The irresistible lure of Gilgit Baltistan’s ‘killer mountain’
By: Jalaluddin Mughal // A short documentary film and a research study has revealed a significant expansion of tourism in Neelum Valley in Kashmir after the 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan.The film and research report that deeply scanned pre and post ceasefire scenario, has been termed the first of its kind. The in-depth study focuses on impacts of peace initiative on overall socioeconomic conditions and tourism related activities in the area. Muzaffarabad based rights group and think tank Press for Peace lunched the research report and documentary film. For many years of mistrust, the Neelum Valley- a tourist attraction bordering region, has been a combat zone between both neighboring atomic powers.The report titled ''In Search of Peace, Socioeconomic Development in Neelum Valley'' is directed and produced by Kashmiri broadcast journalist Amiruddin Mughal.
'The film gives an insight into struggle and life of people,” said Bazil Navi, AJK Information Minister. He added that the study could be a helpful planning tool for government and nonprofits working on economic development in the area. He also admitted the budget cuts and cumulative non-development expenditure as a major drawback in development of AJK.
“Tourism and cottage industries have potential to generate enormous job opportunities in Neelum Valley,” said Amiruddin Mughal, “but government need to build infrastructure and marketing strategies for local products,” he included.
The participants of the event appreciated it as a unique effort and approach towards highlighting social issues. They said the film elaborated challenges faced by people of Neelum Valley during war between India and Pakistan. More than 3,000 died around 10,000 injured and disabled, whole infrastructure was collapsed while public and private assets were burnt during 14 years long conflict at the Line of Control.
Ceasefire in 2003 has brought a positive change in their lives but still they are concerned about tension between both neighboring atomic powers.
“Peace and security is basic need for development,” said Raja Wasim concluding that peace and security can not only cause creation of more job opportunities but it also can draw attention of investors from all around country to invest in tourism and industries in the picturesque valley of divided Kashmir.
The lunching ceremony and symposium was attended and addressed by Information Minister for Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), Syed Bazil Naqvi, Director Conciliation Resource London Sardar Tahir Aziz, Deputy Commissioner Muzaffarabad Masood ur Rehman, famous Kashmiri journalist and Director Center for Peace Development and Reforms (CPDR) Ershad Mehmood, Mrs Tanveer Lateef and Shoukat Javed Mir while the ceremony was largely attended by civil society activists, government officials and media personals.
Amiruddin Mughal and Raja Waseem, Director Press for Peace briefed participants about objectives of the report and film.
By Mazhar Iqbal // On 10 September 2014, while quoting security reasons, Pakistan expelled 10 international delegates from a science conference which was being held at Rawalakot in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, a local newspaper daily Dharti has said.
Press for Peace, a peace advocacy organisation based in Jammu & Kashmir has expressed grave concern over shocking treatment of visiting international scholars.
According to sources, seven delegates from Indian held Jammu & Kashmir and three from Bangladesh were attending a conference at the University of Poonch in Pakistan Administered Kashmir. They all were disgracefully expelled from within the territorial limits in the region of Pakistan Administered Kashmir. The three-day conference titled ‘Food Security and Climate Change’ began on 9th September and the overthrown delegates had already attended the first session of the conference.
The sources said that the ousted scholars had all met the visa requirements to enter into Pakistan; however, the security agencies escorted with local police raided their hotel in Rawalakot on Tuesday night and ordered them to immediately leave the Pakistani side of the disputed state. Rawalakot is 115 Kilometeres from Islamabad. The university management attempted to intervene but were told not to interfere in the work of security staff. Till Wednesday night the official version by the government was not available.
The delegation of university teachers from Indian held Jammu & Kashmir, who entered into Pakistan from Wahga border near Lahore, comprises of Prof. Haroon ur Rasheed, Prof. Zahoor Ahmed, Prof. Dil Muhammad, Prof. Rafique Ahmad, Prof. Manzoor Gul Rahim, Prof. Mussarat Khan, Prof. Azad Khan, whereas Prof. Salman Ali, Prof. Muhammad Burhan, & Prof. MA Rahim are from Bangladesh. According to the management of the host university all the visiting scholars had mentioned in their visa documents that their intention to visit Pakistan was to attend the science conference. Over 300 local and international delegates were invited to attend the significant event.
Pakistan Administered Jammu & Kashmir is virtually a police state where visitors from mainland Pakistan are officially advised to keep their identity with them. Foreign nationals, despite having met the visa requirements to enter Pakistan, are not allowed to visit the disputed territory without prior permission from several ministries and security agencies in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, the capital of tiny state. In past, a joint India-Pakistan study of the Kashmir dispute, funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) had argued in favour of making borders between two parts of the disputed territory irrelevant. However, Pakistan has always maintained a tight security apparatus in the area to monitor the activities of foreign visitors. People on both sides have continuously been victim of such sanctions.
Mazhar Iqbal is a peace and human rights activist and member of Press for Peace, a rights advocacy organisation working in Jammu and Kashmir.
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The International Peace Youth Group (IPYG) launched the 4th Victory Cup with the theme of Wish for Peace in Kashmir and World Peace at Samrak Stadium, South Korea.
Not only foreigners in Korea but also from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka showed interest in this tournament, so they sent the congratulatory message to IPYG.
A cricket league that was hosted by the IPYG Busan branch in Samrak Stadium had a special meaning since the tournament was held for the hope of reconciliation in Jammu and Kashmir districts where intense conflicts are still continuing.
The league has focused especially on cricket while other branches were having soccer tournaments since it is the most popular sports game in India and Pakistan.
The Victory Cup is a peace themed sports tournament which lasted two weeks and be played at various stadiums around South Korea.
The purpose of the tournament was not only to content for the position of victor, but also for the players, staff, and spectators to demonstrate through their mutual love of sport - in particular, soccer, cricket - that unity and peace is possible.
The opening match was played at the Osan stadium on 5 April. On 6 April, more than 500 participants gathered in different areas such as Seoul, Gyunggi, Incheon, Gangwon, Daegu, Busan, Gwangju as fourteen teams composed of players from South Korea, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Spain,
Canada, Italy, England, Ireland, Sweden and North Korean refugees competed for the winning place.
The opening of the 4th Victory Cup, was a day of festivities: face painting, flash mobs, games, and other cultural activities accompanied the first match played on 5 April. Over 200 IPYG volunteers astonished the spectators with a spectacular peace themed flash-mob.
Press for Peace (PFP), which is member of International Peace Youth Group (IPYG) has congratulated the officials of IPYG and hoped that such unique initiative would help strengthen seeds of hope, peace and harmony in the region.
Gunmen shot dead 10 foreign tourists at its base camp last year, but for serious mountaineers, the allure of Pakistan’s “killer mountain” remains irresistible.
Militants stormed Nanga Parbat base camp on the
night of June 22, 2013, dragging the climbers out of their tents and shooting
them point blank along with their local guide.
The Italian has now made two attempts to climb the peak in winter and the mountain is drawing him to make a third.
“I have felt strange feelings there, feelings that I have never felt before at the foot of a mountain,” he said.
“Nanga is not just a mountain, it is a whole world on its own to be discovered and explored — a planet apart from the Himalayas. The Rupal Face is incredible, its like a giant planet standing in front of you, seducing you to climb it.”
Nanga Parbat earned its grisly nickname after more than 30 climbers died trying to conquer it before the first successful summit in 1953.
The events of last June gave the name a new, more sinister overtone but Moro says the incident was a blip and he wants to encourage others to come to Pakistan.
“I consider Nanga Parbat as the most safest place in Pakistan,” he said.
“What happened last year was just a tragic episode, accidents can happen anywhere in the world but that never means it will always repeat itself.”
David Goettler, a German member of the expedition led by Moro who has twice attempted K2 — Pakistan’s highest peak and the world’s second-highest — said he was astonished by the attack.
“I could not believe it, I was like ‘how on earth did the terrorists come there?’” he said. “I have visited Pakistan six times in the past and I have a super good relationship with the people there.”
The regional government in Gilgit-Baltistan has slashed the fee for climbing in winter by 95 percent to $270.
Street-talk is often boorish. Graffiti scrawled across Srinagar’s dilapidated buildings, many charred and derelict from 25 years of sporadic insurgency and often brutal repression, is telling. Reading “welcome Taliban,” the message provides some evidence to suggest analysts and Indian officials are correct in predicting a troubled year. The extent to which the sentiment resonates is, however, questionable.
Speaking to The Diplomat, Raashid Maqbool, a senior journalist and scholar at Kashmir University explained, “The Taliban is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is a concept more than anything.” He added, “People that are agitated need a banner, a slogan, an identification. Politics, as much as anything, is symbolic.”
Given NATO’s pending Afghan “withdrawal,” few gestures, however symbolic, could be as provocative.
Statements made earlier this year by Pakistan-based militants have compounded anxieties. Whilst a West Point paper released in May reported that 94 percent of militants in Lashkar-e-Taiba – widely believed to take its orders from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence – consider Kashmir a frontline struggle, claims by a senior Hizb-Ul-Mujahideen fighter that Afghan militants owe Kashmiri’s “a debt” have circulated widely.
In an oft-repeated statement made in August, Syed Salahuddin, Chairman of the United Jihad Council, an umbrella organization of more than 13 militant groups, threatened to “flood Kashmir with fighters.” Of somewhat less interest has been Salahuddin’s subsequent assertion that his group has no physical links with the Taliban, nor does he want the Taliban operating in Kashmir, labeling the discourse an attempt to “malign the Kashmiri struggle.”
Despite high-level discussions between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in September, in excess of 200 ceasefire violations in 2013 have ensured that relations between the nuclear-armed countries remain tense.
As talk of a “deadly” Indo-Af-Pak triangle fashioned by the Kashmir conflict provides consolation for ISAF’s modest achievements in Afghanistan, reports warning of the threat posed by “thousands of armed, violent, radicalized” militants have gained traction.
Speaking to The Diplomat under house-arrest, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of the hardline separatist Hurriyat Conference (G) emphasized that, “This dispute is not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, this is a dispute of 13 million people. Whether they are Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs or Christians, all the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir have a right to self-determination.”
“We are telling the people that we should continue the struggle on the basis of peaceful ways. But India is not taking any notice.”
He further warned, “At this juncture we are fighting as far as the Jammu and Kashmir people are concerned, but if anybody is coming to help the suppressed nation, it is also natural.”
In a recent statement to Kashmir Dispatch, Asiya Andrabi, leader of the hardline separatist women’s movement Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith) said, “We have to think that our brothers are coming to help us, to liberate us from India.”
She clarified, “When Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda comes to Kashmir we should keep in mind that the road-map or agenda should be ours.”
Though separatist leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir have fallen shy of advocating a return to arms, there appears little appetite to thwart its onset.
Yasin Malik, chairman of the politically committed Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, dismissed talk of the Taliban as “vague.”
He told The Diplomat, “When in 2008 millions of people came onto the street the Indian state again used military force to corrupt that non-violent movement. Rather than respect this transition they used military force and the whole international community was watching as mute spectators. They have not broken their criminal silence.”
“In Afghanistan the whole world under the command of NATO used military force against the Taliban. Ultimately they realized that the military option is not a solution so they started a negotiating process. The same people who used to bomb the Taliban opened an office for them in Doha and have engaged them in negotiating a settlement.”
“So what is the message of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, not only to Kashmir but to all the conflict zones across the globe. Is the message that only violence can deliver?”
Though increased militancy seems plausible, and foreign elements may play a supporting role, the catalyst for any outbreak is almost certain to be local.
Given reports of a new breed of educated, committed militants operating in the valley, recent events at Kashmir University (KU) are ominous.
The December 4 attack on a cafeteria waiter, allegedly committed by Junaid Javid Mir, the president of the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), has caused outrage. Though Chief Proctor Naseel Iqbal described it as a “minor scuffle,” many see the incident – which left the victim in intensive care – as indicative of a broader institutional policy.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a representative of the banned Kashmir University Student Union (KUSU), remarked, “These hooligans get every kind of support.”
“The cafeteria owner was being told ‘no you don’t file a First Information Report (FIR) we have pressure we cannot file an FIR’.”
He added, “We still don’t know if there is only an internal report there or an official FIR. Nobody knows what happened.”
Though the cafeteria owner filed a complaint with the police, no formal case was registered.
Despite an official ban on student politics at the university, Mirwaiz Abdullah Farooq, who heads the moderate Hurriyat Conference (M), recently accused authorities of making KU a “hub of mainstream activities,” arguing that “Deliberate attempts are being made to muzzle the popular sentiment of Kashmir of which youth and the students are major stakeholders.”
The Higher Education Minister, Mohammed Akbar Lone, labeled these allegations baseless and unfortunate, claiming that “there is no political activity going on at Kashmir University.”
“Whether they give a space or don’t give a space we will still go on with protests, peaceful protests, even though knowing the repercussions,” the KUSU representative asserted.
(Source: The Diplomat, January 2014)
NEELUM VALLEY: As Pakistan grapples with a crippling energy crisis, people in one corner of Kashmir have taken matters into their own hands, using small-scale turbines to generate electricity from streams and rivers.
The country is plagued by power cuts, lasting up to 22 hours a day in the blistering summer in parts of the country, blighting ordinary people’s lives and hampering the economy.
Government moves to tackle the problem have so far yielded little success and have largely focused on moving from expensive imported oil to cheaper coal.
But in Kashmir’s upper Neelum Valley – part of the disputed Himalayan territory known to locals as “Heaven on Earth” for its unspoilt beauty – hundreds of families have chosen a more environmentally friendly option, setting up small-scale hydro projects to produce electricity for a few hours a day.
“The turbine was paid for with contributions from 50 families and cost us Rs300,000 in total,” said Rahimullah, 35, who operates a turbine machine.
Some were moved by necessity – less than half of the Neelum Valley’s 200,000 inhabitants have access to electricity from the grid.
Small turbines are driven by the flow of water to work generators to produce power, and the 200-kilometre Neelum river that forms the picturesque valley, as well as its tributaries, give the area great potential for hydroelectric generation.
Shafiq Usmani, the deputy director of the Hydro Electric Board of Neelum Valley, says up to 3,000 MW could be generated, while the area’s demand is only 15 to 20 MW.
The growth in hydropower has an important knock-on effect – with an electricity supply, there is less reason for residents to cut down trees for cooking and heating.
“All the beauty of the Neelum Valley is dependent on those forests and streams, and this can only be sustained if we give them clean energy,” Usmani told the media.
One local, Mushtaq Ahmad, said the move to electricity had made a huge difference to his family’s health.
“When we had no electricity for lighting there was always smoke in our house, as we used wood for heating and cooking which causes different kind of diseases,” he told the reporters.
“Since we installed this small hydro project for the past three years, thanks be to God, we have got rid of these diseases and also got some other benefits.”
He also called on the government to expand hydro projects in the region so that more people could enjoy their benefits.
Pakistan faces an electricity shortfall of around 4,000 megawatts in the summer, leading to lengthy blackouts, that have strangled economic growth.
To combat the crisis, Pakistan has sought Chinese help in building power generation projects across the country, including coal, nuclear and hydro.
Chinese engineers are also busy in the construction of a Neelum Jhelum hydropower project in Kashmir, estimated to be complete in November 2016, which will generate 969 MW of electricity.
Chaudhry Latif Akbar, the territory’s finance and hydroelectric power minister, said the long-term plan was to export power to the rest of Pakistan on a large scale.
“The total identified hydro energy potential in Kashmir is approximately 8200 MW and we are currently producing 1130 MW,” he said.
“The total need is approximately 400 MW. We will try to use our resources to produce electricity to help out Pakistan to overcome its ongoing energy crisis.”
Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan upon independence from Britain in 1947, has been a continual thorn in relations and the countries have fought two wars over the territory.
Hydropower has also been a source of friction between the two sides, with India objecting in the past to major dam projects on the Pakistan side. (PFP News)
Kotli : In Pakistan Administrated Azad Kashmir on Thursday people protested against escalation of tensions at Line and Control (LoC) and urged India and Pakistan to halt their hostilities for the safety and dignity of people of Jammu and Kashmir and continuity of peace keeping and peace building efforts.
In southern Kotli district local peace groups Press for Peace (PFP) and Future Kashmir Forum (FKF) organised a march to support continuity of peace agreement on the Line of Control and register their protest against current violations by India and Pakistan. The participants of the march were carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans: ‘No to civilian killing on LoC’, Education and progress are our prior needs, not war.
Recent violence escalated between Indian and Pakistani troops at LoC in border villages of Kotli region has compelled locals to migrate to safer places and at least 200 families have been reported to take shelter in school buildings and temporary camps.
The marchers expressed grave concern at the loss of lives of the soldiers, casualties to civilians on both the sides and forced migration of people in border villages.
The protesters marched towards the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) mission to present a memorandum to the UN officials to draw their attention towards recent human losses in Kashmir border.
The memorandum said that people fear that if the tensions at the LoC are allowed to prolong, it would compromise the goodwill that has been built and reverse the peace dividends.
They feared that such an alarming situation may cause massive sufferings to the people of not just the border areas, but eventually of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, on both sides.
Meanwhile, addressing the participants of peace march various leaders and representatives of political parties said UN should adopt a proactive course of diplomatic move to compel India and Pakistan, while taking genuine Kashmiri leadership on board, to initiate substantive discourse on Kashmir for the permanent, durable and honourable settlement of the festering Kashmir conflict.
‘No peace can be guaranteed in South Asia unless Kashmir dispute is amicably settled by India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir, they added.
Earlier in the peace camp people, including traders, lawyers and youth expressed their passionate support for peace by signing the memo. Local singers also charged the audience by singing poems and songs about peace, freedom and justice.