Ejaz Ahmad Anjum
If you know Skardu, the you might already have an idea of the challenges you face to travel to this heavenly region of northern Pakistan. As much as the people here are friendly, and as much as the region’s endless tourism attractions, getting there is that much hard with very few and little options.
Skardu is located in the middle of the Karakorum, Himalayan and the Hindukush mountains and the only easy access to the region is via an hour long flight from Islamabad, or alternatively you can travel on road, for more than 24 hours, in buses, or other vehicles of your choice. Naturally, all would love to have the easier access, but it is not easy. Even those who can afford the flight, are almost always disappointed by the reckless weather patterns, or the mood swings of the PIA officials.
This is basically because there’s no fixed schedule for the flights on this route; the flight is quite often delayed and canceled, even after the boarding passes are issued and the passengers are kept waiting for hours. Weather is a very common excuse of the Ba Kamaal Log (PIA) for this route to cancel the flight anytime they want. The fare is not fixed nor clearly defined and even their own staff can’t explain the fluctuating fares with a very simple answer that “its auto generated by the system so we don’t know…” If compared with other National and International routes the fare on this route is always far more than the average. Just for example for those who keeps flying often, this one hour flight these days cost you around PKR 16,000 (almost USD 160) for a one side trip only. And even after paying all this you are not sure that you will be able to fly on the given date and time. So in addition to paying the expensive fare you also need to be very lucky to fly with the Ba Kamaal Log (PIA) on this route. In fact the flight is bit less than an hour around 45-50 min to be specific.
Serving as the only airport for the whole Baltistan region, Skardu is big enough to accommodate even jet fighters including the famous F-16s and the cargo plane C-130s and plays a vital role in the defense of the north-eastern boarders (the well-known LOC) with the Occupied Kashmir and India.
But, unfortunately the ‘ordinary’ passengers can’t do anything but put their lives, and comfort, in the hands of PIA, the only carrier allowed to, or interested in, operate in the region. Despite of continuous demands and protests by the public to allow other airlines to operate on this route and to reduce the fares to reasonable limits, their voice is still suppressed and not heard by the authorities.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar’s visit to the region in the mid of July sparked a ray of hope among the public and community that he will listen to their demands and will balm their sufferings, especially with regards to PIA. He was welcomed with great hospitality at different community levels all around the region and was requested to take notice of these injustices as he was famous for his public service motives. But, unfortunately it seems he has already forgotten the poor but smiling and hospitable people of this heavenly region in his busy schedules, especially during the remarkable recent elections. But these simple and modest people are still hopeful that they won’t be forgotten and that soon the Ba Kamaal Log (PIA) will have to justify their fares. The public is of the opinion that the Ba Kamaal Log (PIA) have a monopoly on this route being the only airline operating and thus keeping unjustifiable expensive fares and by allowing other airlines will create competition and also more travelling options for the tourists and the public.
It is important to know that this is a remote region and lacks many of the basic necessities and thus commuting with the capital city is part of their life to overcome these difficulties as is the only near and accessible big city to the region. Considering the 24 hours of hectic journey via road and also vulnerable to terrorist attacks along the Chilas and Kohistan region as happened several times in the past, stopping the busses and killing innocent passengers for no reasons, flight is the only reliable option left for these people for commuting with the Capital City and also to connect with the rest of the Pakistan. Therefore flying on this route is not considered as an upper class choice but it’s a necessity for the lower and poor class of this region as well. Considering this fact and remoteness of the region the government was supposed to have special packages with reduced fares to compensate the commuters and to provide a sense of security and caring for them. But unfortunately is the opposite and these lower class and poor people are forced to pay more than the average on this route having no other options.
The Gilgit-Baltistan region as a whole since its Independence and affiliation with Pakistan is still being treated as a disputed region and kept deprived from their basic rights but salute to the simple, modest but loyal people here that they still consider their fate with Pakistan based on the two-nation theory. They believe that the deprivation is because of the immaturity of the corrupt politicians having no national interest and soon their sufferings will come to an end. But the policy makers, national thinker and the authorities should understand that the people here are now becoming more and more aware of their basic rights and the political dynamics of this region are rapidly changing as people demanding for their rights more aggressively it’s time to balm their sufferings as a priority before it’s too late and they lose hope in the sincerity of the State towards this region. This will be one of the challenges for the newly elected government coming with a motto of Naya Pakistan.
The purpose of this article is to draw attention of the authorities towards the deprivations and sufferings of these modest peoples and especially towards the travelling difficulties and the very unfair and unjustifiable fares of PIA on this route.
The contributor is an engineer who likes writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org