Monday, October 1, 2012

PM Ashraf announces Rs 2 billion package for Gilgit-Baltistan

GILGIT: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has announced a Rs 2 billion grant to address the financial problems of Gilgit Baltistan.

Addressing the first joint session of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council and Legislative Assembly, Raja Pervez Ashraf directed the Ministry of Finance to immediately release the amount.

He said with an improvement in the financial position of the federal government, more resources would be provided to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah, Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah, Federal Minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs Manzoor Wattoo, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Secretary General Senator Jehangir Badr and other senior officials were also present on the occasion.

"We are committed to the development of Gilgit-Baltistan and want the people of the area to get basic facilities, including health and education as available in other developed areas. With the support of the people and the government of Gilgit-Baltistan, we will make it a model region," the prime minister said.

He said unfortunately Gilgit-Baltistan was not safe from extremism and terrorism, as such incidents occurred from time to time. "The elements involved in sectarian prejudice and extremism are taking advantage of the situation and are tarnishing the peaceful and secure environment for their nefarious designs," he added.

The prime minister said that Frontier Constabulary, Gilgit Baltistan Scouts and police were deployed on the Karakorum Highway (KKH) for the protection of passengers and that they were being provided all necessary facilities.

KKH projects

PM Raja Pervez Ashraf launched two landmark multi-million dollar strategic projects at the KKH, aimed at restoring the historic road linkage with China that was severed due to the artificial Attabad Lake that was created as a result of landslides.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf performed the ground breaking of an ambitious 282 million dollar project for the re-alignment of 25 km long section of Karakoram Highway on Friday. It is constructed in place of 17 km long section that was submerged in the Attaabad Lake in 2010.

The new section of the Karakoram Highway will be constructed under a USD 275-million agreement between the China Road and Bridge Corporation and the National Highway Authority.

It will include two tunnels of 4.4 km and 1.2 km and seven large and 27 small bridges. The project of upgrading 335 km of the Karakoram Highway, which began in August 2008, is expected to be completed by November 2013.

According to Communication Minister Arbab Alamgir, the Chinese government would provide aid worth 100 million dollars for rehabilitation works. He said the new road will be constructed in two years.

He said the Chinese government has assured to provide specialised heavy equipment to speed up drainage from Attabad lake. It would also include long-arm excavators and machinery.

He said efforts were underway to lower the level of water to 30 meters, and it would also help salvage large section of the road, including vital bridges.

The prime minister also inaugurated the $510.42 million up-gradation of a 335-km-long section of the road from Raikot to Khunjerab that has now been widened and meets international standards of construction.

According to the officials, 200 km of the 332 km long road has already been constructed and remaining work will be completed in one year.

People's reaction

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s speech during his maiden visit to Gilgit has left many locals disappointed. They maintain that the premier made tall claims of mega development projects in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), similar to those made by his predecessors many times and which they failed to deliver.

Moreover, they dubbed the Rs2 billion development package announced by PM Ashraf for G-B as “insufficient” for the region.

“We know now not to get excited over the claims that politicians make during their visits,” said Saeed Khan, a local contractor.

Safdar Ali, a local resident said that four years ago the former prime minister Yousaf Raza Giliani had promised to make Gilgit and Skurdu the model cities in the region and upgrade airports of Gilgit and Skardu to the international standards “but nothing has been done so far in this regard”.

He said that PM Gilani had also pledged to establish a development authority in the region, the fate of which is at stake due to shortage of funds.

He pointed out that despite the dilapidated condition of roads, no new development projects have been initiated in the region.

In what appeared to be a rerun of past announcements made by PM Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, PM Ashraf addressed the legislators, asking Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) authorities to increase the number of lights to G-B to put an to the hardships faced by travellers.

“We just hope the number of PIA flights increases and so does the promised money for the region,” said Ghulam Mustafa, a trader.

However, G-B Information Minister Dr Ali Madad Sher assured that PM Ashraf issued orders to the concerned authorities and did not make “hollow promises”.

He expressed hope that the orders would be implemented soon.

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