BY JALAL - UD -DIN
Gilgit – Baltistan [G-B] is graciously endowed - a part from world’s highest peaks and largest glaciers - with abundance of natural mineral’s wealth. This wealth has the potential to sustain its population for generations to come.
The harsh geographical terrain has made it a difficult place to live with meager economic opportunities. Since the advent of Karakoram Highway [KKH], growing tourism sector has been a catalyst in melting economic stagnation and plight, thus giving a ray of hope to this impoverished region.
But all of a sudden this rising sector crumbled down aftermath of tragic incident of 9/11.
Gem sector in G-B is another area that has the potential to bring about ample economic opportunities provided sincere efforts are made by the government.
The first gemstone mine in G-B was discovered in 1951 and since then local people are engaged in the exploration, mining and trading of the gemstones but in an informal way with absence of a defined mineral policy. Mines are usually functional on communal lands, unlike other part of the country, customary laws of the region prevalent since centuries, regulate mining practices and regime.
In order to develop this sector, that has a huge economic potential, its government's responsibility to galvanized its efforts and resources in a meaningful way. But unfortunately this isn’t the case. The government of G-B, instead of serving as a catalyst to push this sector ahead by helping traders, it is creating hurdles. The stifling environment it creates is through actions like confiscating and harassing local people who are in this trade.
Recently secretary Minerals, who is a non local, imposed banned on the movement of gemstones out of the region. The actions suggest he has done it on the behest of big non-local tycoons who eye on the acquisition of mines by hook or crook.
The decision strangulated many poor miners and traders who's bread and butter was associated with this sector. In the absence of any policy and regulation, the government of G-B should review this decision in the best interest of people of G-B and the region.
If sincere efforts with a strong political will are made in establishing a globally competitive and thriving gems industry in G-B, it can result in increasing tax and investment revenues. This ultimately can lead to the rapid development of the province. With this sector and the potential for a vibrant tourism industry, G-B could become the fastest growing province in Pakistan and may create a global reputation for itself.