• Says ‘stress’ root cause of diseases in reference to Dar’s interview • Vows speedy work for grant of new status to GB • Congratulates members of cabinet at oath-taking ceremony • Two national parks, formation of Park Service Nigahbaans announced
GILGIT: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said the opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is adamant about holding public rallies despite the mounting pressure of coronavirus patients at hospitals.
“Everyone knows coronavirus spreads when people gather, as doctors and nurses are saying that burden of patients has increased at hospitals with as many as 70 deaths in a single day, yet the PDM is holding public meetings against the government only to hide their ill-gotten money,” said Prime Minister Khan on Wednesday during his second visit to Gilgit in over a month.
Mr Khan, who had earlier addressed a public gathering in Gilgit two weeks before the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly elections, congratulated the new GB cabinet members at their oath-taking ceremony held at GB Governor House.
The prime minister said whatever they (opposition parties) were doing was an attempt to protect their ill-gotten gains. However, lies cannot remain concealed for long, Mr Khan said. “To hide one lie, you have to say a hundred more.”
The official news agency quoted the PM as saying that the corruption scandals of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were unearthed through the Panama Papers despite having appointed their crony as National Accountability Bureau (NAB) head and signing Charter of Democracy with the rival party.
While referring to the ex-finance minister Ishaq Dar interview by BBC host Stephen Sackur where he (Dar) was visibly under immense stress for facing questions about his assets and return to Pakistan, Mr Khan said stress was the root cause of all major diseases including heart, blood pressure and even cancer.
“What is the benefit of such wealth that brings destruction upon you and your family?” he said, adding that a person who illegally made money for his children as well as those same children eventually had to lie to save such wealth.
“Sometimes they go to jail. Sometimes they go abroad after lying — all in an effort to save stolen money,” Mr Khan remarked.
While congratulating the new GB cabinet members, the prime minister expressed the hope that the new government would set a “new tradition” and would give a governance system that “sets new standards”.
“No prime minister in Pakistan has seen this region the way I have,” Mr Khan claimed, adding that he was actually aware of the issues being faced by the people and the potential of the region.
The premier said the government would work on a fast-track basis for granting the provisional provincial status of Gilgit-Baltistan to address the sense of deprivation of the people of the region. He said a committee would be constituted and a deadline would be given to it to complete work in this regard.
Highlighting the importance of self-governance, the premier said: “You people know better the kind of development you require. We can’t tell you [while sitting in] Islamabad which project is needed. You can make this decision.”
PM Imran said the government would also focus on promoting tourism in the region. “From what I have seen during the past three to four years, there has been an influx of tourists during summers. [But] sometimes they don’t have places to stay.”
He said his government would promote tourism by providing loans on easy terms to locals for construction of hotels and guesthouses. “In addition, we met an Austrian company that specialises in skiing. A majority of the money earned from tourism in Switzerland is because of skiing. The same is with Austria. “They say that regions within Pakistan are at a higher altitude which allows for skiing to take place for seven to eight months. So we have begun talking to them about developing skiing areas here,” Mr Khan said.
The premier said foreigners would flock to the region all year round instead of just during the few months of summer. “This will also benefit Pakistan as it will bring foreign exchange,” he added.
About other development works, Mr Khan said work on the upgrade of Skardu Hospital and construction of 250-bed hospital in Gilgit was under way. Similarly, he said, work on two hydro power stations was also under way, while micro hydro power stations would also be set up. He explained that 300 megawatt electricity would be generated, which would be more than sufficient for the region.
Unveiling his plan for the welfare of people, the prime minister said the PTI government’s Ehsaas Programme would also be introduced in Gilgit-Baltistan and health insurance cards would be issued to the people.
Mr Khan also announced that a special economic zone would be set up in GB so that industries would relocate there under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He said development of the less developed areas, including those in GB, merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, was a priority of his government.
Earlier, GB Governor Raja Jalal Husain Maqpoon administered the oath to the 14 members of the GB cabinet at the ceremony. Besides the premier, federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur, members of GB Assembly, senior civil and military officials were in attendance.
According a press release later issued by PM Office, Mr Khan also approved two new high altitude national parks, spanning over 3,600 square kilometres, which was nearly five per cent of Gilgit-Baltistan land.
The newly notified Himalaya National Park and the Nanga Parbat Park comprise unique ecological areas with very rich high altitude biodiversity as well as precious flora and fauna including snow leopards, Himalayan brown bear, Ladakh Urial, Ibex, Blue Sheep and Pakistan’s national animal Markhor.
The prime minister also approved the formation of GB’s first national parks service “Park Service Nigahbaans” under which 5,000 youngsters would get jobs. They would be trained and employed to manage the parks in GB as “areas for biodiversity protection, safe habitats for wildlife preservation as well as for the promotion of nature-based eco-tourism”,
Besides, Nature Corridor traversing a high altitude area and connects KPK and AJK through GB was also formed to ensure a protected and managed corridor for preserving the wildlife of the area.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister Malik Amin Aslam briefed the premier on the high altitude ‘nature corridor’. Mr Khan also got a briefing on the associated initiative to save the endangered Ladakh Urial for which a breeding enclosure was being established in Skardu.
On the occasion, Mr Khan said his government would have zero tolerance for the timber mafia and approved the deployment of FC platoons especially for the forest protection drive in GB. He also praised the role of GB’s forest department in the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2020