The reality of Pakistan’s hyped ‘Switzerland’ Gilgit-Baltistan

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Natural beauty alone is not sufficient. Infrastructure, facilities also count. The reality is different and bleak. Lately, the state-run mobile operator said, the G-B region is not part of Pakistan.

New Delhi: The Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan has made news lately on over one front.

The Universal Service Fund (USF), a subsidiary of Pak’s federal information technology ministry, declined to launch telecom projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK (which Islamabad calls Azad Kashmir) arguing that the two regions are constitutionally ‘not part of the country’. The Pakistan authorities were left red-faced.

Meanwhile, on Jan 8-9, in a major tragedy around Murree, 22 people, including women and children, were found dead in their vehicles trapped in heavy snowfall. “Eight of them froze to death in their cars,” reported ‘Dawn’ newspaper. About 30 km from Islamabad, Murree is a mountain resort town located in the Galyat region of the Pir Panjal Range in the Rawalpindi District of Punjab in Pakistan.

Pakistani citizens and observers are pained at the turn of events. Some are making candid statements and plain speaking, highlighting gross governance failure in a country whose leadership is more busy poking noses in India’s internal affairs.

Now comes the backdrop of the so-called tourism potentials of Pakistan. Recently, Pak PM Imran Khan said his country could earn $30-40 billion from tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan alone. Imran has also shown over-enthusiasm time and again, calling the G-B region the Switzerland of Pakistan.

“Natural beauty alone is not sufficient. Infrastructure, facilities, proficient institutions and services also count. Bragging about GB’s tourism potential and comparisons of its beauty with Switzerland will not work. The reality is different and bleak,” says Sajjad Ahmad, a teacher at the School of Economics and Social Sciences, Karachi.

Now take a closer look at things in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. There is ‘ad hoc treatment’ to Gilgit-Baltistan, and as a result, there are electricity shortages throughout the year, particularly in the harsh winters and there is no proper heating mechanism in the region.

“The situation in the health sector is abysmal, and even to get a lady doctor in the region, it takes months. Neither tourist facilitation centres nor emergency response centres are available. Given these realities, promoting tourism without planning is illogical,” says Ahmad.

In 2021, Skardu, known as the region’s tourism capital, had so many tourists that its accommodation facilities were exhausted. People spent nights in cars due to the non-availability of rooms.

“What is mostly neglected in promoting GB is its ecological fragility. The region is home to the world’s largest non-polar glaciers, many of which are depleting,” says the write up in ‘Dawn’. But on the other hand, the region has been in “constitutional limbo” since 1947 and “deprived” of political rights. The G-B region has no representation in the national parliament.

More than half of the budget given to the region from Islamabad is consumed in non-developmental expenditures, that is, salaries of civil servants, secretaries, assembly members, etc. Governance suffers, and so would the people.

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