The Chief Minister (CM) of Gilgit-Baltistan, a beautiful northern territory in Pakistan, Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman, has said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is meant to unite the entire nation, and both the Chinese as well as the federal government are investing in this multi-billion-dollar project.
In an exclusive interview with Dispatch News Desk (DND), Chief Editor Agha Iqrar Haroon was in Islamabad on Thursday with the CM who said that some CPEC routes are being built by the Chinese government, while some are being built by the funds released by the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP).
“No private sector or industry was thought to be established in Gilgit-Baltistan in [the] next 50 years, but now under the CPEC, industrial and economic zones are being set up which will create employment opportunities for people,” Hafeez-ur-Rehman said.
He said that earlier only Rs 2 billion was allocated for PSDP projects in Gilgit-Baltistan but now the amount has been increased to over Rs 72 billion.
Talking about the strengthening of the tourism industry in the region, the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan said that terror-related incidents across the country and especially the Nanga Parbat massacre caused a severe dent in the tourism sector of Gilgit-Baltistan. For almost a decade, no hotel had been built or any initiative had been taken to promote tourism in the province. However, he added, after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government arrived in the Center, it made serious efforts for the betterment of tourism.
The Chief Minister said that following the Nanga Parbat incident, the Inspector General of Police and Chief Secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan were dismissed, giving a strong message to the world.
The Chief Minister said that the peaceful occurrence of the 2015 elections in Gilgit-Baltistan and their coverage by international media helped tourism to flourish in the region. Apart from that, the infrastructure development, especially the completion of the road from Naran-Kaghan to Babusar, boosted tourism as it takes only 9 1/2 hours to reach Gilgit.
He said that they also ensured participation in international events to promote tourism, noting that 800,000 tourists have visited the region so far this year.
The CM said that flight operations have also been improved in the province and now 3 flights to Gilgit and 3 to Skardu are operated on a daily basis. He said that since previously only two flights had been suspended, but in the past, flight suspension had become a normal routine.
Hafeez-ur-Rehman said that they have invited big hotels to invest in the province and will provide them with land to lease. He said that they have established tent villages which brought employment opportunities for local people, adding that 200 to 250 more tent villages equipped with state-of-the-art facilities would be established next year. He said that these tent villages would be handed over to the local community to people who have earned 5 to 6 lakh from this business in 2016.
He also said that those rest houses which are not in use or not equipped with better facilities would be upgraded. He added that apart from 7 rest houses, the remaining would be privatized. To ensure that these rest houses are utilized by middle-class people, the government will ensure certain arrangements and set terms and conditions with the private sector.
Taking about the transportation facilities and issues related to it, Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman said that the Northern Area Transport Corporation has been tasked to established small motels on Gilgit-Baltistan road. Likewise, it has allocated places for wash rooms at a distance of every 5 kilometers, and this facility would be available next year. He said that washroom facilities from Hunza to Khunjerab would be constructed next year.
The Chief Minister further said that Gilgit-Baltistan is the only province which has established patrolling police. He said that they had been able to provide 25 vehicles from China, and they have been made operational.
Moreover, he said that a tourism department has been established in Karakoram International University (KIU), while a mining engineering college is also being built. He said that the forest department is also being shifted from Punjab University to KIU, and that a bachelor’s degree program in tourism would also begin next year.
When asked to comment on the improvement of the telecom sector in the province, the Chief Minister said that telecommunication has been made part of the national action plan as it will help trace terrorist elements. Besides, he added, in the absence of telecommunication, they are finding it difficult to reach remote areas to help if any earthquake occurs. Therefore, serious consideration is being put in place to ensure a telecom facility. He said that a Telenor tower has been placed in Babusar, and by next year, mobile signals would be available in all areas of Gilgit-Baltistan.
He added that under the CPEC, work on laying fiber optic cable continues swiftly which would eventually introduce a new world filled with technological advancement.
In reference to independent power production, the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister said that a regional hydel grid worth Rs 5 billion has been established which would generate 30,000 to 40,000 megawatts of electricity, and it would be connected with a national grid. He said that it would require skilled people for his project, therefore, they are establishing a college as well.
The Chief Minister said that the first ever gas project is also being launched in the history of Gilgit-Baltistan, for which an agreement would be signed with the federal government under which LPG air mix would be supplied to houses.
In addition, Hafeez-ur-Rehman said that the provincial government is also taking certain initiatives to ensure the protection of wildlife and forests. In this regard, the first forest working plan policy has been made, while 50 percent of the region’s biggest forest situated in Diamir has been regulated. He said that the local community is being given interest-free 80,000 to 1000,000 loans, and micro-hydel power plants are being set up to discourage deforestation.
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