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Limited prospect for Gilgit-Baltistan

Limited prospect for Gilgit-Baltistan

Conversation with Mr Sajjad Hussain — an analyst 

Mr. Sajjad Hussain is one of the most prominent personalities of Gilgit-Baltistan. PAKISTAN & GULF ECONOMIST sought his perspective about Gilgit-Baltistan. Following was shared by him:

The region Gilgit-Baltistan has dynamic tourism potential and provides diverse tourism opportunities for domestic and foreign tourists across the world. Being home to the world’s highest mountain peaks and glaciers, it fascinates the attention of adventurers, mountaineers, trekkers, travelers and explorers.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a mega-project of primarily infrastructure-related loans and investments in Pakistan. Recently, the official discourse has increasingly shifted to the agricultural sector. For the region of Gilgit-Baltistan bordering China, academic and policy debates highlight the potential boost of fruit exports to China as the most promising opportunity to be leveraged through the CPEC. To make sense of the complex interplay between external and local actors, interests, markets and (infra)structures.

Contrary to the CPEC narrative, agricultural exports from Gilgit-Baltistan recently came to a halt, due to increasing trade barriers and seemingly competing agricultural developments in neighbouring Xinjiang, China. Moreover, the economically most promising local crop for export to China, namely cherries, does not seem too promising for the majority of small farmers. There are other commodities with export potential, but overall, prospects appear to be limited. There is a need for a deeper engagement with the inherent complexities of CPEC trajectories, particularly in regards to local farming contexts in Pakistan and relevant developments in China.

According to a World Bank Economic Report On Gilgit-Baltistan (2010–11), the net primary school enrolment in Gilgit Baltistan is 51%, the net middle-school enrollment is 17%, and only 14% are enrolled in matric school. In other words, only 17 out of every 100 students achieve the middle level and only 14 out of every 100 students reach to matric level. According to a current survey, approximately a thousand students belonging to Baltistan are studying in different colleges and universities of Karachi. There are no medical or engineering colleges in the area. A large number of students are studying in different colleges and schools of Pakistan. However, seats for Gilgit-Baltistan are very limited in engineering and medical colleges. There are no scholarship programmes for higher education in GB. Medical colleges in Karachi do not provide a single seat for students coming from Gilgit-Baltistan.

On September 29, 2009 former prime minister Gillani announced the foundation of the first medical college. However, construction hasn’t begun. Currently, the local government has allocated an amount of over Rs361 million (5.3% of the total budget) towards education in the area. Even in the twenty-first century, where the internet has evolved into a fundamental necessity of life, approximately 80 per cent of students in Gilgit-Baltistan find themselves deprived of this essential resource. The remaining 20 per cent also grapple with issues related to sluggish internet connectivity.

During the last decade the first higher education institutions were constructed. The first university, Karakoram University, was founded during the reign of Pervez Musharraf. The university was established in 2002 by a charter from the federal government on the orders of Pervez Musharraf, former president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. A second University, University of Baltistan was established in 2017, in Skardu. There are 27 colleges in GB, including eight girls’ colleges and 17 boys’ colleges. Some of them are in the Gilgit district and some of them are in the Skardu District. 13 are degree colleges, 14 are intermediate. Besides, there are two elementary colleges. Due to the poor internet coverage in the region, students face problems when attending classes online.

Since its independence in 1947, governments have not spent much on quality education in this region. While the literacy rates of the areas in Gilgit is higher than most of the cities in Pakistan, yet no professional universities were constructed in the region. In 2002, under the reign of Pervez Musharraf, a general university of the name of Karakoram International University was constructed. Various primary schools were constructed by NGO’s from around the world including the Aga Khan Development Network.

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