Once better known as Roof of the World, the region is now named Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), a newly established province of Pakistan. God has bestowed abundant resources on GB including minerals, mountains, highest peaks, glaciers, fertile land, forests, water resources, tourism resorts and above all talented human resources. With these rich resources GB requires nothing but able & sincere leadership to set right direction, priorities and programs to harness these resources for the benefit of the people of the area in particular and the country in general.
I have had an opportunity to read through GB Annual Development Program/ Budget 2011-12 and would like to share some significant gaps in these planning documents. For example, from the total outlay, 29% have been allocated for power, 20% on transport & communications and 23% block allocation (discretionary funds). While education sector gets a portion of 7.5%, health 2.3%, agriculture 1.2%, forestry 0.7%, tourism 0.9%, minerals 0.3% etc. Itfs evident from these allocations that there has not been any vision or sincere effort on the part of provincial government in setting right priorities for the province. The ADP rather seems to be a product of Planning and Development Department Govt. of GB which exhibits its lacks the vision and dept of challenges confronted by the people of GB. This is the reason that in spite of investing whopping resources every year on power and communications sectors, no tangible impact has been noticed. This is not first time that the provincial government is allocating about 50% resources in power and transport & communications sectors but historically these two sectors have been exhausting about half of GB resources. One should see tangible results of this huge investment. Unfortunately the people of Gilgit – Baltistan are still facing energy crises as faced by rest of Pakistan. A similar situation happens with transport and communications sectors. The damages to roads, bridges and other infrastructure caused by last year’s floods await government attention. Ironically 15 hours travel on Karakorum Highway (KKH) between Rawalpindi and Gilgit now takes 25 to 28 hours, God forbid if there is any land sliding, then the passengers are stranded on KKH sometime for three to five days. Similar communications issues are faced by the people of Skardu, Ghangche, Hunza/Nagar, Ghizar, Astor and Diamer districts. KKH is still suspended at Attaabad, Hunza (due to land sliding) since January 2010. This has significantly affected business opportunities between Pakistan and China in addition to adding problems to local populations. The plight of PIA flights for GB is a painstaking experience for everyone every flew to or from GB. Ironically PIA has currently raised its fares two times higher than normal thus restricting air service only to elite and business people . one way ticket from Islamabad to Gilgit / Skardu will now cost Rs.8,000 to Rs.10,000/per head. GB government should take necessary steps address these issues on top priority. With abundant water resources the region should not only be sufficient in energy sector but it should also be able to contribute towards minimizing energy crisis in the country. Diamer]Bhasha Dam on Indus River is an ample example. In addition to generating other resources, it will produce 4,500MW electricity. Maximum benefits of the Dam should go to GB in terms of royalty, employments and power.
If the government is sincere with the people of GB, then there is a need to identify key priority areas such as human capital development, agriculture, tourism, minerals, energy and home industry. Only tourism sector (if managed properly) can yield an income equivalent to the current budget of GB. Likewise, minerals, agriculture and home industry can contribute sustainable income. How can minerals,tourism and agriculture sectors develop with meager allocations of 0.3%, 0.9% & 1.2% respectively. With this little investment, nothing can be achieved from these resourceful sectors especially in a geographically scattered and mountainous region spread over 72,496 sq km. At least 20 to 30% budget allocations on these potential resources can yield tangible income and contribute minimizing the abject poverty from the region.
The priorities in GB ADP/Budget 2011]12 have not been informed by Gilgit]Baltistan Economic Report (March 2011), a well-researched report jointly produced by the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan (GoGB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), The World Bank (WB) and other key stakeholders. The report says GB has the highest incidence of poverty (29.2%), compared with 24.1% for the rest of Pakistan (PSLM 2004- 05). With these indicators GB is lagging far behind the national targets, let alone the MDG Goals.
Government should tap the human capital by equipping them with employable and essential life skills to bring them out of vicious cycle of poverty. This can be done through public-private partnerships, youth development initiatives such as skills development, exchange / internship programs and capacity building opportunities. Karakorum International University (KIU) can be fully utilized for this purpose. The provincial government should provide resources and support to KIU to build local human resources capital. The GB Economic Report has also shown concerns about the government capacity and says “Without full democratic representation at the national level, and with weak administrative capacity, the ability of the people of GB to chart their own course is limited”. I am sure WB and ADB can extend their generous support to provincial government if their recommendations are seriously pursued. GB has a strategic location because of its location and resources. The proposed Railway Track with China and GB-Tajikistan Road will bring revolutionary change in socio-economic status of the people of this region.
We should learn from success stories. For example, look at our neighbor China which has been pursuing excellence in all sectors of life. The root behind its progress is judicious utilization of human resources. They have truly followed an old Chinese proverb which says ”if you want progress for a year, harvest crops, if you want progress for ten years, plant trees of fruit and if you want progress for hundred and more years, educate your child”. The human factor, being engine to entire development process, should be top priority for provincial government if they are sincere to bring Gilgit-Baltistan on road to progress.
The contributor is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He can be reached through email@example.com