday.

Sources added that Shaikh raised the issue of financing the dam with the vice president but could not get a “welcoming response”.

Earlier, the government had claimed that the World Bank has agreed in principle to finance the project. The breakthrough was achieved during Shaikh’s meetings with top officials of the international lending agency during his visit to Washington.

Officials are attributing the bank’s retraction and change of heart to the strained relationship that Islamabad and Washington have witnessed of late. Some sources said that the World Bank has linked the financing of the dam with Indian concurrence for the project — given India’s opposition to the dam on claims that it is located in the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Insiders insisted that the US has given assurances that it will ask the World Bank to finance the project but the promise remains unfulfilled. “We have come to the conclusion that the issue of the financing of the dam by the World Bank can only be resolved during strategic discussions with the US,” an official said.

The US enjoys immense clout over the working of the international bank given that it is the largest fund provider and also holds the presidency of the multilateral lending agency.

The finance minister also asked the World Bank to restore its budgetary support that remained suspended due to deterioration in key macroeconomic indicators of the country. However, the government could not get encouraging response on that front either.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is expected to be the lead financer of the project that is expected to generate 4500 megawatts of electricity besides storing water for agriculture purposes once completed.

Although the ADB has yet to formally announce the exact numbers despite forcing the government to agree to various conditions, Pakistan is expecting to receive around $4 to $4.5 billion.

In a bid to avoid any dispute, the ADB has compelled the government to offer compensation of international standards which increased the cost of land acquisition.  The fresh cost of land acquisition has been worked out at Rs116.4 billion, according to the Planning Commission document.  However, the government has allocated only Rs7.8 billion for the next year expecting little progress on the dam due to financing bottlenecks. ADB’s new Director General for South and West Asia Klaus Gerhaeusser is also coming to Islamabad on a one-day visit to discuss issues relating to the financing of energy sector projects, primarily the Diamer-Bhasha dam, said sources.

He is slated to hold meetings with Shaikh, Minister for Water and Power Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and Wapda Chairman Shakil Durrani.

Gilgit-Baltistan:GB Rich in Tourism

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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:SC tribunal to resolve KPK-GB dispute on DBD

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ISLAMABAD (News): The government will constitute a high-powered tribunal led by chief justice of Pakistan to resolve the complicated issue of net hydel profit share between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) governments on account of construction of Diamer-Basha dam.

Chairman Wapda, Shakil Durrani confirmed to The News on Sunday that a high-powered tribunal would be constituted to resolve the issue. Without putting in place required mechanism in shape of safety guard measures related to land compensation, environment and resolving net hydel profit share, the multilateral donors consortium led by Asian Development Bank (ADB) will find it difficult to make Basha project as bankable for other donors to manage financing of $12.7 billion for its construction.

There is one achievement that Council of Common Interest (CCI) granted its approval to Diamer Basha dam that would really help achieving international support for this crucial project.

However, sources said that for construction of Diamer-Basha dam, there is a plan to construct two power houses with generation capacity of 2,250 megawatt (MW) each totaling generation capacity of 4500 MW out of which Right Bank power house will be located in GB and Left Bank power house is located in a disputed territory between KP and GB.

The upcoming tribunal will be assigned to come up with amicable solution acceptable to all parties. When contacted, ANP leader Haji Adeel, who represented the province in NFC and other relevant forums, told this correspondent on Sunday that the alignment boundary commission would be established to resolve the dispute of location where one power house station will be constructed.

He also said that he was not aware of constitution of any tribunal to resolve this issue between KP and GB. He said that another high-powered committee was established by this government to resolve the issue of net hydel profit share but no meeting has so far been held.

Dwelling upon the historical prospective on net hydel profit share demand of KPK, he said the arbitration committee gave its verdict in favour of KP for period of 1991 to 2005 which resulted into outstanding dues to the tune of Rs110 billion in favour of the province. He said it was also decided that the due amount would be given in installment so 10 percent extra would be given to KP.

He said that KP was given Rs10 billion extra during 2009-10 while the province also got Rs25 billion in 2010-11. In the ongoing fiscal year, the government has not so far paid to KP against its outstanding amount and was also giving indication to pay the outstanding amount in monthly and quarterly installments by citing economic and financial crunch.

Haji Adeel also said that the arbitration committee also accepted that Rs6 billion share of net hydel profit was on lower side so it needed to be increased. He said that KP demanded from the government to increase its share of net hydel profit to the range of Rs35 to 40 billion per annum from previous amount of Rs6 billion per annum.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Revival of Silk Route to benefit Pakistan

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Beijing (ET): Revival of the ancient Silk Route can benefit Pakistan’s ailing economy, if the country upgrades its infrastructure along modern lines, says a Chinese minister.

“The Silk Route was a famous trade route in the ancient times. This proves that we have a long history of trade. Nowadays, the form of trade has changed. It needs to be developed along modern lines. I hope that this can benefit Pakistan’s economic development,” Ai Ping, Chinese Vice-Minister of the International Department Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview.

Ai shared his personal views about the issues faced by Pakistan, its relationship with China and emphasised on improving trade relations to strengthen the entire region.

After development of its eastern side, China is now focusing on developing its western region by investing billions of dollars. Chinese authorities said the western parts, particularly Xinjiang that borders Pakistan, will be the focus of development. The area is being linked with the rest of the country through state-of-the-art communication networks.

In a recent article, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Beijing Masood Khan said Pakistan can turn into the most important westward artery for China’s exports, as it builds a Eurasian bridge. Pakistan’s ports can shrink distances between China, the Middle East and Africa.

However, Ai said Pakistan can benefit by upgrading its airports, highways, railway networks and ports and the two countries can cooperate to not only help boost Pakistan’s economy but also open new vistas of cooperation, including power generation, between the two countries, he added.

He hoped that after the pullout of US-led Nato forces from Afghanistan, there will be chances of bringing peace to the war-torn country and improving economic cooperation. According to analysts, Pakistan might lose important US aid following the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but it is possible to turn the region into a peaceful commercial hub for transcontinental trade — reminiscent of the ancient Silk Route. On the reported complaints against extremists using terrorist bases on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for training to create disturbances in China, Ai claimed that there is a general impression in China that Pakistan has been very supportive in fighting extremists. However, he added there can be some elements that are beyond the Pakistan government’s control.

“Some people say this war on terror was imposed on Pakistan. My personal opinion is that Pakistan is a victim of terror attacks. Pakistani people and the government are fighting against these evils. Pakistan is entitled to more support in the fight against terrorists,” he claimed.

On the issue of Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project and US opposition to it, Ai gave candid remarks. “I think now there are some arguments about tensions… Even US intelligence operatives so far are not sure whether Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. I believe Iran has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, so I do not know why this project is controversial,” he said. “But once again this is my personal opinion. I am not speaking on behalf of the Chinese government,” he added.

Gilgit-Baltistan:The Kargil-Skardu Route: Implications Of Its Opening

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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: zainab9059@gmail.com

Gilgit-Baltistan: Rescue Operation Continues Amidst Fading Hopes

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Islamabad (ET:With no sign of survivors nearly 36 hours after an avalanche smashed into a Pakistan Army camp near the Siachen Glacier, the military hoped for a ‘miracle’ on Sunday as rescuers searched for the 124 soldiers and 11 civilians buried beneath a blanket of snow.

Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the Giari area where the avalanche struck on Saturday to supervise the rescue operation launched by the army’s Engineering Corps to recover the victims, who belong to the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion.

“The avalanche of such a magnitude was unprecedented in the last 20 years of this Battalion Headquarters’ existence at Giari,” said Gen Kayani.

“I have directed the concerned departments of Pakistan Army to immediately mobilise all available resources with the assistance of Pakistan Air Force to carry out a full-scale rescue operation.”

According to the army, 240 troops and civilians participated in the rescue operation on Sunday with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, some of which was flown in on military aircraft.

Rescuers dug through snow, boulders and slush in a desperate search for the 135 people buried under the snow more than 1,000 metres wide and 25 metres high – as hopes faded of finding any survivors.

“Let’s hope for a miracle,” a military official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. Another military official, also speaking off the record, said that there were reports that some of the trapped soldiers are still alive.

However, mountaineering expert Colonel Sher Khan disagreed.  “There is no hope, there is no chance at all,” he told AFP.

“You can survive only in the first 5-10 minutes,” he said. “The casualties in avalanches occur due to pressure of heavy weight, extreme cold and lack of oxygen.”

Apart from bulldozers and excavators, chemicals were being used to melt the ice. But due to harsh weather and great height, the rescue work is slow. The victims are trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on the earth, at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Karakoram mountain range.

Gen Kayani appreciated the morale and efforts of the troops who were braving harsh weather conditions and inhospitable terrain and directed the commanders to leave ‘no stone unturned’ to reach out to the trapped troops.

He said that the calamity, in no way, should affect the morale of the troops defending their homeland at the world’s highest battlefield.

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An eight-member team of US experts, meanwhile, arrived in Rawalpindi on Sunday to provide technical assistance in the rescue operation.

According to a military statement, discussion will be held with the US team to find out the possibility and nature of assistance required to expedite the rescue operation. Offer of technical assistance from other friendly countries is also being considered.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also offered to provide assistance to Pakistan, The Hindustan Times reported. Singh made the offer during his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

In response, Zardari appreciated India’s offer and said he would seek assistance if needed, the report added.