World Shia Forum

Identity, Equality, Unity

Safety along Karakorum Highway, some pragmatic solutions – by Dr. Shujat Hussain Mesam

Series of Killings and exterminations along KKH have clutched attention worldwide and little of theKohistan carnage can possibly be forgotten. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan received 19 bullet-riddled bodies on 28th of February; nonetheless, such occurrences have happened in the past. Unfortunately, people— on the basis of their affiliation— have been hauled off the buses and shot dead. It is lamentable and peace loving people would always condemn such brutalities.

The need of the hour then was to look for permanent practical solutions to ensure public safety along the KKH. But the government’s sheer disinterest in saving human lives resulted in yet another brutality in Chilas town where several passengers were gun downed.

It has been our history that people protest largely and furiously over such incidents for a while but soon everybody gets busy again in the vie of amassing wealth and worldly gains. Nobody seems to be ready to take the pain for seeking a permanent solution to any problem. Government always expresses mere sympathies to the heirs and grants them a little sum and sits back, thinking that it has paid for their irreversible loss.

A woman may get widowed, a child may be orphaned, a sister may lose her brother, a mother may lose her only son and a family may get deprived of the only bread winner but that does not nudge the government much. Moreover, the Government keeps procrastinating solutions every single time with mere vows to nail the criminals to the counter, perhaps, by simply lodging an FIR. That has been proved a fiasco every time in the past. Therefore we should focus more on prevention than craving for Justice.

After the occurrences of such heinous atrocities, as of today but not forever, justice is a forbidden fruit for the common man in my country. Our supreme court, at times, notices just a slap and takes Suo motu action against it but remains silent against incidents of killing of innocent passengers. One should raise voice for a pragmatic solution rather than mere condemning and projecting a blame game. The honourable Prime Minister, President, Chief Justice, Chief Minister and Governor of Gilgit Baltistan are beseeched to open their eyes and have some mercy on people. If they are not able to solve the genuine grievances of the public then they should at least admit their impotence and apologize to the Nation. It is not enough, at all, to shed some crocodile teas, express some sympathies and continue occupying the national assembly or parliament.

As citizens, let’s help them in governance and public welfare. The Karakoram Highway has always been used as hostage for the evil ambitions of terrorists and not only has it resulted in brutal attacks on innocent passengers but also the same thing every time ignited violence and unrest in the whole Gilgit Baltistan. There is no strong writ of Government to prevent the repeated clamping over KKH by the militants. Dear fraternal citizens of Pakistan and specially Gigit Baltistan, solutions are much easier than they seems to be: but the political will over the following lines is urgently needed:

  1. The never-ending construction work on Chilas-Mansehra road via Babusar pass across the Kaghan-Naran valley should be completed immediately as the delay here is only to benefit contractors and through them authorities who always sniff to grab some commissions.
  1.  A relatively safer and shorter route than Babusar Pass is Kamri-Muzafferabad route that connects Astore district of Gilgit-Baltistanto to AJK and further to Rawalpindi/Islamabad. It is feasible, shorter, safer and economical.
  1. Another relieving solution for the poor people of Gilgit Baltistan would be to provide subsidy on the Airfare of PIA, making it accessible to all and sundry of the land-locked region.
  1. Technology should be used to inform travellers about departures, arrivals, delays, and cancellations. 40% of flights between Gilgit and Islamabad were cancelled last year. Increase the number of flights and ease frustration. Minimize unnecessary procedures such as ticket confirmations.
  1. If there is no quality and quantity related to a business why should there be a monopoly by PIA. Allow and issue licenses to other airlines.

The option of Kaghan-Naran route via Babusar Pass is the foremost option as it is almost complete and it has remained open for public use most of the times in Summer for the last 2-3 years. All vehicles including mini-buses and coasters are able to use this route comfortably except the large buses. The main problem with this route is the Babusar Pass, 4000M above sea level, which remains closed during the winter season due to heavy snowfall but the solution is still feasible.

It had been decided few years back to bore a tunnel through the Pass to cope with this problem. It is however, dwindling in the hands of unwilling people at the helm of affairs. If they seek refuge to the lame excuse of financial scarcity then I have some further pragmatic solutions; First, I would suggest that the bureaucratic and political government that has failed to provide security to the citizens, should immediately curtail down most of their unnecessary expenditures such as those of protocol expenses and umpteen allowances for the meetings and sessions, most of which are miserably inconclusive except for personal and political vested interests.

Secondly, the most important fact which every Citizen of Gilgit Baltistan must know about is that we have been repeatedly told that Gilgit Baltistan is Tax free while we are paying huge amount of Taxes in the form of General Sales Tax (GST) to the Government of Pakistan. The major portion of GST is being paid over food items and mobile phone credits. For example Rs. 18 per Rs.100 mobile card is being paid to the Federal Government on the account of GST.

Ttaxes are also being collected from Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Communication (K.K.H), Municipal, Water and Carbon Financing, Sost Dry Port (China Trade) and other Metropolitan Taxes. According to rough estimates of Gilgit Baltistan Policy Institute (GBPI), currently the Federal Government is collecting Rs 10.00 Billion to 12.Billion per annum from Gilgit Baltistan through different channels and it is without any proper taxation system. However our Legislative Assembly keeps waiting for Rs.8.00 Billion development and non-Development budget per annum. So here is an open question, whether the safety and security of the 1.8 million poor people is possible at the cost of their own money or they should remain helpless despite their loyalty and allegiance to their country.

Thirdly, If lack of funds is the sole hurdle to halt the progress on Babusar Pass tunnel then I wish some vibrant steps should have been taken by the Government towards a permanent solution. In order to achieve that the government can withhold some or all of the developmental works for a single or few years and spare enough funds to spare our precious lives in foremost priority. Regarding the hibernation of the development in the meanwhile can also be restored through reimbursement of the funds applying a toll tax (tunnel tax) over the Babusar tunnel. Anyhow it incurs upon the government to ensure a safe and sound route to the 1.8 million peaceful and innocent people of Gilgit Baltistan at any cost.

Fourthly, government can seek support and cooperation from China, a friend of us. Foreign investment can also be recovered by the same way of applying toll tax on these routes. The Babusar Pass Tunnel or the Astore-AJK road both would be surely and largely in favour of China too, for rapidly growing economy. The easier, more economical and swifter route which China will get to the rest of the world for lucrative exports through sea route getting access to Gawadar port is incredibly recognized and China can never refrain from such a proposal. This deal can also turn out to be ‘hitting two birds with a single stone’as it seems we have to pay nothing in this case giving China a free route for a few years and then again we can collect ample large transport tax from their trade.

The Astore-AJK route is also almost complete with paved roads open for jeeps and mini-buses at both sides of the Kamri pass except for few kilometres. So, extension is needed on this route with some measures to keep the route patent in winter also, as it has an altitude of 4000M and there is a heavy snow fall during the three months of winter.

There are many procedures recognized practical internationally like De-icing and Anti-icing; De-icing is defined as removal of existing icing from a surface. It includes both mechanical (plowing or scraping) and chemical (application of salt or other ice melting chemicals) methods. Anti-icing is defined as the pre-treatment of a road with ice melting chemicals before a storm, to prevent or delay the formation of ice, or the adhesion of ice and snow. Brine or wetted salt is usually applied shortly before a snowstorm arrives. Properly performed, anti-icing can significantly reduce the amount of salt required, and allows easier removal by mechanical methods (snowplows) Otherwise the technical feasibility report has also been passed over it few years ago with a highly anticipated lucrative outcome. Besides its swiftness, shorter distance, national frugality, affordability and safety this route is also going to open new era of bilateral trade in various products especially of agricultural between the natives of Gilgit Baltistan and AJK, which is bound to improve vastly the wellbeing of the people at both sides.

The third most important solution is to improve the air travel facilities. Firstly, government should cut down the air fare of PIA over the flights to and from Gilgit Baltistan, either by applying subsidy or in return to any resource of the most resourceful land as Royalty of tourism, Pak-China trade, mines and Minerals or Hydro Power potential etc. Secondly, to avoid unnecessary cancellations of flights, most of the times bad weather is only a lame excuse but actually the lack of Airplanes with PIA is the real culprit. This can be easily solved by increasing the number of flights and also the Government can license some private Airlines in order to prevent public malice and disgust over it. The flight cancellations due to bad weather also have to be encountered earliest at any cost, where modern radar systems should be installed at earliest possibility to ensure at least once daily flight to Gilgit and Skardu each.

The study of feasibility over starting commercial helicopter services and C-130 planes at affordable commercial bases are another options to consider further. To summarize, it can be concluded that besides the safety, comfort and public goodwill there is also a great economic perspective to exploit in solving the security and safety issues on this route especially in ensuring affordable and accessible air travel to Gilgit Baltistan. That is to use Gilgit Baltistan as a trade corridor for the worlds’ four out of seven Atomic powers hemmed this roof of the world.

Secondly, the flow of domestic and international tourists would be expedited to an incredible amount with the improvement in traveling means to this land. Gilgit Baltistan has already been declared as heaven on earth by many tourists and famous traveller-writers nationally and internationally. The whole scenario of the indelibly mournful event of killings over KKH in Kohistan, targeting the identities of the passengers as belonging to a special sect who were unfortunately being followed from Pak-Iran border and the recent turmoil erupted around Gilgit and Chilas also reveals a grand level national and more significantly international conspiracy or machination intrigued in the shadow of post-cold war geopolitics.

I wish to share my views on the geopolitical perspectives of Gilgit Baltistan tethered to this event in any future writing.

……..

The writer is a Medical Doctor, a social and developmental worker, rendering his services around Gilgit Baltistan, his mother land. He has remained an active leader throughout his student life.

Source: Dardistan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on April 14, 2012 by in WSF and tagged .
%d bloggers like this: