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The development programme for Northern Areas

PMDC has identified as many as 11 sites of gold deposits and gold anomalies in all the five districts of Northern Areas

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

Oct 02 - 08, 2000

It is really gratifying to note that the present government of General Pervez Musharraf is focusing attention on the development of hitherto neglected areas of Balochistan and Northern Areas which are otherwise potentially rich with abundant natural resources like oil, gas, minerals, and even gold deposits. Even otherwise these two areas are most strategically located. While Balochistan connects us by road with Iran and rest of the Western world, Northern areas provide the land route to China and Central Asian States.

Recently the Chief Executive has approved a historic package for the development of oil, gas, copper and gold resources in Balochistan. Last week he announced in Gilgit that his government was trying to develop the Northern areas and "open this region for our trade with China and Central Asian States. Speaking at the Silk Route Festival first of its kind ever held he announced his plans to lay a network of roads linking Chitral, Gilgit, Astoor, Hunza, Skardu and Chilas with a view to promoting trade as well as tourism. Gilgit airport is to be expanded further, and an 18-megawatt power station is to be set up at Niltar. Work is already in progress on the repair and maintenance of Gilgit-Skardu road and on a scheme for provision of water in different areas, while a sizable fund has been allocated to the Special Communication Organisation for setting up telecommunication facilities in the Northern Areas. All these activities will create new job opportunities for the people there while also providing them with modern facilities that they have been denied for too long.

The Gilgit Trade Fair, which concluded last week apparently seems to be quite a success. It was for the first time that a show of this size was held in the area, and for this the organisers deserve a pat on the back. According to one estimate 15,000 attended the fair, which by all standards, was a reasonable gathering. During the whole period the locality hummed with activity. Normally Gilgit is all closed and quiet by sunset. But during the trade fair people in large number were seen even after sunset at the stalls and places where cultural troupes from Central Asian States and China performed. Though the strong religious sentiments in area kept the cosmopolitan factor in check, still there was enough for entertainment. More importantly, the stalls were well organized and decorated and the products of the area well displayed. Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf's visit to the fair gave an added colour and significance to the occasion. This demonstrates the government's determination to explore all avenues to popularise the country's products, to give boost to tourism, and to promote trading activities in remote and border areas. These festivals and fairs have great potentials to sell Pakistani products and attract more and more tourists. One could legitimately hope that the Gilgit Trade Fair will be a still bigger success next year. the CE's declaration that it will become an annual feature has been warmly welcomed by the locals. Participation by China and Central Asian States in the fair augur well for the fair and the future of the region.

The plans to attract tourists from other countries specially the rich western countries may take sometime to materialize due to imagined a real fear associated with the presence of militants in the neighbouring areas of Afghanistan and even some parts of Northern Areas. Our Tourism Industry, therefore, cannot be expected to make much progress unless peace and normalization returns to the region. Gen. Musharraf rightly focused on the opening of Northern areas for trade with China as well as the CARs. Already substantial Pak-China trade goes on through the traditional Silk Route. China being one of the world's fastest growing economies, offers immense new opportunities that Pakistan must benefit from. The new infrastructure facilities in the Northern Areas, that General Musharraf has mentioned, will certainly go a long way in expanding trade ties with our traditional friend and ally.

The unending war in Afghanistan has kept Pakistan from realising its dream of serving as the gateway to CARs' markets. Its own potential for trade with the newly emergent markets of these countries has remained largely untapped. Thus, it is a wise decision for the government not to keep on waiting for peace in Afghanistan and to think about using the alternate route of China to go into CARs before it is too late.

According to a report from Gilgit, the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation has identified as many as 11 sites of gold deposits and gold anomalies in all the five districts of Northern Areas. Quoting official sources of the NA administration, it says that a thorough survey of different mountainous ranges in Gilgit, Skardu, Diamer, Ghizer and Ghanche districts, has led to collection of over 500 samples of hard rocks and river floats for laboratory tests. Laboratory reports have confirmed gold values in the samples ranging from 0.10 PPM to 24.0 PPM. Almost synchronizing with the Silk Route Festival focusing world attention on the tremendously promising Northern Areas from various angles, this happy disclosure has remained unmarked with the euphoria typical of the response to such developments of tremendous economic importance.

The reports have been brought to the notice of the Chief Executive that the past governments both in the province and at the centre had been ignoring these reports in a most intriguing way. It is hoped that present government will not only find out the causes of the criminal neglect in the past, but take immediate measures to explore this hidden wealth which can change the destiny of the nation.