Read Part I here.
On 23 May, we checked out from the Shigar Fort Residence with beautiful memories of the place and the people, and headed to the Khaplu town, the administrative headquarters of Ghanche district. Bounded on the north by the two prefectures– Kashghar and Hotan—of the Xinjiang Uyghur region in China, and on the north-east by the Indian-controlled Ladhak, the easternmost part of the district is the famous Siachen Glacier, known as the highest militarized zone in the world. The Glacier is under the occupation of the Indian troops, while the Pakistan Army controls the western region of the Soltoro ridge located in the west of the Siachen Glacier. A convoy of the army truck taking food and other supplies to the soldiers passed us by.
As the third wave of Covid-19 started to recede and domestic tourism opened up north, we flew out of Karachi—the hot spot of the pandemic’s onslaught with a positivity rate of 26 per cent—on 18 May 2021. Looking forward to wandering into high altitude valleys of Baltistan bordering with Kashgar and Ladhak at the edge of the country, we landed in the Skardu’s spacious airfield surrounded by the fascinating Karakoram, Hindukush and Himalayan mountain ranges. Soon we got out of the simple single-storey airport, which has been promised to be turned into all-weather international airport in the new 5-year Gilgit-Baltistan development package announced by the federal government in April 2021.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021
Mountains and valleys evoke beautiful images in the mind of big city dwellers, of peace and quiet, lightness of being, and the absence of the madding crowd. We presume the life of the people who live inside the fascinating landscape to be as blissful. Once you are there, it does not take much to realise that the people living at the edge — where the land merges into mighty mountain ranges — face immense hardship.
Mountain people depend on subsistence agriculture, wage labour, circulatory labour migration, tourism and mountaineering services for survival. Opportunities for government employment are limited. Most households survive on a combination of livelihoods. The people of Shigar and Ghanche districts, whom I met during a trip to Skardu, talked of many challenges. These included the absence of livelihood opportunities except tourism, scarcity of water, poor road networks, inadequate social infrastructure, climate change and frequent landslides.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2021
While the predicament of coal miners in Pakistan is relatively well known, sadly due to frequent fatal underground mining disasters, little comes to light about the life and work conditions of those engaged in artisanal small-scale dimension stone (ie marble, granite, etc) quarrying on the surface, or gemstone mining up on the mountains.
Under-reporting does not mean surface mining and gem digging is less dangerous. Stone mine collapse, causing death and injuries to workers, is not uncommon. In 2020, two such accidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took lives of 29 workers. High-altitude gemstone mining poses great risk as digging is carried out along the veins in the mountain walls accessed by harnesses and ropes which requires climbing skills and agility. Accidents in dimension stone and gemstone mining operations in remote mountainous areas of KP and Gilgit Baltistan largely go unreported. Also, the implications of mining on the community is seldom documented.
Read Part I here.
A beautiful view of central Hunza
After four nights of stay in upper Hunza, we came down to a resort in central Hunza. Central Hunza, the administrative region of the valley with capital Karimabad, is famous for Baltit and Altit Forts and ancient settlement Ganish. Starting from Murtaza Abad, central Hunza region ends at the edge of Attabad Lake. Central Hunza is most populous sub-region of the valley Center where the majority of people speak Burushaski. Central Hunza, I came to know, is impacted by climate change. It is facing drinking water shortage as most settlements depend on two glacial melt streams (at Hassan Abad and Ultar) as their primary source of water. The recent glacial lake outburst floods from both glaciers have reduced water supply.
A view of Hunza Valley
The pandemic, the anxiety and fear of the unknown, economic downturn—national and global, lockdowns–total, partial and smart—and social distancing had worn us out by the end of September. What did provide some relief to me and my daughter, the city-dwellers, was a little refuge in nature, a reclaiming of the bond with the sky, the plants (potted) of many hues and smells, and the little flora and fauna left in Karachi. The refuge was the terrace, that many Karachiites took to frequenting during the lockdown. We too spent time in our small roof-top garden, watching the floating ribbons of migrating birds in March, April and May, the ever present crows, eagles, pigeons, mynahs, koels and sparrows the months after–and the delightful species—wild parakeets, wood peckers, thrushes and wagtails—who staged a comeback after many decades.
By Septembers things had eased: family visits, celebrations and funerals in small groups were taking place and inland traveling was slowly resuming. People we know were taking to the road–to the mountains, the lakes and the springs. We decided to take our longed-for and missed summer vacation in early autumn, October 2020 and headed towards Hunza. I had visited the valley long ago. In the summer of 1984 when I was young, we–two sisters and three brothers—had taken a road trip from Karachi to Khunjerab Pass. It was a time to revisit!
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2016
THE rule of law is considered to be grounded in four principles: universal accountability, the protection of fundamental rights (including security of persons), fair and due process, and the impartiality of those who deliver justice. Ideally, the rule of law seeks a just and peaceful social order in which the “…law would govern the lives of society members in a way that is not arbitrary, and not oppressive”.