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Hunza landslide death toll rises to 13

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on January 5, 2010

By Zulfiqar Ali Khan

HUNZA, Jan 5: Death toll in the Monday’s disaster at Atabad rose to 13.

About 30 people are still missing. Rescue work was resumed early in the morning on Tuesday.

National Disaster management Chairman Gen (retd) Farooq Ahmed, Force Commander Gilgit-Baltistan Maj Gen Bajwa, Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly Speaker Wazir Baig and member Mutabiat Shah, Chief Secretary Babaer Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad and other officials reached the affected area.

Thirteen bodies mostly women and children were laid to rest at Aliabad, main town of Huinza on Tuesday amid tears. The bodies were recovered from the rubble and efforts are on to rescue other people still under the rubble, by the local volunteers and rescue workers who are racing against time to rescue others.

The massive landslide, caused by shearing off a portion of the mountain, hit Atabad, a small hamlet, about twenty kilometres from main Hunza, damaging over 40 houses, a community centre, a school, cattle pens, trees and orchards, causing panic in Hunza-Nagar.

The boulders and debris rolling down the slope blocked the water flow in Hunza River, forming a lake that would threaten the low-lying villages and submerge many villages in Gojal, upper Hunza.

The landslide has damaged over two kilometres stretch of the Karakuram Highway, disrupting all kinds of communication links and traffic between Gojal and Hunza. About 170 families have been evacuated from the village to safer places.

A thick cloud of dust blanketed the whole Hunza, Nagar and Gojal valleys.

People of Atabad village had noticed shearing off the rocks, with cracks developing fast on it in 1994 when a high magnitude of earthquake jolted the village.  Later the local authorities declared the area dangerous without making any alternative arrangement of relocation and rehabilitation of the inhabitants. The continuous geological movement had developed huge gullies in the village and surrounding mountains. The people from the dangerous zone of the village were evacuated some days ago.

The residents had conveyed to the authorities concerned about the danger.

Experts had suggested rehabilitation of the residents to some alternative area, as living in such a hazard-prone environment could result in disaster anytime.

But the local administration not responded to the concerns of the people. Had they taken the issue seriously the loss of life could have been avoided, a volunteer working with a civil society organisation said requesting not to be named.

The residents had boycotted November 2009 elections for Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly as no candidate – either ruling party or from other parties – had taken their problem seriously.

A delegation from the village had met Governor Qamar Zaman Kaira at Karimabad Hunza to inform him about the danger. He had assured them of help but no concrete steps were taken.

Posted in Economy, Environment, GECA, Gilgit-Baltistan, Government, Hunza-Gojal, Natural Resources, Society, Water | 1 Comment »

100 more licenses to be issued for ‘exploration’ of minerals in GB

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on November 22, 2009

Gilgit, November 22: The Tourism and Mineral Department of Gilgit-Baltistan will issue more than 100 licenses to local and foreign firms for exploration of precious minerals in the region while 70 licenses have so far been issued to various national and international firms, the state owned news agency, Secretary Tourism and Minerals Department, Naib Khan has said while talking to a news agency.

He said that gemstones of Rs. 500 million values are extracted annually from Gilgit-Baltistan and more measures were being adopted to explore other precious minerals.

“It has been confirmed that nearly all valleys in GB are shedding gold and base metals but the need is investment to explore them in order to change fate of the area” he added.

He said the area is also rich with white color Marble and the deposits of Shigar (Skardu), Nasirabad (Hunza) and Gupis (Ghizer) which are considered to be of international standard.

Responding to a query he said more than 11 sites of gold mines had already been identified in various parts of the GB and that around 15 firms including local and foreign are already busy in mining gold and copper in various areas which have been allocated to them for this purpose.

At present, about 50 types of different minerals are extracted from the region that include gold, copper, lead and coal besides precious stones topaz, marble and granite which are not only valued in the country but their demand is rising all over the world.

He said the natural resources if exploited properly cannot only fulfill the requirements of the region but would also bring handsome foreign earnings to the country through exports.

Meanwhile, officials of the Northern Areas Gems Stone and Mineral Association said every year traders and stone specialists come to the region to buy stones worth millions of rupees but unfortunately a pittance is paid to the locals as compared to the values of the minerals at the international market.-APP

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PPP seeks applications for upcoming election of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on October 2, 2009

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) while announcing to participate in the election of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly has sought applications from the party workers for upcoming election in Gilgit Baltistan.

PPP Secretary General Jahengir Badar expressed these views in a press conference along with president PPP Gilgit-Baltistan, Mehdi Shah and other office bearers after meeting here in PPP Central Secretariat on Friday.

Jahengir Badar said that in meeting, the party has decided about the election in Gilgit-Baltistan. He said that PPP would receive applications for the nomination of the contestants from 28th September.

He said that these applications addressed to the Co-Chairman PPP would be received at Central office of Gilgit-Baltistan, and could also be submitted in the PPP Central Secretariat in Islamabad.

Jahengir Badar said that applicants are required to attach non-refundable bank draft of Rs10, 000/- and can submit their applications till 2nd October 2009.

He further said that all PPP organization in Gilgit-Baltistan are functioning actively and all the office bearers of Gilgit-Baltistan have attended the today‘s (Friday) meeting.

He said that presidents and secretaries of all the district and including Gilgit-Baltistan attended the conference and “we are ready to accept the challenges of forth coming election”.

Jehangir Badar said that PPP had always played its magnificent role for the progress and development of the Northern Areas.

President PPP Gilgit-Baltistan, Syed Mehdi Shah said that Co-Chairman PPP, President Asif Ali Zardari has empowered the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

He thanked the President Asif Ali Zardari for providing them their rights and taking the mission of Z. A Bhutto Shaheed and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, forward-Online

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Historic house in Hunza receives UNESCO Heritage Award

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on October 2, 2009

By Our Special Correspondent

HUNZA, Oct 2: A newly restored historic house in Hunza has been selected for Unesco’s Heritage Award for 2009. The 400-year-old Ali Gohar House, an architectural masterpiece, formerly used by Hunza’s envoy to Kashghar, is one of the winners of the Distinction Award. Ali Gohar House, that was restored by the Aga Khan Cultural Service, (AKCS-P), was selected by a panel of international conservation experts in architecture, urban planning, heritage conservation and landscape design from among 52 entries from 14 Asia-Pacific countries, including Australia, China, India, Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand and Thailand.

Unesco representatives will hand over the award to the community at Ganish, one of the Hunza’s oldest settlements, at a ceremony early next year.Ali Gohar

The AKCS-P, which is AKCS-P is involved in the rehabilitation of Ganish settlements since 1998, on the request of the Ganish Khun Heritage Care and Social Welfare Society (GKHC&SWS), initiated the physical conservation of the house in 2004. The house would be used as a community centre, providing working space to the Ganish society, encouraging women to congregate and work, and to be a centre for arts, crafts and documentation of Ganish culture. The house has now been leased by the owner to the community, setting a strong example of community-based management system.

During the restoration, AKCS-P ensured minimising the appearance and unseen presence of all modern elements. The insertions needed for the adaptive re-use were designed in such a way that it permits, if necessary, their removal or alteration in future without damaging the adjacent original fabric. Minor modern materials such as the addition of basic electric and plumbing services were part of the new material incorporated in the historic building’s fabric. All such insertions were undertaken to retain authenticity and integrity of the original house. During the whole process, three missing historic wooden stairs were replaced by new ones to meet modern safety standards, whereas the rest of the house remains in its original form.

Working under the Aga Khan Development Network’s Historic Cities Programmes, AKCS-P, has been promoting community-based conservation in Hunza and Baltistan, including preservation of architectural heritage and environmental assets. The 700-year-old Baltit Fort, 1,100 year-old Altit Fort, the splendid Shigar Fort and the Khaplu Palace are some of the projects which have been or are currently being restored by AKCS-P. These restored projects act as engines of growth in social, physical, economic and institutional processes that ensure tangible local benefits and ownership, while strengthening confidence, pride and cultural identity. AKCS-P draws upon the strengths of other AKDN agencies in provision of an integrated area development programme around these restored landmarks, which has led to the rehabilitation and revitalisation of historic settlements of Karimabad, Ganish, Chumerkhun and Altit in Hunza; Hunduli, Chinpa, Halpapa, Khlingrong in Baltistan; Hoper in Nagar; and Lone and Arkari in Chitral.
AKCS-P, the operating arm of the Historic Cities Programme (HCP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), has received a total of 13 international awards till date of which the top six include the two UNESCO Excellence Award in 2004 for restoration of Baltit Fort and in 2006 for restoration of the Shigar Fort, the Pacific-Asia Travellers Association (PATA) Golden Globe Award for Baltit Fort in 1996, Globe Award for Heritage in 2006 for Shigar Fort, the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award in 2000 for Baltit Fort and the Virgin Responsible Tourism Award for Shigar Fort in 2008.

Established in 1988 by His Highness the Aga Khan, with the mandate to promote cultural conservation and heritage development, AKTC has been focusing its activities on the improvement of built environment in countries with predominantly Muslim populations, where societies are feeling increasing stresses of change and urbanisation. By acknowledging architecture as an important instrument of cultural identity, the Trust seeks to encourage architecture and urban renewal process.

UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards have been established to recognise the achievement of individuals and organisations within the private sector, and the public-private initiatives, in successfully restoring structures of heritage value in the region. This project advances UNESCO’s global strategic objective of “promoting the drafting and implementation of standard setting instruments in the field of culture”. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) believes that recognising private efforts to restore and adapt historic structures will encourage other property owners to undertake conservation projects within the community, either independently or by seeking public-private partnerships.

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PPP and PML-Q stretch muscles for Gilgit-Baltistan polls

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on September 28, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Sep 28: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) are stretching their muscles for giving each other tough time in upcoming Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly elections. The maiden elections after implementation of Presidential Reforms Package for Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly; previously called Northern Areas Legislative Assembly (NALA), would be held on November 12, 2009 under supervision of the court.marvi pic


Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly consists of total 33 seats out of which 24 members are directly elected while three seats are reserved for technocrats and six for women.


With October 1st as last date for filing the nomination papers, both PPP and PML-Q have started receiving significant number of applications from aspirants across the region.


Sayed Mehdi Shah, President of PPP Gilgit-Baltistan told APP on Monday that their party has so far received applications with an average of five to six candidates per constituency. Even at some places the number was as higher as eight applications per constituency, he added.


Shah said Peoples Party has decided to field its candidates in 22 constituencies out of 24 while two remote constituencies would skipped due to shortage of time and ensure focused run for the potential seats.


“Well, we have accepted the challenge. We are on the field to contest and win. Our workers, leaders and supporters struggling hard with optimism and higher morale,” he said.


When asked about alleged administrative interference, Shah negated the accusations saying that his party was relying upon public power instead of state power as they have huge vote bank in the northern hilly region.


“Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had favors on Gilgit-Baltistan people. And now President Asif Ali Zardari-led government has taken mega step for our empowerment and development. I am sure northern region people would not let PPP down,” he said.


Meanwhile, MNA Marvi Memon, who is also PML’s incharge for Gilgit-Baltistan, claimed that her party had more strong candidates than Peoples Party and it was going to field candidates across the 24 constituencies.


“Position of PML-Q stalwarts is stronger. We hope to regain our previous majority on November 14 when official election results would be announced,” she said.


The MNA said she herself visited the area thrice during month of Ramadan while the top PML central leadership was also scheduled to visit the Gilgit-Baltistan to buck-up its candidates during electioneering.


chaudhry-qamar-zaman-kaira“Surely performance will make the difference and our track record speaks louder than us as PML had undertaken mega development in the region,” she claimed.-APP

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The Gilgit-Baltistan saga at DawnNews

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on September 18, 2009

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Voices around: Gilgit-Baltistan autonomy package wins few friends

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on September 17, 2009

Nirupama Subramanian

A package of reforms recently announced by the Pakistan government for Gilgit-Baltistan appears to have satisfied few among those it is meant to benefit.

Disappointed at what they say is a “package of gimmicks,” the people of the remote region have voiced protests against the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009.

But they are also leery of New Delhi’s diplomatic protest against it, saying they are as much victims of India as of Pakistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan is the northern-most territory governed by Islamabad and an important element in the India-Pakistan wrangle over Kashmir. It is also in the middle of a geo-strategic hot-spot.

To its north, it shares boundaries with Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region; to the west is Pakistan’s troubled North-West Frontier Province; to its south is Pakistan Occupied Kashmir; and to the east, India’s Jammu & Kashmir state.

New Delhi claims it as part of J&K, and therefore as an integral part of India. Pakistan also links the region to the Kashmir issue, but in contrast to “Azad Kashmir” or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, has kept the territory in a constitutional limbo, referring to it until now only by the geographical appellation of Northern Areas.

About the only thing that has been welcomed in the autonomy package is the renaming of the area as Gilgit-Baltistan, which better conveys that people with a distinct identity live in that region.

Identity is key to the grievances of Gilgit-Baltistan people, estimated at 1.5 million since the last count in 1998. They do not consider themselves Kashmiri and have little in common with them. The majority are Shia, and a significant number are Ismaili. They belong to several non-Kashmiri ethnicities, and speak a host of languages, none of which are Kashmiri.

Their first link to Kashmir came with the British sale of the region to the Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir in the 19th century. After many twists and turns over 100 years, the people of the territory successfully rebelled against the maharaja on November 1, 1947. They put their future in the hands of Pakistan but found the clock turned back on them when Pakistan linked their fate to that of the Kashmiris.

Accepting Gilgit-Baltistan’s accession would have undermined Pakistan’s international case for Kashmir. In later years, Pakistan did not want to forego the votes from Gilgit-Baltistan in the event of a plebiscite on Kashmir.

But unlike ***, which got some make-believe autonomy, the Northern Areas remained an undefined entity.

Analysts believe the remoteness of the region, its scattered population, the absence of links between local leaders and the Pakistani leadership, all combined to deny Gilgit-Baltistan the comparative political largesse bestowed on ***.

The territory came under direct rule of the federal government through the Ministry of Kashmir and Northern Areas (KANA). The military had a big role in administering the region. In 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ushered in a directly elected “council” but left the administrative system untouched. More reforms packages followed in 1990s, and by the Musharraf regime in 2007, when it was on its last legs. Each promised “maximum autonomy” but contributed only cosmetic changes. To date, the people of the region are only de facto citizens of Pakistan.

The Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009 of August 29, signed by President Asif Ali Zardari on September 7, yet again promises maximum autonomy to the people of the region.

Under the package, Gilgit-Baltistan will have a Governor as in the other four provinces of Pakistan, without constitutionally being made a province. The leader of the Legislative Assembly will be known as chief minister; the Assembly will have 33 members, of whom 24 are to be directly elected; it will have powers to legislate on 61 subjects.

In addition, the Governor will head a 12-member Council, with half the members from the Assembly and half appointed by the Governor. A fresh election for the Legislative Assembly is to be held by November. The territory will also have its own chief election commissioner, a public service commission.

The government has described it as a “province-like” status for Gilgit-Baltistan. But the new measures have failed to satisfy any segment of the Gilgit-Baltistan population.

Those demanding self-governance see it falling well short of empowerment of the local people. Instead, they see the package tightening the federal government’s hold by the appointment of a Governor. The Council is seen as a move to dilute the Assembly’s powers. While the Assembly has been given powers to pass the budget, it does not spell out how much say the Chief Minister will have in framing it. The Assembly does not have the right to legislate on its natural resources, including water and minerals.

Nationalists, whose demand for independence has gained ground over the years thanks to the denial of basic rights to the region, have also rejected the package.

Pakistan did not consult anyone in Gilgit-Baltistan for this package. The provision for chief minister and Governor is illegal because this is not a province of Pakistan,” said Shafqat Inquilabi, a former spokesman of the nationalist Balawaristan National Front.

“We are a separate state,” the young activist said, and the least Pakistan could do, according to him, was to treat it on par with Azad Kashmir until the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

“We are the fourth party to the Kashmir dispute and we must be included in the talks as such,” he said.

Human rights activists have rejected it saying Pakistan has yet again failed to make any constitutional arrangements for the people of the territory, while those demanding complete integration with Pakistan say it has fallen short of their demand that the territory should have been incorporated as the fifth province of the country.

Bar the PPP, national mainstream political parties active in the region view the package as “pre-poll rigging” for the fresh Legislative Assembly election.

Opposition has also come from Kashmiris, who have seen in it an insidious move by the PPP government to dilute their cause by giving a region internationally considered a part of the Kashmir issue a province-like status within Pakistan.

But it has rankled the people of Gilgit-Baltistan even more that while moving to assuage the fear of the Kashmiris —Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held a special briefing for *** leaders on September 4 — the government did not take them into confidence even after announcing the package.

Instead of winning hearts and minds, the package has spurred a major debate on the motives behind it. The Kashmiris see pressure from the U.S. or Indians as the reason for the package as according to them, it is a move by the PPP government towards a tacit acceptance of the status quo on Kashmir.

According to one theory being circulated in the blogosphere, the government had hoped the package would act as a sop to clam down opposition in Gilgit-Batlistan to the government plans for construction of dams in the region.

During a recent visit to China, President Zardari signed an MoU for the Bunji Hydroelectric Project in Astore, to be constructed by the Chinese on a “Build, operate, transfer” basis. The dam, estimated to cost up to $7 billion, all of it to be invested by the Chinese under the BOT agreement, will have a capacity to generate 7,000 megawatts of electricity.

Some think China, with its high profile investment in several projects including telecommunications, the expansion of the Karakoram Highway, and the construction of a dry port on the Xinjiang border, is behind the government’s latest move keen that there should be no unrest in the region.

“Without a legitimate government in the area, no outside power in the region has a right to start any infrastructure project. We will consider it illegal and illegitimate unless there is a representative government in Gilgit-Baltistan,” said Ali Ahmed Jan, a founder member of the Karakoram Students Movement, now an Islamabad-based human rights activist.

Some also see it as a move to pacify Western donors concerned about the denial of rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Last week’s protest by India to Pakistan against the Gilgit-Baltistan Order and the proposed construction of the Bunji dam, has also drawn criticism.

Describing the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as the “worst victims of the India-Pakistan dispute”, Mr. Jan pointed out that they were left out of the numerous confidence-building measures of the peace process. A Skardu-Kargil bus route was proposed but never implemented.

“India’s opposition to the package is unjustified unless it can come up with a plan that will give relief to the victims of the Kashmir dispute,” said Mr. Jan. Pakistan had attempted to do this, he said, even though “it is another matter that what they have given is simply not enough”.

Courtesy The Hundu

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First Governor’s first step: Rs1.5m distributed among poor patients

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on September 16, 2009

Gilgit, September 16: The governor distributed Rs1.5 million among the poor patients of District Headquarters Hospital Gilgit.

Secretary Health and Population Welfare, Sohail Saqlain told APP on Wednesday that the governor during his visit to the hospital directed that all poor patients must be given financial assistance through Pakistan Baitul Mal besides free of cost treatment.

The governor also handed over 5 vehicles for Nursing Schools Skardu, and Gilgit and for polio eradication being launched in the area.

Mr Kaira appreciated the working of health department and directed for provision of round the clock best medical facilities to all patients of this region under one roof.

Chief Secretary,Babar Yaqoob and Managing Director, Pakistan Baitul Mal, Zammurad Khan and others were also present on the occasion.–APP

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Protest Demo against firing incident in Gilgit City

Posted by Gilgit Tribune on September 13, 2009

By our Correspondent

Gilgit, September 13: Hundreds of people gathered in the main Bazaar in Gilgit city, shutting down shops and bringing the business life to a halt in reaction against a firing incident of the previous day that resulted in the death of two laborers.

The protest that lasted for over four hours was jointly organized by Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat and Jamat Islami.The protesters chanted slogans against the local administration and demanded of the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The protestors disbursed after negotiations with the police and local administration.

A police official talking to the leaders of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat and Jamat Islami

A police official talking to the leaders of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat and Jamat Islami

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