Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar has directed the Ministry of Information Technology and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to finalise the auction of 3G and 4G licences in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) on priority, as the importance of IT is far greater for remote areas than the large cities of Pakistan.
“Generating economic activities in remote areas will only be possible through strong IT infrastructure in the future,” he said while chairing a progress review meeting on G-B development plan on Monday. Umar added that one of the underlining principles is to create maximum employment opportunities for the youth and people of G-B.
G-B Additional Chief Secretary briefed the minister on the potential projects in the public sector, non-PSDP (Public Sector Development Programme) initiatives, as well as in the Public-Private Partnership mode. The various priority sectors such as clean energy and hydropower, health, education and skill development, tourism, private sector development, agriculture, women development, social welfare and youth were also discussed in the meeting.
The meeting was informed that all provincial departments are in contact with relevant federal ministries/divisions and PC-Is of the shortlisted schemes are being prepared by the respective departments. The G-B government placed special emphasis on clean energy to mitigate severe power crisis in the area, other priority sectors included tourism, gems and minerals, agricultural products, roads and communications and information technology.
Umar stated that the G-B power sector should have a regional grid of its own as a connection to the grid posed a challenge due to the distance involved. He said that the aim in G-B development package on the energy side is not only to produce energy but also to build the right institutional and regulatory framework and generation transmission distribution capacity as well.
Umar directed PPP Authority to assist G-B government in strengthening G-B PPP Unit and help in the identification of private sector partners. He called on the Board of Investment (BOI) to hold roadshows in two or three different cities in Pakistan where the federal and provincial governments could jointly market available public-private opportunities to potential investors.
Umar directed the planning ministry to devise a strategy for training and capacity building of G-B officers and directed all the ministries and divisions to complete the feasibility and submits the PC-Is to the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) so that activities on ground could start as early as possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2021.
With the new runaway in the making, the Skardu airport has been given the status of an international airport while providing other facilities like Helicopter landing to tourist areas. The Federal government plans helicopter services and international flights for Skardu and Gilgit for promoting tourism, as said by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The CAA’s director-general, Khaqan Murtaza, said in a press interview on Wednesday, “Through big planes’ operation, we are planning to promote tourism in Gilgit, #Chitral, and Skardu,” further adding that foreign flights are permitted to land as well. He further added, for Gwadar, Mohenjo Daro, and Turbat, operations will be carried to attract tourists as well, “operations at Saidu Sharif airport have been started as well.
A run of the River Project on Gilgit River is likely to be commenced in first week of November 2021. The Project has already been awarded to FWO-CNEEC joint Venture. The Project consists of concrete Weir, Sedimentation Basin, HRT channel, Penstock and Powerhouse. The Powerhouse will be housed with 3 Horizontal shaft Francis Turbines.
The wait for upgradation of the Skardu airport is finally over as the airport has been elevated to international status and will begin operations under the new identity from Dec 2 (Thursday), the Civil Aviation Authority announced in a tweet on Wednesday.
The agency said the airport's initial operations will be conducted under the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) only.
Under the VFR, an aircraft is intended to operate in visual meteorological conditions (i.e. nice and clear weather). Clouds, heavy precipitation, low visibility, and other adverse weather conditions should be avoided under the VFR, according to the ATP Flight School.
In January 2020, Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan had announced the decision to upgrade Skardu airport to international standards.
The upgradation of the airport included the construction of a new runway, new terminal building, apron and provision of other facilities to cater to international flight operations.
The minister had also said at the time that the Skardu airport was listed among the world's highest altitude airports, adding that it had become one of the busiest airports in Pakistan.
Sarwar had underlined that a plan was also afoot to expand the Gilgit airport, adding that options were being explored to construct a new airport in Gilgit.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday inaugurated the Skardu International Airport and Jaglot-Skardu road during a day-long visit to the region.
The airport in Skardu was previously only operational for domestic flights. However, its status was elevated on December 2 as it began welcoming international flights as well.
While addressing a large crowd at Municipal Stadium Skardu, the prime minister said the facility's elevation to an international airport would bring untold changes for the locals.
The premier said that GB had the "most beautiful mountain scenery in the world" but lamented that people did not know enough about it because travel was difficult.
He predicted that tourists, including overseas Pakistanis and domestic tourists, would arrive in large numbers after the upgrade to the airport as well as the road.
"Tourism can become a big asset of Pakistan," he said, adding that if Switzerland could generate $70 billion from tourism then Pakistan could also generate substantial income from tourism all year long. "We can make at least $30-$40 billion from tourism just in GB," he said.
The prime minister also highlighted religious tourism and the potential of untapped coastal belt. "We have not taken benefit of the blessings that God has granted us," he said.
He added the locals would benefit the most from the surge in tourism as they would no longer have to venture far to seek jobs. Instead, people would come to their area to find jobs, he said.
Explaining his vision, the prime minister said that no country can truly develop until it elevates its poor and improves its backward and neglected areas.
"It is my [desire] that by the time our five years are complete, the life in backward areas is better and the lives of people below the poverty line are improved."
According to the Prime Minister's Office, during his Skardu visit, PM Imran was also scheduled to preside over various meetings on multiple development schemes and review the one-year performance of the Gilgit-Baltistan government.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the National Highway Authority said the road was a gift for the locals by the democratic government. He added that the 167-kilometre road is the "main strategic road" that connects GB with the Karakoram Highway at Jaglot.
Inaugurated Skardu international airport. InshaAllah, this will take mountain tourism to a level where it will bring in foreign exchange for the country & raise the local community's standard of living. I want to thank the people of Skardu for their generous welcome.