GILGIT: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday unveiled a development package worth Rs370 billion for Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) with a focus on boosting tourism by enhancing road and air connectivity, power supply and upgrading education and health facilities.
“This Rs370 billion package for five years is just the beginning. We will be assisting you more as you require. I predict that if you properly take care of tourism, you will no longer need money from the Centre, rather we will seek funds from you. You cannot imagine as how blessed you are,” the Prime Minister said while addressing a ceremony during his day-long visit.
He was accompanied by Minister for Planning Asad Umar, Kashmir Affairs Minister Ali Amin Gandapur, and special assistants Dr Sania Nishtar and Zulfi Bukhari.
The Prime Minister, who earlier unveiled plaques to inaugurate and launch multiple projects under the development package, said he had been waiting for such a package for GB. He also appreciated Asad Umar for designing a mix of projects under the Public Sector Development Programme and Public-Private Partnership keeping in view the extent to which the federal government could afford.
The Prime Minister said despite financial constraints owing to huge debts, the federal government had scraped together Rs370 billion for GB, a region with whom he had an association since his school age.
The uplift package consists of hydel projects, new roads and Babusar Tunnel, scholarships and skills training for the youth, health and education facilities upgrades, water and sanitation schemes, promotion of SMEs and expansion of airports, particularly Skardu Airport, to cater to international flights.
Khan said having visited Austria and Switzerland, he found GB as the most beautiful region in the world, which was also acknowledged by his foreigner friends. Even those who went through his picture book ‘Indus Journey’ the people in Pakistan and abroad were stunned to see the beauty of Pakistan.
However, he said the PTI government decided to exploit the potential of the region particularly in tourism. Drawing a comparison between Pakistan and Switzerland, the Prime Minister said the latter earned around $60 billion to $80 billion just from tourism which was far higher than former’s total exports of $25 billion.
He said the development of GB would not only change the living standards of the locals, but would also bring in foreign exchange for the country.
Appreciating GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid for his passion to serve his people, Khan expressed satisfaction over his decision of nominating him for the slot.
However, the Prime Minister repeatedly instructed the GB government not to compromise town planning and environmental protection while executing the projects as it could prove counterproductive.
He said as the area remained disconnected, it helped the locals build a good community system which would also help the enforcement of bylaws for tourism as well as town planning.
Calling it another step towards provincial status, Khan said the incumbent government had decided to let the GB government make its own decisions, doing away with a decades-old practice of overseeing affairs from Islamabad.
He then railed against previous rulers, who he said showed a lack of concern towards GB’s development as they would visit London for vacations where they had their children as well as properties.
The Prime Minister said a society lacking the rule of law could never prosper. He added that the people involved in petty financial crimes only inflicted loss to individuals, but the “big plunderers” caused damage to whole country through money laundering which consequently caused inflation and poverty.
He said otherwise inactive since last two decades, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had started going after big criminals during the PTI government. He said the country was faced with a corrupt mafia but was confident to say that he had been “trained to defeat them”.
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