Tension has gripped different areas of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) after 16 passengers were brutally killed in Kohistan on Tuesday, Geo News reported.
Local residents were already restricted to their houses while thin transport was observed on the roads.
Sixteen people were killed in a sectarian attack when unidentified gunmen forced them to disembark from four Gilgit-bound passenger buses and sprayed them with bullets in Kohistan district on Tuesday.
Violence erupted in Gilgit as a result of the attack, claiming at least one life.
All government and private offices, educational institutions and business centres across Gilgit-Baltistan were shut down till March 4 by the local administration as a precautionary measure in the wake of a possible violent reaction by the victim community members.
Different alliances have appealed for peaceful rallies across GB after Friday prayers.
The Frontier Constabulary (FC) has been deployed along with the police on Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Kohistan to ensure security to travellers on the road that leads to Gilgit-Baltistan and onward to the border with China.
Three platoons were deployed in the backdrop of the bus attack in which 16 passengers were killed in Harban Nala area in Kohistan district on the boundary with Gilgit-Baltistan on February 28.
Kohistan District Police Officer Mohammad Ilyas told reporters that besides deployment of the FC, a number of patrolling police parties were already deployed on the highway had been increased manifold. He said patrolling would continue round-the-clock to avert any untoward happening on the road.
It was learnt that the FC was also deployed at three bridges at Darail, Tangier and Dodishall to restrict possible infiltration of miscreants.
An investigation team headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police, Hazara range, Dr Mohammad Naeem also visited Kohistan on Friday and met officials of the police and other law-enforcement agencies. The team, constituted by Interior Minister Rehman Malik to probe the bus attack, also dispatched officials of the law-enforcement agencies to ascertain clues gathered during the preliminary investigation.
A member of the team said on condition of anonymity that some important evidence had been gathered during the preliminary investigation and those could lead to a breakthrough in the case.
The investigation team also includes representatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence and other secret agencies. No arrest has been made so far and the inquiry team is also trying to find out whether any banned outfit is involved in the carnage.
Protesters who blocked the Karakoram Highway in Chilas on Sunday, refused to open it for traffic on the second consecutive day, demanding that the police arrest the murderers of Abdul Wakil, who was target killed last week.
A resident of Chilas, Wakil, fell victim to sectarian violence in Gilgit. The city witnessed an upsurge in shooting incidents in which four people were killed and four others injured.
Wakil’s son, who was accompanying him at the time of the incident, said his father’s killers checked his national identity card before shooting him. Residents of Nagral, the place where Wakil was killed, said they handed over one of the killers to the police to prove they were against sectarianism.
Protesters have declared the highway will remain blocked till the murderers are arrested. Sources in the district administration said negotiations between the authorities and the protesters failed as they did not trust assurances given by officials.
Meanwhile, police in Gilgit said at least 12 people have been arrested so far and are being investigated. Since last Saturday, security forces have been given powers to shoot terrorists on sight.
“The blockade has left hundreds of vehicles stranded on both sides of the highway,” said a resident of Chilas. More than 5,000 protesters rejected the government’s request to clear the highway that serves as the only land route connecting Gilgit-Baltistan to the rest of the country and China.
While briefing reporters in Gilgit on Monday, the chief minister said a new security plan had been devised to contain violence in the city, but he did not elaborate.
Source (The News) A large number of people in Kohistan district Friday blocked the Karakoram Highway (KKH) to protest boundary and land price issues of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
“We will not allow President Asif Ali Zardari to inaugurate the Diamer-Bhasha Dam on October 18, if the issues are not addressed,” MPA Abdul Sattar Khan told the protesters. Hundreds of protesters led by MPA Abdul Sattar Khan and other elders blocked the KKH at Harban area at around 12 noon. The highway remained blocked till filing of this report. The protesters, holding banners, chanted slogans against the government and Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda).
Other speakers, including Mian Gul, Syed Gul Badshah, Raza Wali Khan and others said they would not allow the president to inaugurate the dam unless the dues of the landowners were cleared and boundary issue with the Gilgit-Baltistan was settled. A grand jirga had earlier constituted a committee to convey the grievances of the people to the government.
Source (Gulfnews) Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has approved $90 million (Dh330 million) for the restoration of the strategic Karakoram Highway (KKH) linking Pakistan and China out of the financial help provided by the Chinese government, said an official statement yesterday.
The credit facility had been extended by Beijing as part of a larger concession facility for flood reconstruction activities in communication, energy and transport Sectors, it said.
“The operationalisation of Karakoram Highway has been a priority of the government due to its strategic significance and being an important means of communication for the people, as well as important trade route,” the statement said.
Also known as Friendship Highway, the 1,300km KKH connects China’s Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region through the Karakoram mountain range.
Some 200 Chinese workers and 810 Pakistanis lost their lives while building the KKH, mostly in landslides and falls.
The October 5, 2005 earthquake in Pakistan badly damaged some KKH sections and the road link between Pakistan and China was temporarily cut off until repaired by the Pakistan army engineers.
In view of the planned Diamir-Basha dam project in the region, realignment studies are underway with the help of the Chinese.
A 20km section of the KKIH was inundated and damaged last year when a massive landslide blocked the Hunza river and created a lake.
The government is pursing a plan to rebuild the damaged portion.
Source(Tribune)The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is a strategic road for Pakistan. It is used by national as well as international traffic since it provides for a land border between Pakistan and China. And for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, it provides a crucial land link to the rest of the country.
However, in recent years, it has suffered considerably from the elements. And while this is only to be expected, given the harsh terrain and unpredictable weather of the regions it traverses, what is worrying is that those in charge of its maintenance do not seem to be doing their job.
The highway is badly damaged in some places and the result is that while previously it would take between 15-16 hours to travel from Islamabad to Gilgit by bus, now it takes well above 20. Moreover, a large stretch of the highway between central Hunza and Upper Hunza remains blocked for the last 20 months because of the massive landslide at Attabad.
Because of this, people are suffering economically and even health wise, due to a shortage of medicines or because they cannot easily reach a hospital. Once travelling on the KKH was considered a thing not to miss out on, but now it is a positively painful experience. Of course, this cannot be good for one of the regional economy’s mainstays: Tourism.
Source(Express Tribune) People travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit via the Karakoram Highway (KKH) have complained that hotels on the 600 kilometre-long journey provide substandard services.
Tourists, both foreign and domestic, complained that hotels established along the route to Gilgit in Abbottabad, Mansehra, Bisham, Chilas and Jogulote provide substandard food and lodging at exorbitant rates, and remain unchecked by the relevant authorities. They also complained that the transporters have partnered with specific hotels and refuse to stop at hotels of the passengers’ preference for lodging or food.
Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) is known all over the world for its breathtaking beauty and unique topography and attracts a large number of domestic and foreign tourists, particularly during the summer.
“This could be one of the most fantastic journeys in the world if the government arranges better hotels along the route,” said Amin Khalid, a tourist from Lahore who recently visited Gilgit with his family. He blamed the government for failing to make arrangements to facilitate tourists or even general travellers.
Akhlaq Ahmed, another tourist from Multan said, “First they provide us with food that is substandard and unhygienic, and then they charge us such high rates, it’s ridiculous!” He said there are no proper toilets in these hotels, which is a problem for passengers, particularly those travelling with their families.
He said that the airfare charged by Pakistan International Airlines for Gilgit is substantial, and that, coupled with the unavailability of flights due to bad weather conditions during the summers, causes more people to resort to travelling by bus.
Talking to the The Express Tribune, Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) Managing Director Zafar Iqbal said that, “The absence of proper hotels for tourists on the KKH is a big issue.”
He said that a lot needs to be done to facilitate passengers, who have to travel for more than 20 hours to reach Gilgit and Skardu from Rawalpindi. He said that NATCO is collaborating with some private parties to set up better hotels along the route in the near future.
Source (Express Tribune) The prolonged blockade of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) has left a number of passengers stranded in Chilas and Kohistan while escalating prices of food items in parts of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
Heavy landslide triggered by rain blocked KKH near Dassu on March 17, cutting off G-B from the rest of the country.
Passengers reaching Gilgit on Friday said that hundreds of loaded trucks and passenger buses were parked on both sides of the blockade, waiting for the debris to clear. Most passengers travelling on public transport did cross the debris, while risking their lives.
“Work is in progress as Frontier Works Organisation machinery is clearing the debris,” said Ahmed Ali, a resident of Gilgit who got back from Besham on Friday.
He said that some debris on the KKH had been removed, letting light vehicles pass. He added that women, children and the elderly faced immense difficulty crossing the debris on foot to change buses.
Meanwhile, an acute shortage of food items has hit Chilas, escalating prices of food items manifold.
“The price of bread has shot up from Rs10 to Rs15-20 at hotels,” said Mujeeb Khan, another Gilgit resident. Khan was one of the many passengers who managed to reach the town on Friday.
Passengers said there was also a scarcity of fruit, chicken, and vegetables in Chilas. G-B depends entirely on KKH for all of its supplies. FWO officials are busy clearing the debris and were expected to have cleared by Saturday morning.
Shared By : Piar Ali
From : Gilgit Baltistan
Occupation : IT Officer
Pakistan is a home to some of the most beautiful and scenic places on earth but unfortunately, our tourism industry is breathing its last. In a report presented at the World Economic Forum, Pakistan was ranked 113 in tourism out of the 133 countries. Needless to say, its the hub of mountaineering, the Karakorum range has some of the highest peaks of the world here such as the mighty K-2 (second highest peak after Everest), the Himalaya range also has its highest peak here commonly known as the Nanga Parbat (9th highest peak in the world), its famous as the killer mountain due to its extremely difficult tracks – even more difficult than Everest and K-2 and the third famous range is the Hindu Kush with its highest peak Trichmir – are all located in Pakistan . It has its fair share of the famous ‘SILK ROAD’, the legendary Karakorum Highway, valleys full of cherry blossoms, beautiful weather, distinct seasons and of course, its ‘very hospitable people’.
Source (ibtimes.com) China’s high-stake poker game in Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous area that is part of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, will have disastrous environmental consequences for the entire region and beyond. Reports in the local and international media indicate that, over the past few years, Beijing has been steadily undertaking many infrastructure projects in that ecologically fragile region.
Details of most of these works, some of them supervised by the People’s Liberation Army, remain sketchy, as both the Pakistani and Chinese sides are wary of disclosing information, presumably fearing local and international opposition.
Before 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the Dogras. While Islamabad considers it separate from the Kashmir under its control, New Delhi sees the region—which is roughly a third of the size of Jammu and Kashmir—part of the overall dispute and deems any Chinese activity there unacceptable. There is also a vibrant homegrown movement within Gilgit-Baltistan that is demanding absolute autonomy, and even independence from Pakistan.
Among the few projects that China and Pakistan have publicly disclosed is the building of a 7,000 megawatt dam, at the place called Bunji, which was announced in September 2009. China is also reportedly financing and supplying skilled labor to build the controversial Diamer-Bhasha dam, which is set to destroy tens of thousands of ancient rock carvings and other priceless archaeological artifacts.
Five years ago, the two sides had agreed to expand the width of the historic Karakoram Highway, which connects Gilgit-Baltistan with the neighboring Xinjiang region in China, from 10 meters to 30 meters and triple its transportation capacity. The official Chinese agency Xinhua reported at the time that the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation would be in charge of the designing and reconstruction of the highway.
According to various reports, other projects China has undertaken in Gilgit-Baltistan include construction of roads and bridges; building of a high-speed rail system; and nearly two-dozen tunnels. It is also said to be involved in mineral exploratory activities by acquiring hundreds of mining leases from Islamabad. Satellite images reveal sporadic construction activities throughout the region.
A major reason behind these costly investment projects is commerce. Beijing has already built ports in Gwadar and Ormara, in southwestern Pakistan, for the purpose of transporting oil and gas from the Gulf and Africa through Xinjiang. The expansion of the Karakoram Highway and rail line could help cut down the time it takes to transport these resources from Gwadar to Xinjiang. China could also send its cheap manufacturing goods to the affluent Gulf market in express time through the same route.
Writing in The New York Times last August, U.S. scholar and journalist Selig Harrison described the economic rationale for the increased Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan. “It takes 16 to 25 days for Chinese oil tankers to reach the Gulf,” he wrote. “When high-speed rail and road links through Gilgit and Baltistan are completed, China will be able to transport cargo from Eastern China to the newly Chinese-built Pakistani naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, just east of the Gulf, within 48 hours.”
For China, with its global ambitions, the geopolitical importance of gaining access to an Arabian Sea port close to the Straits of Hormuz can never be overstated. Of course, there is also another strong, unstated, but highly apparent objective: weakening India’s position on Kashmir and in the entire region by denying it a strategic depth.
Whatever maybe their motive, the Chinese construction activities in the area have huge environmental implications for the whole of South and Southeast Asia. Gilgit-Baltistan is on the western edge of the Karakorum mountains and Tibetan plateau, which is critical to water and food security of a large share of Pakistan’s population. The area has dozens of peaks that tower above 5,000 meters, including K-2 and Nanga Parbat—respectively, the second highest and ninth highest peak in the world—and countless glaciers, among them, Baltoro, Batura and Biafo, three of the longest glaciers outside of the polar region.
Construction of mega dams and building of roads and tunnels in this mountainous area is an invitation to disaster. They are likely to lead to increased seismic activities and intensify the glacial melt, the two phenomena that are already occurring in the region.
In 2005, an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.6 had killed as many as 86,000 people in the Pakistani-occupied Kashmir just to the south of Gilgit-Baltistan. The epicenter of that earthquake was on the border of Gilgit and Pakistan, where the Diamer-Bhasha Dam is currently being built. Diamer-Bhasha will be a huge water reservoir inundating more than 100 miles of mountainous ravines. Such new dams will make earthquakes more probable, as the still water induces increased seismic activities. One can only shudder at the thought of what an earthquake similar to the 2005 tremor could do to the dams and the potential damage it could cause in the entire region.
The construction of mega dams in Gilgit-Baltistan is also unwise for another reason. The source of all the water in the region’s rivers and rivulets is snow and glacial melt. As the melt is dependent on temperature, there is constant fluctuation in water-level. There is a danger that, when a glacier lake bursts out due to excessive glacier melt, or seismic activity, dam water could be over-tapped. When that happens, usually a huge flood wave is generated, resulting in large amount of debris and sediments getting deposited in the dam, which threatens its long-term stability.
The widening of Karakoram Highway and construction of rail line and tunnels will, no doubt, intensify the glacial melting and endanger the infrastructure of the region. The de-glaciation rate is already high in the western Himalayas because of the presence of black carbon, a result of increased human activities, including heavy movement of military. (Black carbon is seen as the second leading contributor to the climate change.)
Then there are other human costs. According to news reports, Diamer-Bhasha, with a proposed height of more than 250 meters, will displace tens of thousands of people and submerge habitable areas and thousands of acres of agricultural land. Another tragic consequence of this gargantuan project is the loss of countless archaeological relics, around fifty thousands in number, and dating back to more than ten-thousand years.
It is clear that the risks that some of these behemoth Chinese projects pose far outweigh any potential economic benefit they are likely to bring to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. In fact, all indications are that the sides that stand to gain the most economic benefits are the Chinese and other provinces of Pakistan, but not the local people.
Even the Pakistani gains may be short-term, when one considers the long-term environmental consequences of some of these projects. Pakistan, especially, the country’s military that has historically called the shot, should rethink its policy of giving the Chinese a carte blanche to build, whatever it wants to, in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Author: Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glaciologist, is a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center, in Washington, DC. He is the member of several high-level committees, including the United Nations Environment Program Committee on Global Assessment of Black Carbon and Troposphere Ozone.