Interview with CM Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman: Tourism top priority

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan 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 the multi-billion dollar project.

In an exclusive interview with Dispatch News Desk (DND) panel headed by Chief Editor Agha Iqrar Haroon and comprising Mati Ullah Khan and Mamoona Arif in Islamabad on Thursday, the CM Gilgit-Baltistan said that some CPEC routes are being built by the Chinese government while for some routes, the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) is releasing the funds.

“No private sector or industry was thought to be established in Gilgit-Baltistan in next 50 years but now under the CPEC, industrial and economic zones are being set up which will create ample employment opportunities for people,” Hafeez-ur-Rehman said.

Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman
Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman

Hafeez-ur-Rehman 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 tourism industry in the region, the Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan said that terror-related incidents across the country and especially Nanga Parbat massacre caused a severe dent in the tourism sector of Gilgit-Baltistan as since 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 Gilgit-Baltistan were dismissed, giving a strong message to the world.

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The Chief Minister said that peaceful occurrence of 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 Naran-Kaghan to Babusar road boosted the tourism as now it takes only nine-and-half hours to reach Gilgit.

He said that we also ensured our participation in international events to promote tourism, noting that 800,000 tourists have visited the region so far this year.

The CM Gilgit-Baltistan said that flight-operations have also been improved in the province and now three flights to Gilgit and three to Skardu are operated on daily basis. He said that since one-and-hour year, only two flights have been suspended but in the past, flights suspension had become a normal routine.

Hafeez-ur-Rehman said that we have invited big hotels to invest in the province, we will provide them land on lease. He said that we 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 local community as people have earned five to six lakhs from this business in 2016.

He said that besides, those rest houses which are not in use or not equipped with better facilities would be upgraded. He added that apart from seven rest houses, rest would be privatized. He said that to ensure that these rest houses remain accessible to middle and lower class people, the government would ensure certain arrangements and set terms and conditions with the private sector.

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Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman during interview with DND Chief Editor Agha Iqrar Haroon
Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman during interview with DND Chief Editor Agha Iqrar Haroon

Taking about the transportation facilities and issues related to it, Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman said that Northern Area Transport Corporation has been tasked to established small motels on Gilgit-Baltistan road. Likewise, we have allocated places for wash rooms at a distance of every five kilometers, and this facility would be available next year. He said that wash rooms facility from Hunza to Khunjerab would come in construction phase next year.

The Chief Minister further said that Gilgit-Baltistan is the only province which has established patrolling police. He said that we had been provided 25 vehicles by 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 whereas a bachelor’s degree program in tourism would also begin next year.

When asked to comment on the improvement of telecom sector in the province, the Chief Minister told that telecommunication has been made part of national action plan as it will help trace the terrorist elements. Besides, he added, in the absence of telecommunication, we find it difficult to reach remote areas for help if any earthquake occurs; therefore, serious consideration is being put in place to ensure telecom facility. He said that a Telenor tower has been placed in Babusar while by next year, mobile signals would be available in all areas of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman during interview with DND Chief Editor Agha Iqrar Haroon and News Editor Mati Ullah Khan
Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman during interview with DND Chief Editor Agha Iqrar Haroon and News Editor Mati Ullah Khan

Moreover, he said that under the CPEC, work on laying fiber optic cable continues swiftly which would eventually introduce a new world filled with technological advancement to us.

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In reference to independent power production, the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister said that a regional hydel grid worth Rs five billion has been established which would generate 30,000 to 40,000 megawatts electricity, and it would be connected with the national grid. He said that we would require skilled people for his project; therefore, we are establishing a college as well.

The Chief Minister said that the first ever gas project is also being launched in Gilgit-Baltistan, for which, an agreement would be sighed 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 protection of wildlife and forests and in this regard, first forest working plan policy has been constituted while 50 percent of region’s biggest forest situated in Diamir has been regulated. He said that the local community is being given interest-free 80,000 to 1,000,000 loan and micro-hydel power plants are being set up to discourage deforestation.

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