Northern Areas Priorities
13 October 2004
Karachi: The government's decision to delegate administrative and financial powers to the Northern Areas administration and increase the number of seats in the legislative council from 29 to 32 are steps in the right direction. Islamabad has also promised to amend the local bodies rules applicable there to increase women's representation at the union, tehsil and district levels to 33 per cent, bringing the Northern Areas (NA) local bodies system on a par with that in the rest of the country. The government has also decided to implement a Supreme Court decision by setting up an appellate court in the NA. Though long over due, now that these measures have been announced they will help pave the way for the eventual integration of the NA with the rest of the country, without having to wait for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Also, it is high time the government granted representation to the region in federal parliament. Before the Karakoram Highway (KKH) opened for regular traffic in 1982, Gilgit Agency and Baltistan - two regions comprising the NA - had largely remained inaccessible by road. Their only link with the rest of the country was through PIA flights. While the opening of the KKH brought greater mobility to the people of the NA, little else was done to improve the socio-economic infrastructure or to help create employment in the areas. Tourism, which had become the economic lifeline for the NA by the 1990s has seen a steep fall since the nuclear tests of 1998. The post-9-11 scenario has been even more depressing. With little in terms of indigenous economy, subsistence- level agriculture is the only means of livelihood available to the local people. Therefore, besides taking the over due administrative measures, the government should do much more to improve the lot of the people in this impoverished region. A number of NGOs working in the NA have made great strides by way of filling the gap created by the government's long neglect of socio-economic sector in the region. These need to be engaged and funds provided to help bring a meaningful change in the lives of the people there.