Karimabad Road Issue – The Way Forward

By Sultan Madad

A kilometer-long section of road in the tourist hub of Kariamabd, from Zero Point to Fort road, is the bone of contention between two rival sections of the society; the suffering indigenous population who need easy road access and the hoteliers & entrepreneurs whose businesses are thriving in the said section.
These commercial buildings and businesses are at the stake of demolition in the wake of widening of the existing narrow jeep road. Owing to its location on a sharp hilly terrain, behind the glacial moraine of Ultar nallah, the business hub has developed in a narrow strip on both sides of the road. The road, built as 16 feet wide ”jeep road” four decades ago, has been widened in other parts in different times but the busiest commercial portion could not be widened due to overt and covert influence of benefitting businessmen. Widening of the road was also opposed by the heritage conservation experts of Aga Khan Trust for Culture who had envisioned the area as a typical Asian bazar with no vehicular  traffic. They were of the view to build alternate road to cater the local needs. However the conceptual plan envisioned by these experts with community support could not take off due to bureaucratic hurdles which doesn’t favour supporting and empowering community based initiatives.
In the absence of legal authority, technical and financial support the community could not carry on with the concept and the initiative evaporated in the air within few years. In the meanwhile the ever increasing population and explosion of mob tourism  since 2015 has resulted in jamming of the said street. Neither is there footpath for pedestrians nor is their any way out for emergencies including ambulances.
Rapid urbanization has brought multiple challenges to the residents of Karimabad  which range from physical degradation and losing green belt to lack of road and parking and absence of building codes to water and sewerage. The twenty-six years old community based sewerage system has exhausted both in terms of its material life as well as capacity to bear load. Though the government of Gilgit Baltistan has notified municipal committee in Hunza and it has started operating in levying fees and taxes, but ironically neither its territorial jurisdiction and delimitation of constituencies have been announced nor is operating basic civic infrastructure of sewerage. Election of public representatives has been shelved long ago and being run through the district administration throughout GB but Hunza has additional blessings. Nowhere in the world citizens pay for sewerage operation. It is only in Hunza. It is high time that either local government bodies should be given their responsibility or the community institutions such as TMSs be provided regular financial support to carryout the operation smoothly.
Above all,  Karimabad and entire Central Hunza for that matter needs town plan and building regulations which do not exist. Karimabad Town Management Society had land use plan for Karimabad but could not be implemented due to lack of regularity powers which the GB bureaucracy refused to delegate. This town needs to be planned for development as a cultural center with adaptive use of heritage. We need to develop the town in a manner that would cater to the conscious tourism as well as to the needs of the local population. Road is a basic need but not a wide road inviting further pollution. Existing road should be reasonably widened and a new road be planned along or above Samarqand water channel for circular movement. hotels and all commercial setups should be bound to create their own parking space without which hotels should not be allowed to operate.
Karimabad’s weakness is its beauty. The unique hilly terrain is not fit for planning wide roads that tend to larger scale of pollution and environmental degradation.
The long term solution is to create a large general parking lot for tourists in or around Mominabad and ply electric shuttles for tourists. Only local residents’ private vehicles should be allowed at day time. Taxis and bookings should be made available from main parking lot on phone. This will create job for many people too.
The typical municipal experience of Gilgit Baltistan and all the cities of Pakistan has not been desirable. If we are to protect the beautiful valley for the future generations, it is of utmost importance that these locally bred and active civil society organisations should be involved in planning urban development, environmental care and customary laws pertaining to management of water and natural resources.

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