Gilgit-Baltistan: International Seminar Emphasises The Role Of External Negligence On Domestic Society
An international seminar on “International Politics and Sustainable Development” has emphasised the adverse impacts of institutional weakness, a disregard for environmental concerns, a hunger for resource exploitation and external geo-political interests on Gilgit-Baltistan.
Below is a press release from the Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies:
On July 27, 2011, the Henry L. Stimson Center [Washington], Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies and Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan co-sponsored an event titled “Resources on the Roof of the World: International Politics and Sustainable Development in the Greater Himalayan Region”. Dr. David Michel (Stimson Center) presided over the proceedings. The panel was composed of Dr. Sumit Ganguly (Indiana University), Dr. Iqbal Hasnain (Stimson Center), Tufail Ahmed (MEMRI), Micheal Penders (ESI) and Senge Sering (IGBS).
David Michel talked about growing demands of food and fodder which is leading to excessive water consumption in the Himalayan region. He stated that the Indus delta, which has already lost more than 6,000 square kilometers to the ocean, is at greater risk due to existing dams and the situation would worsen if Pakistan constructs Diamer and Kalabagh dams on the River Indus.
Tufail Ahmed shed light on realignment of political alliances in Asia where Pakistan and China are expanding their influence in Iran, Afghanistan and other South Asian countries. He talked about China’s plans to establish a long term presence in the Indian Oceanic Region. He stated that withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and rise of China are two drivers which would determine Pakistan’s military and economic interests in the coming years. He also talked about China’s interest in maintaining long term presence in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Dr. Hasnain stated that more than one and half billion people are directly dependent on water resources of the Tibetan plateau which are depleting at alarming rate. He referred to Siachen and Khunjerab glaciers which are fast melting due to excessive human interventions. The situation adversely affects Pakistan as more than 78% of its population and 72% of her land is being fed by the Indus river system. He stressed that sustainable solution to water problems in South Asia can be found only with China’s participation. Referring to the controversy over Diamer Dam, Dr. Hasnain said that the dam is located in an earthquake prone zone and would pose constant threat to millions of inhabitants in the plains of Pakistan.
Michael Penders expressed his support for the natives of Gilgit-Baltistan who are striving for self-rule and termed China’s presence in Gilgit-Baltistan unlawful and a challenge to practices of sustainable development. He emphasized that dams should not be constructed in a contested region like Gilgit-Baltistan and it should receive safeguard under international laws and treaties which apply to other disputed regions. Discussing Ataabad lake disaster as a case study, which led to deaths of more than twenty people, Michael Penders called for immediate international support to mitigate such disasters.
Dr. Ganguly stated that many among the proponents of economic growth in China and South Asia have near complete disregard to the long term environmental consequences and the hunger for resource consumption is causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem. Discussing the situation in Gilgit-Baltistan, Dr. Ganguly stated that resource exploitation continues in this environmentally vulnerable region without consent of the natives and goes unnoticed as the world remains focused on affairs along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He also discussed China’s insecurities towards a fast growing India which has forced China to take added interest in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Senge Sering talked about socio-economic and cultural impacts attached to China’s involvement in dam building and mineral extraction in Gilgit-Baltistan. He called Gilgit-Baltistan Council the long arm of Pakistan to support Chinese imperialism. He stressed that Gilgit-Baltistan would end up like Tibet and East Turkestan if China’s unwarranted presence is not challenged. He emphasized that social and cultural well-being of the indigenous peoples of the Himalayan region co-insides with the economic and security interests of the international community ensuring cost-effective conservation, mitigation of climate change, and global food security and the United States must help prevent human rights violations in Gilgit-Baltistan which is caused due to these massive scale land grabs.
In the end, David Michel thanked the audience and the panellists for their valuable input.
* * *