Baltistan region comprises four districts, which is home to half the population of the de-facto province of Gilgit-Baltistan. The region connects with Pakistan and the rest of Gilgit-Baltistan through the Skardu-Gilgit highway. The 167 KM road was built for the first time in the early 1970 and completed in 1982.
Since then the road has not been renovated and it is now in a poor condition, fatal accidents and landsliding are a routine phenomenon. Number of cars and other public transports had fallen in the mighty Indus River flowing just parallel to the road but deep in the mountain along this dangerous road causing loss of many important human lives every year. In the rainy season the road is often damaged due to land sliding from the mountains.
The road is also of great importance from the security point of view, as the most sensitive borders of the country; Kargil, Siachan, Batalik and Chourbat borders are located in this region, where thousands of security forces are deployed for the protection of the homeland.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the reconstruction of this road soon after the general elections were held in Gilgit-Baltistan in June 2015. Gilgit-Baltistan due to its special political status does not completely falls under the national electoral process and the only elections in the region are held for its regional legislature, Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA), soon after a year of elections of national assembly. The construction of Gilgit-Skardu Road was thus a popular promise made by PM of Pakistan to convince the voters of GB.
It is very unfortunate that still no funds have been allocated for this significant project. The people of the region are facing hardship while travelling through this road, which is a lifeline for the four districts of Baltistan as it is the only land connection to transport food and basic necessities.
The only flight of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from Islamabad to Skardu is also dependent on the weather conditions. Despite number of announcement to install state of the art technologies to declare Skardu Airport as an all weather airport, nothing has been materialized so far. The number of private airlines also announced to start services for Skardu from Islamabad, which the people in the region considered a cool breeze to decrease their dependency on the only national flag carrier but so far no any practical step has been taken to start the services of these private companies.
The concerns of the people about the construction of the road are getting greater day by day. Besides the opposition parties, the clerics in the region had also joined the protest against the government’s negligence in the construction of the road.
In a recent statement Sheikh Hassan Jaffery, an influential cleric from Baltistan has asked for the resignation of all the parliamentarians of GBLA following failure in fulfilling the promises they made during and after the local elections for GBLA.
Another cleric from Baltistan Molana Arif Hussain also protested against the government for their negligence towards the Skardu-Gilgit Road, he calls it a religious obligation to aware the masses regarding the societal issues.
It has seen for the first time that the clerics have started expressing a unified concern towards the public issues setting aside the sectarian differences in the region. Despite a decade long sectarian division the people and clerics are standing firm in advocating the public needs.
Majority of the people in the region are of the opinion that the mega projects like Gilgit-Skardu Road needs a big amount of money which can only be possible to be financed by the federal government but the fear is that the regime change at federal level in the wake of upcoming 2018, general elections the new government can change its mind towards the project.