The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) government has not withdrawn its stance on building the road to Tajikistan through Gilgit. This was said by G-B Finance Minister Muhammad Ali Akhtar during a press conference at Gilgit Press Club on Saturday.
“Certainly there are more influential people sitting in the federal government. However, we will stand by our stance,” he said.
Following the recent visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to Tajikistan, the federal government announced the construction of a road to Tajikistan through Chitral. The decision was widely criticised by the politicians in G-B, who termed the project as a “ploy to keep G-B a backward area”.
According to the initial plan, the road to Tajikistan was supposed to go through Ishkomen Valley in G-B. The route was surveyed during Benazir Bhutto’s government and declared the “most suitable” for the project.
Speaking on the Hunza riots, the minister said, “The government has arrested several people, but those who haven’t been proven guilty have been released.” He said strict action will be taken against those who ransacked government buildings.
Akhtar conceded that their efforts in draining the Attabad Lake had been in vain so far; however, he assured that the government will deal with the issue “at all costs” during its tenure.
Akhtar also spoke on the issue of taxes in G-B, which has turned out to be a point of contention in the region. He said that the G-B Legislative Assembly does not have the authority to decide about the imposition of taxes in the region.
“The G-B Council, which is headed by the prime minister, decides all matters pertaining to taxes,” said Akhtar, adding that a suitable policy for G-B on minerals, forests and water and power could benefit the region immensely.
The local traders and regional parties have rejected the idea of taxation, saying that taxes cannot be imposed in G-B as it is a disputed territory due to the Kashmir issue.
The finance minister said that the matter would be addressed by the federal government. He, however, assured that the poor segment of the society will not be affected even if taxes are imposed.
Regarding the achievements of his government, Akhtar said 4,500 people had been given jobs during his tenure, while more inductions will be done in the public sector.
Responding to a question, the minister said that the G-B budget had been increased from Rs8 billion to Rs18 billion during his government. However, unfortunately 80 per cent of the budget was
spent on projects left incomplete by the previous government, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2011.
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