[Opinion] ANOTHER DRAMA PACKAGE BY PM FOR GILGIT-BALTISTAN
October 1, 2009 2 Comments
By: Abbas Ali
The masses gathered at Lalik Jan Nishan-e-Haider stadium, a stadium named after a hero of Gilgit-Baltistan who sacrificed his life for the security and safety of the interests of Pakistan in Kargil War, were welcoming Yous Raza gillani expecting he would say something that might be harbinger for a positive change in their lives. Fortunately Shahid Lalik Jan’s sacrifices had come on records and compelled his bosses seating in Islamabad to confer on him Nishan-e-Haider after unusually intensive deliberations and resistance. We are grateful to our hero Shahid Lalik Jan for putting signature with his blood on the sheet of martyrs in authentication and proof of the sacrifices made by his thousands of fellows of the Gilgit-Baltistan since 1947 for the cause of Pakistan. Today the nation of Shahid Lalik Jan was expecting sitting in the stadium build in memory of his blood that Yousf Raza Gillani may bring some lively colours into their lives as they were listening to his speech, but unfortunately in vain.
However, let’s see what the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s much touted uplift package for Gilgit-Baltistan has brought with it. The salient feature of the package could be listed 1) Doubling the vehicle fleet of NATCO, 2) Sost Dry Port to be improved, 3) Gilgit and Skardu airports to be expanded, 3) Reopening of ZTBL and NBP regional offices, 4) NAVTEC bureau to be established in Gilgit for skills development, 5) Basic salary fixed at Rs 6, 000, 6) 150,000 metric ton wheat subsidized for Gilgit Baltistan, 7) Research centre to be set up to study horticulture, 8) 6.5 billion already allocated for the development of Gilgit Baltisatn and Rs 5.5 billion more for capacity building, 9) Cold storage centres would be established to preserve the 55 locally produced varieties of Cherry. Numbering the items of the package is impressive but it is just at a very superficial level. If we look deep down there is nothing new in the package as most of the things of this package were either already in pipeline or announced already on different occasions, and it is just a repeated announcement. The most important thing is that there is nothing significant which could help to improve the socio-economic lives of the people of the area and it is just putting drops into centuries long barren land.
Examining the real or the hidden agenda that we could understand if read between the lines of the Prime Minister’s speech and press conference, there are three major points Diame-Bahsh and Bunji Dams, precious minerals, and Sost Dry Port. The prime minister talk loudly about these projects being beneficial of Gilgit-Baltistan. But why Pakistan is interested in building and constructing these mega projects, is it for the socio-economic uplift of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan? It is not like that, everyone know these projects are are serious needs of the Pakistan in the downstream in NWFP, Punjab and Sindh, to meet the acute power shortage there is need of the Diamer-Basha Dame and Bunji , to trade with China you there is a need of Sost Dry Port otherwise what would could be done with Gowader Sea Port, it is well known that the purpose of Gowarder Port is to provide an easy access for China through Pakistan to the hot waters to link it with rest of the world. Minerals of Gilgit-Baltistan are needed to fill the pockets of political and business elite through foreign exchange that is so desperately needed. I do not mean that people of Gilgit-Baltistan would have any problem for utilizing these resources to benefit Pakistani brothers and sisters, but yes the problem is regarding how to utilize these scarce resources!!!
Prime Minister was expected to address the royalty issue of Diamer-Basha Dame. Why he was silent about it and just talked about the compensation to those who would be displaced during construction of the dam? That is for sure the people whose lands and homes would be submerged would need to be compensated but the major conflict is regarding the royalty, either it would be paid to NWFP or to Gilgit-Baltistan? Prime Minister’s silence indicates that Pakistan’s government is decided to give the royalty to NWFP. Otherwise if there was something in favour Gilgit-Baltistan, which would be majorly affected by the construction of the dam PM would have told this good news, but unfortunately he doesn’t have this good news. It means people of Gilgit-Baltistan still hold the bad news that although people of Gilgit-Baltistan would be affected by the construction of the Dame but royalty would go to NWFP.
The second important thing is the expansion of Sost Dry Port, what does it give to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan? Yes employment to some 100 people and noting else. The income from the Sost Dry Port which is in billions in the form of taxes is paid to Kohistan Development Fund. Amazing the income from Gilgit-Baltistan is being transferred to Kohistan’s Development, which is currently a district of NWFP, whereas people in Gilgit-Baltistan are suffering acute poverty and underdevelopment. Prime Minister could have noted this injustice with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and transferred these funds for the development of Gilgit-Baltistan but he did not.
The third issue is exploration of minerals, mineral rich mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan are now would be explored but who will get the benefits? Is there any procedure and regulations enacted in this regard so that the rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan over their precious assets would not be sabotaged? Nothing has been done in consultation with the people of the area, not even our Legislative Assembly knows anything regarding this issue. What is going to happen in the current situation is that many foreign and Pakistani giants of mineral exploration would come to the area would take the precious assets from the area and owners of these assets I mean people of Gilgit-Baltistan would work just hard working labourers on daily basis wages. Mr. Prime Minister People of Gilgit-Baltistan don’t expect this brutal exploitation from you.
Finally but not last, the issue of governance, would it remain like this that on the soil of Gilgit-Baltistan a Prime Minister of Pakistan who belongs to Punjab would be received by a Punjabi governor. Where are the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, where is the leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan and the representatives of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan? Being the Prime Minister of a democratic government, this colonial approach of viceroyship does not suits and people of Gilgit-Baltistan expected that steps would be taken to recognize the democratic rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and there would be an end to viceroyship, soon.
At the same wave length, much was expected from Prime Minister regarding the wide popular demand for the additional seats for Hunza, Ghizer, Gahnche, Diamer and Gilgit but again it seems that the Prime Minister was voiceproof to listen the raising voices and demands of the people of Hunza and Gilgit-Baltistan that echoed from Hunza to Karachi.
In the nutshell the real economic and social uplift of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan could only happen when the indigenous resources of water, minerals, geographic advantages, its ports and roads being utilized for the benefits of the people of the area. This could only be ensured when the people of the area would be empowered in real sense of it not with the hollow words only. It requires enabling people to take decision and action those are in the best interests of the people. You could not uplift socio-economic conditions with announcement of 5 billion rupees to make sustainable long time impact. It is important to ensure that the royalty of dams and minerals must be utilized for the benefits of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan which could bring sustainable financial resources and development. The income of Sost Dry Port, which currently goes to Kohistan Development Fund, should be diverted to Gilgit-Baltistan Development Fund as a legitimate and most deserving right of the long suffered people of Gilgit-Baltisatn. The most important thing is listening and acting according to the needs and demands of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and empowering them to take decisions and taking off the colonial setup either in the form of new Governorship with his powerful Council over the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly or the previous set-up of chairman and chief executive.
What this visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan seems to be on the basis of out-comes of his engagement in the area is a simple election campaign in support of PPP for the upcoming elections in November 2009. The Prime Minister tried to galvanize the support for PPP with gimmickry of development initiative. In fact a drama again played on the stage using the symbolic importance of the hero of Gilgit-Baltistan, Shahid Lalik Jan, Nishan-e-Haider, who would be laughing loud on the Prime Minister of Pakistan for this fouled drama played with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and attracting innocent people on false hopes to the stadium built in memory of Shahid Lalik Jan’s services.
The writer is a contributor to Daily Dawn, Pamir Times and a consultant for social development programmes, based at Karachi. email@example.com