Asif Ali Sirang
Hunza is located in the north of Pakistan, connecting directly with China, through the Karakuram Highway. The territory of Hunza is about 7,900 sq.km. A significant area of Hunza makes the border between Pakistan and China as agreed between the two countries in the sixties.
Historians have different findings regarding the origin of the people of Hunza. Some link the people of Hunza with Hungarian, while others with Hun tribes living in northern and western China. Still others say that a large number of the people of Hunza are descendants of soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army.
It was a princely state until 1974 and about more than 900 years, Mir(s) known as rulers had ruled in Hunza. Currently, Hunza is believed to have the highest literacy rate in Gilgit-Baltistan, and marks among the top literate regions of Pakistan.
Until few decades ago, agriculture was the main occupation and with the passage. Over a period of time the people preferred to get education and avail opportunities to enter in new professions successfully. This trend continues, with a major portion of the region’s population now engaged in services industry and entrepreneurial ventures.
Apart from the government, Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is working in this region for more than four decades, especially in the field of health, education and rural development.
Karakoram Highway (KKH) is located in Hunza which links Pakistan to China. In 1978 this route was completed with the support of Chinese government and (Four hundred and four) 404 people had lost their lives in completion of this historical road route. Every year billions of rupees trade is done through KKH. It is the shortest and cheapest road route between Pakistan and China for trade. Geographical location of Hunza has an imperative role in Pak-China good relations but unfortunately in care-taker GB government there is no any representative from Hunza region.
On 4th January 2010 the Attabad village was destroyed by a huge landslide, killing 19 people. Due to poor policies and strategies of the federal and provincial governments, the damming of the Hunza River caused the complete destruction of the upstream located Ayeenabad village. The lake surge also resulted in destruction of around 70% of Shishkat and up to 10 percent of Gulmit, the region’s Tehsil headquarters. Gojal (Upper Hunza) was completely disconnected from rest of the country.
The Federal governments have joined hands with China to reconstruct and realign the destroyed portion of the KKH, and the work is likely to complete in August 2015. This will indeed revive the region’s economy and also facilitate trade between Pakistan and China. The realigned and ‘enhanced’ KKH is the much-talked Pak-China Economic Corridor that will connect the Red Dragon, as they call it, to the hot waters of the Arabian Sea, easing trade to the Middle East and rest of the world.
In addition to Hunza, the Pak-China Economic Corridor will pass through Nagar, Gilgit, parts of Astore and Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan, before entering Kohistan region of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province.
Deployment of special force for security of the KKH, the economic corridor, should be the top priority of the government.
In order to let Gilgit-Baltistan reap benefits of this economic corridor, the federal and provincial governments need to take several steps. GB should recieve taxes from the cargo passing through the region and the taxes collected at Sost Dry Port should also be spent within the region to boost the local economy which is in shambles. The disaster affected Hunza valley should be prioritized for long-term development and economic projects, to help revive the economy. The locals should get fair share and representation in all bodies formed to make decisions regarding the economic corridor.
The government should also review its border policies and allow Chinese tourists to reach Gilgit-Baltistan without a lot of hassle. A consulate should be formed in Gilgit-Baltistan to support the border trade and tourism related matters. Similarly, the people of GB going to China for trade or tourism should be facilitated by the governments in Xinjiang and Beijing.
Although present Federal government has promised initiatives for the development of GB and especially Hunza, more needs to be done to create economic opportunities in the border regions, to ensure peace, harmony and prosperity.