Muhammad Khan Shigri
The presence of natural resources is a testament of progress and prosperity of any region but ironically, the case is quite opposite with Gilgit-Baltistan. This hub of natural resources has been the most backward and ignored area of Pakistan since its inception. It is mainly due to the government’s total indifference towards this region that its people even lack the basic necessities of life in this modern age of advancement.
Gilgit-Baltistan is naturally a high potential and a resource-rich region with three key areas of interest, viz. water, minerals, and tourism. If paid concentration, these areas can change the destiny of not only the people of Gilgit-Baltistan but also the whole nation of Pakistan. Here we can observe the three areas with brevity, starting from the water resource.
Fresh water is considered a jugular vein in the survival of humanity on earth. The existing water reservoirs all over the world are depleting rapidly due to the unchecked increase in population and environmental hazards by human activities. Pakistan is among those countries of the world that are highly prone to the scarcity of fresh water in the near future. The per capita availability of water in Pakistan has been consistently declining; i.e. from 5,000 m3 sixty years ago to 1,000 m3 in 2012. In this alarming situation the fresh water reservoirs of Gilgit-Baltistan are no less than a great blessing for the whole country. This area has been naturally blessed with rich potential of fresh water. Three of the world’s largest glaciers outside the polar region are found in Gilgit-Baltistan, viz. Biafo Glacier, Baltoro Glacier, and Batura Glacier. Besides these glaciers, 5,215 smaller glaciers and 2,420 glacial lakes are also located in Gilgit-Baltistan. The water of all these glaciers flows into the River Indus, which originates from the Tibetan Plateau in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar, China, runs a course through the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir towards Gilgit-Baltistan. The oft repeated argument is that there is a potential of producing around 52,000 MW hydroelectric powers in the region. Currently two mega projects are under consideration on the Indus River, namely Diamer Bhasha Dam and Bunji Dam. The total power capacity of these dams would be 11,600 MW on completion, whereas the current electricity shortfall of entire Gilgit-Baltistan is from 100-150 MW, which shows that even a minor share of energy from these projects will suffice the energy needs of Gilgit-Baltistan, leaving a lion share for the down areas of Pakistan. Hydroelectric power can best be replaced to the wood as a source of fueling in Gilgit-Baltistan as about 80% of the population relies on woods for fuelling purpose. This will be helpful in preventing deforestation at large scale, in the region.
Another important potential of Gilgit-Baltistan is the presence of huge reservoirs of precious minerals in the region. The apparently barren looking mountains contain natural resources of worth billions of dollars within them. Covering about 73,000 km2, this region is surrounded by three world famous mountain ranges, viz. the Hindukash, the Himalaya, and the Karakorum. In these mountains, have been found almost all the minerals Pakistan currently offers to the world markets including Topaz, Peridot, Emerald, Morganite, and Tourmaline etc. Recent reconnaissance surveys have revealed that there are also rich amount of precious metals like Gold, Gypsum, Chalcopyrite, Uranium etc. in various mountainous areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. No progress has been done vis-à-vis tapping out these minerals except some minor attempts from the local miners.
Tourism is the third most important area of revenue generation in Gilgit-Baltistan. There are mighty mountain ranges, lush green valleys, lucrative historical monuments, and attractive natural lakes located in the region. The world’s second highest peak K-2 with four more mighty peaks of above eight thousand meters height, and dozens of other world famous peaks are also present in Gilgit-Baltistan. Tourists from all over the world visit the area in summer season to climb up these mountains and to enjoy the enticing sights of Gilgit-Baltistan. The total revenue generation from tourism sector will be in billion dollars annually if there is any proper strategy to handle this department. The prevailing law and order situation in the country has badly affected tourism in the region and there is a need of reform in this sector on emergency basis. The security situation in Gilgit-Baltistan can be improved with little efforts, hence making the region a hub of tourism.
The main hurdle in initiating work on the above mentioned three areas is the scarcity of funds. The provincial political leaders have paid little attention on these important projects in the past and the central leaders have been acting as a catalyst to keep the area backward deliberately. Now, the government of Nawaz Sharif is trumpeting to take interest in the area, especially in the production of hydroelectric energy, one can consider it as a silver lining in the dark clouds of disappointment. It is not possible to put all the eggs in the government’s bag as the current precarious economic condition of the country is not favorable to start all the projects with its own power. A short term strategy here can solve the riddle quite handsomely. It is said that many national and international firms have been showing interest vis-à-vis exploration and mining in the region. It is a good opportunity for the government to invite all those well reputed investors in the region in order to generate quick revenue to start hydropower projects and to promote tourism in the region. Once started, these areas will earn huge incomes, handsome enough to revolutionize the socio-economic progress of the area in particular and the country as a whole.