Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday announced a five-year development package worth Rs370 billion for Gilgit-Baltistan during his visit to the area.
Addressing a ceremony in GB, the prime minister said that the government was starting with a package worth Rs370bn to be spent over five years and that never before had such an amount been spent in the area. “We will keep helping you,” he added.
The prime minister said that he had been waiting a “long time” to bring such a package for GB “which could bring development in actual terms to the region”.
He said that at the moment, Pakistan didn’t have enough resources — which he hoped it would have in the future — and there was demand from people all over Pakistan for money and government help so despite all that, “bringing a package like this I think is a very big achievement for Pakistan and GB.”
The prime minister recalled that he had an early association with GB since his school days and that the beauty of the region was untapped and unknown, even among Pakistanis. “Since our government came, it was our decision to bring up the potential of this region.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan elaborated on the projects under the development package and said they would constitute hydel power generation and local distribution networks, improving tourism connectivity such as development of the Babusar Tunnel, skills trainings and scholarships for the youth and upgradation of health services.
He added that water, sewerage and sanitation systems would be improved and “there was great need” for them in Skardu and GB due to their rapid expansion. Addressing the topic of industrialisation in the region, he said small and medium-scale industries would be successful such as food processing for fruits like apricots.
“The expansion of your infrastructure and expanding your airports,” the prime minister said, would also be a part of the package, specifically pointing to Skardu Airport which would cater to international flights now as well.
The prime minister also stressed the importance of developing facilities for tourism in the region. He said the “real potential” of the region lay in tourism.
Promotion of tourism would bring benefits for both GB and Pakistan, said the premier, with employment and prosperity for the former and foreign exchange for the latter.
“This package we have brought, this is not just for your benefit and improvement. We have brought it for all of Pakistan because the whole country will benefit,” he said.
He predicted that if tourism was handled properly in GB, it would no longer have to ask for funds from the Centre. Rather, it would be the other way around.
“You have to work for your tourism industry in a very planned way […] if you don’t do this correctly, then tourists won’t come,” the prime minister urged, pointing to potential pitfalls such as lack of town planning, inadequate sanitation and deficient environmental protection.
The premier said the region had a good community system and therefore it would be very easy to ensure compliance with bylaws, maintain sanitation and protection of areas for tourism. The local government elections, he added, would help to make a system that could “protect the whole area”.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also stated that when he used to visit the region in the past, there seemed to be an impression among the people that they weren’t believed to be capable of managing their own affairs and weren’t empowered to take decisions for themselves.
He added that his government had taken steps to provide provisional provincial status to GB so that the local people would have the authority to take decisions. “How can decisions be made [for this area] sitting in Islamabad?”
Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, while addressing the ceremony earlier, also shared details on the projects under the development package.
He said that nine electricity projects with a capacity of 250 megawatt would be added which were all hydel and clean energy projects. “Your local distribution grid is being spread so that electricity can be provided reliably,” Umar said, adding that Rs140bn were just for the electricity projects.
The federal minister stated that five road projects worth Rs35bn would also be carried out. For tourism, skills development and trainings related to tourism, Rs6bn have been allocated, while Rs 17bn will be spent on projects relating to health and education initiatives.
Umar stated that two big water projects worth Rs8.5bn would also be launched: a water supply scheme for GB and a sewage and sanitation scheme for Skardu. He further pointed out various projects such as incubation centres for promoting business and entrepreneurship, flood protection structures, enhancement of biodiversity and aqua systems, network expansion of 3G and 4G services and 25 small and medium-scale industrial units to add value to agricultural output.
Earlier, a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office had said that the premier would launch new projects of the Special Communication Organisation during his visit which would “provide mobile and internet services in remote areas of GB and improve the existing service” .
It had added that the premier would also be briefed on ongoing relief projects and future planning in the area under the Ehsaas Programme. He would also launch the Ehsaas Nashonuma (nutrition), Ehsaas Undergraduate and Secondary Education Scholarships and Ehsaas “One Woman One Account”.
“The prime minister will also be briefed on the promotion of tourism in GB.”
The prime minister had approved the package in a meeting regarding the development of GB last month.
Under the package, projects in various sectors would not only herald a new chapter of development and progress in GB but will also help address the problems of the region and create numerous employment opportunities.