Gilgit-Baltistan: GBLA Members Ired by Wheat and Power Crisis

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Gilgit (ET): Legislators in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), including those belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), criticised the government, on Monday, for not keeping them in the loop over withdrawal of subsidy on wheat in the region during the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly.

“The government must clear its position on the issue, as we are answerable to the people,” said Ayub Shah, a PPP legislator from Ghizer valley, during the question-answer session. He asked the government to take lawmakers into confidence over the matter, which has also triggered protests in some areas.

Recently, around 10,000 people took to the streets in Ghizer valley to protest against increase in wheat prices, which have jumped to Rs1,100 from Rs800 per bag containing 100 kilogrammes.

Shah’s comments proved to be the tip of the iceberg. A number of lawmakers, including Abdul Hameed of PPP and Mirza Hussain and Bashir Ahmed of PML-Q reinforced Shah’s standpoint and rebuked the government for its anti-people policy.

“It is disappointing that the subsidy has been revoked by an elected government. The decision should immediately be annulled keeping in mind the financial condition of people,” they asserted.

However, Senior Minister Muhammad Jaffar, who responded to Shah on behalf of the chief minister in his absence, claimed that the subsidy had not been withdrawn.

“This is totally incorrect. The subsidy is there and will remain as it is a gift from Bhutto to the people of G-B,” he remarked.

He said only transportation charges had been increased due to a rise in fuel prices.

Giving the details of the subsidy, Jaffer said Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Supply Corporation purchases wheat from farmers at Rs28 per kg, while the people receive the commodity at a subsidised rate of Rs11 per kg.

Power crisis

After a brief interval, legislators returned with harsh words for the government, this time against the power crisis that has crippled life in the capital city since November.

Raziuddin, an independent member of the assembly, accused a senior official of the water and power department of receiving Rs5 million as bribe for inviting experts from Lahore to repair the cracked reservoir at Naltar hydel power plant.

Similarly, Jamil Ahmed, deputy speaker of the assembly, also criticised the government for re-awarding the contract to inept companies who failed to deliver in the past.

“Instead of blacklisting such companies, they are being given contracts, which calls the government’s credibility into question,” he said. The speaker, Wazir Baig, formed a committee to probe the issue of the cracked reservoir.

The situation became pretty intense when G-B Minister for Water and Power Wazir Shakil informed the house that it would take another two or three days to restore power in Gilgit. Earlier on Saturday, the government had announced that electricity would remain cut off to the capital city till Monday under a load management plan


Gilgit-Baltistan:Legislators seeks Legal Cover to GB Ordinance 2009

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Gilgit (ET):The ambiguous status of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has sparked a new debate in the region’s legislative assembly — with the fourth day of proceedings witnessing a heated discussion over the existing legal status of the territory.

Assertive legislators rolled out two options: Either provide legal cover for the G-B Self Governance & Empowerment Ordinance 2009, or a setup similar to the one given to Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK).

The debate came in the wake of a petition filed by a resident of G-B Dr Ghulam Abbas in the Supreme Court on Wednesday over the ambiguous constitutional status of G-B. During Wednesday’s hearing the Supreme Court asked the attorney general (AG) to explain under which law was the Self Governance Order 2009 promulgated? The AG replied that the president of Pakistan, on behalf of the federal government, had issued the Self Governance Order 2009 for the region that has no representation in parliament due to its disputed status.

“The setup given to the region needs to be supported by a legal cover just like in AJK,” said Didar Ali, an independent lawmaker during the proceedings of the G-B Legislative Assembly that was chaired by Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed.

He said that in the wake of the hearing on the petition filed in the Supreme Court, it has been learnt that the order through which the G-B Self Governance & Empowerment Ordinance 2009 has been enforced is liable to be repealed by any authority anytime. “We are concerned about that,” he said.

Another independent legislator, Nawaz Naji, termed G-B a “fake province” that has no solid roots in the Constitution.

Rehmat Khaliq, a lawmaker of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), said that constitutionally G-B cannot be given the status of Pakistan’s fifth province due to some international disputes; hence a package similar to the one given to AJK should be allocated to G-B as well.

Meanwhile, G-B Law Minister Wazir Shakil told the house that the G-B ordinance was a presidential order that cannot be abolished. Chief Minister Mehdi Shah then asked the allied party legislators to convince their main leadership to raise their voice in parliament for a permanent status for G-B.

Responding to a question by an independent lawmaker Raziuddin, the law minister said that the G-B judiciary was independent and the government could not interfere in its matters

Gilgit-Baltistan: FWO Postponed Blasting of the Attabad Spillway

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Islamabad (APP):The Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) has postponed its plan of blasting the spillway of artificial Attabad Lake to adopt some effective measures for controlled blasting so as to meet positive results.

Deputy Commissioner Hunza Nagar Burhan Afandi told APP on Friday that the blasting would now take place on February 27 instead of February 18 for some technical reasons and to ensure that it was controlled.”We have asked the residents settled along the bank of Hunza River to avoid going near the river so that loss of lives could be averted,” he said.

He said the preventive measures, in this regard, had already been undertaken by the district administration.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan Sajid Chouhan presided over a meeting, attended by senior police officials, which reviewed preventive measures taken by the district administrations of Gilgit and Hunza Nagar.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Seminar on Gender Based Violence in GB

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Gilgit (ET): Almost 90 per cent of women in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have been subjected to domestic violence at least once in their lives. This was the consensus among speakers during a seminar on gender-based violence held at a local hotel on Thursday.

The seminar stressed on the fact that most women are subjected to physical abuse, mental torture and in some cases, even sexual abuse at home, which often go unreported due to lack of education and tribal norms.

The participants, comprising researchers, human rights activists, journalists and government officials, demanded immediate measures to address the issue.

“There is an urgent need to extend all national and international laws concerning women to G-B to check the increasing cases of violence,” said Yasmeen Nazar, parliamentary secretary for planning and law.

In addition to that, speakers also stressed on the role of men in uprooting the menace by ensuring the rights enshrined for women in religious teachings.

Sher Azam, the coordinator of Trust for Community Empowerment, a non-governmental organisation which organised the event, said women will continue to bear the brunt of violence until collective and coercive measures are taken. “This is the need of the hour and this is what society wants,” he remarked.

Nasreen Nasir, who has won a gallantry award in the past, said Islam guarantees equal rights for men and women, adding that more efforts are needed to curb domestic violence in the region.

At the end of the seminar, participants were asked to sign a petition to introduce laws concerning women in the region, which will be submitted to the concerned authorities.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Tourism in Tajikistan

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By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Although all of Central Asia is landlocked, the worst condition is that of Tajikistan, and this is the greatest reason that this Central Asian country is not getting its due share in tourism and trade and stands as the poorest of all in Central Asia. Another reason seems to be its visa and permit system for traveling within the country that is discouraging the international travel market to sell it as a tourism destination.
The question that should come to mind is, why are the worst conditions being faced by Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan are separated from Tajikistan by the narrow Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the south.

China can connect to Kazakhstan through an expressway, but linkage of Tajikistan with this expressway has yet to be realized. This link is not open while Afghanistan is volatile country still in war and could be in war for many decades (since 1979, Afghanistan has never come out of war).

After independence, Tajikistan suffered from a devastating civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997. Since the end of the war, newly-established political stability and foreign aid have allowed the country’s economy to grow. Trade in commodities such as cotton, aluminum, and uranium has contributed greatly to this steady improvement. However, foreign aid organizations look more interested in connecting Tajikistan with Afghanistan for travel and trade, and this strategy is hampering Tajik tourism and business.

The Pamir Mountains are the strongest product of this country, but the visa and entry permit system is one of the major impediments for the development of tourism towards the Pamir Mountains. When you travel along the Afghan-Tajik border, you need to have a special permit. When you wish to travel to the Badhakshan region, again you need a special permit from the Governor of Badhakshan. Border crossings with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are not very friendly and can be closed anytime without warning. Reaching Pamir Mountains needs too much work for international tour operators, so they are discouraged by the system and offer their clients Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhistan, or Uzbekistan instead of offering Tajikistan.

In all these downbeat states of affairs, Tajikistan tourism is surviving, and if foreign donors support Tajik tourism development without blending it with Afghanistan’s north tourism initiative, Tajikistan can become a hub of tourism activities in Central Asia. Tourism experts consider that Tajikistan is a country of many weaknesses but also has many advantages for developing a strong tourism base. Tajikistan has everything to offer – friendly people, beautiful valleys, and an abundance of natural beauty with the best possible opportunities of developing ecotourism.

Business and tourism arrivals remained low in 2009, 2010, and 2011 compared to its neighbors, due to the limited number of opportunities in the country. As a result, potential travel and tourism revenue remained thwarted.

Tajik airline is also not as proactive as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and has a limited number of international carriers such as Turkish Airlines AS and Air Baltic, which now have access to Tajikistan but still there is no link from South Asia directly to Tajikistan.

Tajikistan still has a strong potential to be an attractive destination for both leisure and business tourists. The beauty of Pamir Mountains could become a high-profile attraction for adventure tourists, while in business terms, the country may benefit from a growing number of business arrivals through investments in its hydro reserves.

There are some international organizations like Aga Khan Foundation and GIZ that are really helping a lot to develop trade and tourism in Tajikistan but mostly their concentration is in and around the areas of Wakhan Knot, the Wakhan belt, and Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). There are a lot of visa and permit processing involved in reaching these areas, therefore, attempts by these international organizations are not as fruitful for these areas as it could be if the border crossing and permit system was modernized, if not abolished.

It has been observed in research that involvement of the non-government sector to promote the tourism industry in Tajikistan is far higher than the government sector. This trend is good, however, such a trend cannot sustain itself for a longer period if the proactive support of the government is not provided, because decision making is in the hand of government and important decisions can make or break the tourism industry of any country.

Last year, an organization of Milal Inter held a wonderful forum for attracting investment to Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). GBAO borders with 3 countries – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and the People’s Republic of China.

Based on the needs of entrepreneurs, the association of entrepreneurs and mountain farmers, “Milal-Inter,” together with the State Committee on investment and state property management under financial support of Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GbmH had organized an investment forum, “Pamir Invest 2011.”

The Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association (PECTA) is also working hard to develop tourism through its members in Pamir mountain region. PECTA was founded in 2008 by a group of private-sector tourism businesses with the purpose of developing the tourism sector in the Pamirs through collaborative work.

PECTA is a membership-based association, which represents the Pamirs as a destination in national, regional, and international markets. Association members are grouped into categories based on services they provide and include tour operators, direct tourism service providers, guest houses, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and home stays. By marketing the services of these members and offering support through training and capacity building, along with representing the destination as a whole, PECTA plays the role of a Destination Management Organization (DMO). Tours and services provide trekking, horse and camel riding, cultural tours, alpine and rock-climbing tours, jeep safaris, bird-watching and wild life observation tours, pilgrim tours, tailor-made tours, visa and permits, transfers, transportation, accommodation, guides, and equipment rental.

Pamir Highway Adventure and the Murghab Eco-Tourism Association (META) are founded and run by local people and promote tourism of Pamirs and Tajikistan.

The Murghab EcoTourism Association was established in 2003. The association participants, chosen from among the most economically-vulnerable families, received basic training, and a code of ethics was adopted by all stakeholders. The association has subsequently become a revenue-generating activity due to collaboration with other local development agencies. In particular, an association of women artisans has produced local craft goods that are now exported to various outlets in Central Asia and Europe.

The review of Tajikistan tourism indicates that some drastic decisions at the government level are needed to improve the situation, including offering connection with more international airports by its official airline, policies to offer incentives to international airlines to reach its airports, changes in its permit system, better facilities offered at cross-border points, and, of course, a massive media campaign to promote Tajikistan instead of depending upon only private and the non-government sector to promote the country as a destination.

The author of this article, Agha Iqrar Haroon, is the former Consultant to the Ministry of Tourism for the government of Pakistan and the former President of the Ecotourism Society Pakistan (ESP).

Gilgit-Baltistan: Anti State Elements Involved in Fuelling Ethnicity and Sectarian Disharmony

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ISLAMABAD (Dawn): Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Monday reiterated strict action against anti-state elements involved in fuelling ethnicity and sectarian disharmony.

Responding to a point of order by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) MNA Maulana Atta-ur- Rehman, Interior Minister said, a handful of traitors were busy in disrupting peace in different parts of the country.

“They have tried everything to fuel sectarianism in Karachi during the last two months. They sold out their conscience for a few pennies. But, we shall not let them succeed in their designs,” he said.

“They made every effort for Shia-Sunni conflict. What is happening in D I Khan is also known to us,” he said and added, some countries do not like to see Pakistan strong and stable.

“Our enemies are always busy in hatching conspiracies against our existence,” said Malik.

He called upon the parliament, democratic forces, media and civil society to join hands against the anti-Pakistan forces.

When Maulana Atta-ur-Rehman drew the attention of the minister towards attack on his party’s Information Secretary in Gilgit-Baltistan, the minister offered an inquiry committee including officials from FIA and Intelligence Bureau.

He assured to talk to Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan, Home Minister and Inspector General of Police and sought the name of a representative from JUI-F to be part of the inquiry committee.

He appreciated JUI-F services for the democracy and said, “I will get the investigation done properly and reach to the bottom of the conspiracy.”

He said the resolution adopted by the National Assembly has sent a clean message to everybody that Pakistan wanted to be respected and continue to exist as a sovereign state.

Gilgit-Baltistan: Hydel Projects of AJK and GB Reviewed By PM

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ISLAMABAD (APP): A high level meeting under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday reviewed progress on hydel power projects in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan with a view to accelerate their process of completion to meet energy requirements of the people. During the meeting held at Prime Minister House, the Prime Minister directed that the action plan should be implemented by the relevant ministries, adding that the projects below the capacity of 50 MW should be completed on top priority.

The Prime Minister directed Secretary, Ministry of Water and Power to get Skardu and Gilgit connected with the national grid, which would smoothen the supply of electricity to a great deal.
Chairman WAPDA Shakil Durrani apprised the meeting that the connectivity of Skardu and Gilgit with the National Grid would be completed with an estimated foreign funding of $ 100 million from the French Agency for Development.
Chief Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan said that there were 108 projects in Gilgit with 137 MW generation capacity and their completion would be effected by 2016 with an estimated cost of Rs 137 billion.
The Secretary Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan stated during his presentation that there were seven ongoing projects in AJK which would produce 11 MW of electricity and the projects would be completed by the end of this year.
He said that the Federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) included three projects of hydel power generation which would be completed with an estimated cost of Rs 9.9 billion by 2016 and would produce 55 MW of power.
The Secretary further pointed out that the private sector has taken up two power projects, at Bong “Mirpur” and Pathrand (Muzaffarabad) which would produce 231 MW of electricity.
He further pointed out that there was very encouraging response from the investors on seven projects and the government was proactively undertaking the projects at the earliest.
Earlier, in his opening statement, Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan congratulated the Prime Minister and his leadership on the unanimous passage of the 20th constitutional amendment yesterday which would have positive effects on the democratic dispensation of the country.
The unanimous enactment of the amendment had indeed raised the status of the politicians in the real sense, he said.
Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Water & Power Syed Naveed Qamar, Minister for Kashmir Affairs & GB Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, Chief Minister GB Syed Mehdi Shah, Secretary M/o Water & Power, Secretary EAD, Secretary Kashmir Affairs & GB, Chief Secretary GB, Chairman WAPDA and other senior officials were also present in the meeting.