GILGIT: A two-day conference titled ‘Beyond Mountains’ organised to involve local people for sustainable development of Gilgit-Baltistan concluded in Karakoram International University, Gilgit on Thursday.

The purpose of the event was providing a joint platform for leading economists, public policy experts, practitioners, professionals, academicians, businesspersons and political thinkers to share their expert views on untapped socio-economic opportunities, and hidden challenges in the region.

Speakers in the conference said lack of access to essential services such as education and healthcare has caused a decrease in economic opportunities in GB.

GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid Khan said smallholder farmers in the region play a vital role in the region’s economy. Land reforms must be implemented strategically to allow efficient use of resources such as water, fertiliser, and soil conservation methods so that small farmers can make the most out of their land, he said.

Addressing participants of the occasion, Dr Atta Ullah Shah, vice chancellor of KIU said that priority of the government should be protection of the environment. Dr Nadeem ul Haque, vice-chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad, said the event is a unique opportunity to focus on the development of this region.

He saidthrough this conference, we aim to create an agenda to shape the future of GB and ensure its prosperity.

In his online address, Shoaib Sultan Khan said that the development of GB has been hindered by several obstacles, with poverty being the main issue. Poverty has led to a lack of access to essential services such as education and healthcare and has caused a decrease in economic opportunities.

As a result, many people cannot rise above the subsistence level and escape poverty.

Other speakers saidthat despite being at an important geostrategic location, people of GB have no constitutional rights. They said people of GB have always been sandwiched in political wars, and its economy is zero. “Until GB gets representation in the federal government, it will not pay taxes, and if it does not pay taxes, its economy will never grow,” they said.

An overwhelming number of Karakorum University students and academia participated in the event and shared their insightful ideas on multiple issues.Speakers from GB shed light on how markets, regulations, and border trade can contribute to the economy.

Liro Ersado, a representative of World Bank, while presenting the ‘World Bank: State of Human Capital in Pakistan’ said that Pakistan needed to create safe and supportive schools. It can reap dividends from two phases of the demographic transition.

Dr Shujaat Farooq, dean (PIDE) said the labour market was in decline. However, there are four potential areas where the region could excel, he said, adding these areas are trade, leisure, horticulture, trade and commerce, and minerals as well as education.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2023

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