By Dr Abdul Jalil
Coarse woolen hand-woven cloths, never replaced or substituted with new ones in years, thick indigenous fabricated woolen cap on primitive looms, and a loosely hung over coat like garment on shoulders called ‘Shoka’ in the local dialect were the typical outward appearance of an inhabitant of Gilgit-Baltistan, more than half a century ago. Male folks wearing this funny and awesome attire resembled more or less with their ancestors of stone-age. These poverty stricken, land locked mountainous people of Karakorums have left many gloomy tales as their legacy to be shared by their successive generations.
Ninety nine percent of populace lived in dilapidated shabby mud houses with all the family members crammed in to a single room house popularly known as ‘Rako Goth’.
Food scarcity and food security was another scourge as life heavily depended on livestock and locally grown cereals, which were not sufficient to meet the food requirements for a calendar year as such, fear of an impending hunger dominated the minds of all and sundry.
Passing through trying times hopes for a comfortable living were bleak, acquisition of food for living was the only pursuit, and contact with outside world was negligible as the area was locked with mighty mountains with no roads to access the world beyond the awesome mountains. Only two adventurous persons, one had visited holy shrines in Iraq and Iran another had made an odyssey to some parts of central Asia, rest of the population was complacent in this land locked enclave finding solace in their mountain abodes.
Pakistan extended her sovereignty to GB in 1948 one year after her independence but was unable to link GB with rest of country by a road as Karakorum defied the enthusiasm of road builders. PWD with primitive road building implements embarked upon constructing a road to Chilas and over Babusar top to Balakot in Hazara in 1950. It took many years to make a link road to Babusar top and beyond. An extremely dangerous rood to cruise which saw many vehicular accidents, hardly accommodating a jeep with hundreds of turns and bends on steep mountainous rocks, took toll of many lives during construction until its replacement by KKH.
Transporters dumped food items, petrol and other essential commodities in go-downs at Chilas from July to November brought from Balakot. During winter when Babusar top blocked due to heavy snowfall goods stored in Chilas were transported to Gilgit and Baltistan.
Living was quite miserable, people lived below poverty line and all energies were spent in acquisition of food, situation pertaining to acquisition of food and other essential commodities was even worse in Baltistan which had practically become a ‘Cul-de-Sac’ where people were neither able to live no leave in this hunger stricken area.
KKH construction commenced during late president Ayub Khan’s era along the banks of river Indus spread Jubilation among the people of GB. Such an exhilarating news was never heared in GB over the centuries. Such a huge task of road building was not seen in the contemporary history was under taken by a road building company- FWO- which took 25 long years to accomplish the task after sacrificing more than twelve hundreds of her skilled workers thus realizing the centuries old dream of GB people.
Advent of KKH heralded an economic and cultural revolution, GB people made frantic efforts to acquire education, wealth and a decent living. Soon mud thatched houses were replaced by cement concrete buildings furbished with innovative furniture and other accessories of a comfortable living. Pursuit for acquiring higher professional education was immense among GB students. Soon in a short span of time they excelled in all disciplines of education and now a sizeable number of qualified professionals from GB are working within and abroad the country.
Apart from taking long strides in education and emulating their contemporaries in other parts of the country they have attained a commendable political awareness with regards to domestic and international politics. Most of the people are affiliated with national political parties expounding their programmes for gaining public support. I am particularly amazed to see the rapidly changing socio economic scenario in GB as it has occurred during my own life time.
The evils associated with affluence, luxurious by built buildings have also made their inroads in to the GB society. Crimes not heared a few decades ago are now frequently occurring and the anti-social elements have made their presence felt in the GB society.
GB is still a peaceful area as compared to other parts of the country save the sectarian elements and hate mongers who have penetrated among various ranks of social strata to carry out their nefarious designs at the behest of their masters living abroad.
These elements are still weak enough to overwhelm the society so their activities seem to be at low ebb.
Shackles of ignorance, illiteracy and poverty are almost broken, the masses, once at the abyss of poverty and ignorance have now risen high to the pinnacle of a luxurious life, brimming with the desire to excel in all spheres of life they are destined to become a force to be reckon with.
The contributor is Former Secretary Health & Population Welfare, Gilgit-Baltistan. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org