• Says region can earn more through tourism than it gets from Centre
• Asad says Rs140bn will be spent on nine hydel power projects, Rs35bn on roads
GILGIT: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday announced a special package worth Rs370 billion for the development of Gilgit-Baltistan, with focus on electricity and road projects aimed at boosting tourism.
“This Rs370 billion package for five years is just a beginning. We will be assisting you more as you require. As per my prediction if you properly take care of tourism, you will no more need money from the Centre rather we will seek funds from you. You do not know how blessed you are,” said Mr Khan while addressing a ceremony in Gilgit.
The prime minister, who was accompanied by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Gandapur, special assistants to the prime minister Dr Sania Nishtar and Zulfiqar Bukhari during his daylong visit to Gilgit, said that for the first time such a big amount would be used for the development of this region.
Mr Khan explained that the development package envisaged hydel power generation and transmission projects, connectivity projects for tourism, youth skill and scholarship programme, upgrade of health system and water and sanitation projects.
“We will also support the development of small and medium enterprises in the area besides focusing on expansion of its infrastructure,” he vowed.
Highlighting the immense and diverse tourism potential of the region, the premier said having visited Austria and Switzerland he had found Gilgit-Baltistan as the world’s most beautiful region that he said his foreigner friends had also admitted.
GB was one of the very few destinations that attracted tourism in summers and winters, he said, explaining that the area witnessed an increase in domestic tourism in summers while it attracts skiing enthusiasts and mountaineers from across the world during winters. Skiing was a major revenue source for Switzerland, too, he remarked.
“Even those who went through his pictorial book, Indus Journey, whether the people of Pakistan or elsewhere in the world, they were stunned to see the country’s beauty,” the prime minister said.
Drawing a comparison between Pakistan and Switzerland, the prime minister said the latter earned around $60 billion to $80bn just from tourism, which was far higher than former’s total exports of $25bn.
For multiple times during his speech, Mr Khan reminded the GB government not to compromise on environmental protection and proper town planning while executing the projects, as all this could prove counterproductive otherwise.
The prime minister also appreciated Mr Umar for designing a mix of projects under public sector development programme and public-private partnership keeping in view financial constraints of the federal government.
Referring to his struggle against the ‘corrupt mafia’, Mr Khan said it was for the first time in the country that the mafia was being brought under the ambit of law. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that had been inactive for two decades started going after big criminals during the PTI government, he said while expressing the confidence that they would be defeated.
The prime minister said the previous rulers had little concern about Gilgit-Baltistan’s development as they often visited London where they had properties and spent vacation with their children.
It was the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government that decided to exploit the potential of the region, particularly in tourism, he said, expressing the hope that the region’s development would not only change the living standard of locals but would also bring in foreign exchange for the country.
While appreciating Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid Khan for his passion to serve people, Mr Khan said: “I have done some mistakes in my past as I regret giving party ticket to many people, but one thing I did right was to make Khalid Khurshid the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan.”
As the area remained disconnected in the past, the locals built a good community system that would also help enforcement of bylaws for tourism as well as town planning, he said, adding that his government had taken steps to provide provisional provincial status to GB so that the local people would have the authority to take decisions. “How can decisions be made [for this area] sitting in Islamabad?” he remarked.
While sharing details of the projects under the development package, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said nine electricity projects with a capacity of 250 megawatt would be added to the local grid. He said all the nine were hydel and clean energy projects. “Your local distribution grid is being expanded so that electricity can be provided reliably,” the minister said, adding that Rs140bn would be spent on the electricity projects only.
Besides, Rs35bn would be spent on five road projects in the region, he said, adding that Rs6bn had been allocated for tourism, skills development and trainings related to tourism, while Rs17bn would be spent on health and education projects.
Earlier while addressing the ceremony, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur said when the PTI had formed the government at Centre but not in GB, the federal government started taking steps to remove the sense of deprivation among the people of this region.
Unfortunately, he said, the pervious rulers did nothing for GB people who after getting independence from the Dogra Raj annexed themselves with Pakistan. He said only Mr Khan recognised their sacrifices.
In his address, CM Khurshid thanked the prime minister for visiting the region for a fourth time within a short period of time. He said Mr Khan was the only prime minister who announced grant of provisional province status to Gilgit-Baltistan, while the past rulers had forgot their promises to devolve power and allocate resources to the locals. The chief minister said Mr Khan had not only announced political reforms but also fulfilled all his promises.
Gilgit-Baltistan Governor Raja Jalal Hussain Maqpoon, GB ministers and lawmakers besides top officials also attended the ceremony.
Separately, Prime Minister Khan also met Sajid Ali Sadpara, the son of world’s renowned Pakistani mountaineer late Mohammad Ali Sadpara, during his visit, according to a tweet of PM’s Office. It said Mr Khan paid tribute to the services of the late Sadpara for Pakistan.
Earlier, the prime minister inaugurated new projects of the special communications organisation that would provide mobile and internet facilities in far-flung areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and improve the existing service.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2021