Cultural, environmental and civil society activists, researchers and development experts are worried about the impact of globalization on indigenous people, their culture and ecology, particularly the second wave of changes that is taking place in the shape of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) after opening of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) about three decades ago.
However, they also see ‘huge’ opportunities in the ‘game-changer’ multi-billion-dollar project for the Karakoram, Pamir and Hindu Kush mountain regions.
These views were expressed at a two-day conference on “Negotiating Change for Sustainability: Horizons of #CPEC in Gilgit-Baltistan” organized by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) at Passu, a small town in Hunza District’s Gojal Tehsil recently.
“China built KKH with an aim to expand its communist ideology as well as for its strategic purposes. Now through the corridor, the capitalist China is entering the region for its business and trade purposes.”–Aziz Ali Dad
The speakers, however, emphasized on a continuous dialogue between academia, researchers, civil society, political leadership, local communities and development practitioners generation of knowledge and sharing of information to unravel the complexities of socioeconomic issues, understand the challenges and opportunities in the wake of emerging regional and global power dynamics.
Dynamics of a road and a corridor
“We have to understand the dynamics of a road and a corridor,” Aziz Ali Dad, specialist, Knowledge Management said while sharing his research study on CPEC, covering various sectors in the economy which can provide immense opportunities and challenges for Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
“China built KKH with an aim to expand its communist ideology as well as for its strategic purposes. Now through the corridor, the capitalist China is entering the region for its business and trade purposes. Therefore, it will bring a different set of challenges and opportunities,” Aziz, who contributes columns to mainstream English media of Pakistan, said.
“There is a lack of knowledge about CPEC especially in our area,” Aziz said.
Where there is a lack of knowledge and information, conspiracy theories fill the vacuum in societies like ours. Conspiracy theories feed most of the information gap in GB, he said, adding that the purpose of the conference is to look at CPEC from researched and academic perspective to understand what opportunities it holds for us. But, he put a question: “Who will determine the course of direction?”
The traditional societies and structures do not have the capacity to do so. “Therefore, academia should build a base for a strong political standing to negotiate it according to the local demands,” he suggested.
Opportunities in energy sector
Noted poet and bureaucrat Zafar Waqar Taj, who was the chief guest, discussed the steps being taken by the government for safeguarding the interests of the GB in the multi-billion-dollar project.
“When we look at both prior and after the 70s we see a rapid development in our region,” the secretary power said.
“CPEC is bringing huge investment in energy sector in B2B mode like IPPs. If we are not prepared we won’t be able to harness anything resulting in harming ourselves,” he said. It will have long lasting impact on our culture, language, literature and values,” —Zafar Waqar Taj
KKH brought in education, money, awareness, business. But at the same time, we witnessed the flow of weapons and narcotics in the region. “CPEC also entails these dangers. If we didn’t comprehend timely what we need and what not we may have only dust in our hands.” CPEC is bringing huge investment in energy sector in B2B mode like IPPs. If we are not prepared we won’t be able to harness anything resulting in harming ourselves,” he said. It will have long lasting impact on our culture, language, literature and values, he added.
Endangered languages, culture
Zubair Torwali, a language expert and activist, also seconded Zafar’s apprehensions and concerns about the future of indigenous languages. Speaking on ‘Challenges to the linguistic diversity of northern Pakistan’ he mentioned that all the 28 languages spoken in the northern region from Swat to Gilgit-Baltistan, were endangered, quoting a 2013 UNESCO report.
Giving the reasons for their bleak future, he says these languages have no script or written traditions. “People of the region are confused about their identities,” Zobair remarked.
“The tough terrain of the region also hinders the communities to form a collective approach to handle the common linguistic issue,” Zobair said.
“People of the region are confused about their identities…the tough terrain of the region also hinders the communities to handle the common linguistic issues”.–Zobair Torwali
He also held globalisation and onslaught of commercial media responsible for this sorry state of affairs.
It is state’s responsibility to take steps for the promotion of endangered languages and cultures by making them a medium of instruction in schools, through mainstream media, he recommended.
From the margins to the centre stage
Earlier briefing about the theme, objectives and the logic behind arranging the conference, Yasmin Karim, Programme Manager Gender and Development, said: “The regions of GBC have undergone drastic changes with their exposure to the outside world following the abolition of traditional governance structure, transformation in society and shift in economic base.
“After the opening of KKH, the region witnessed tremendous development in terms of education, economy and other spheres of life. The GBC is now facing new realities which need new ways of seeing things.”–Yasmin Karim
According to Ms Karim after the opening of KKH, the region witnessed tremendous development in terms of education, quality of life, economy and in other spheres of life.
“The GBC is now facing new realities which need new ways of seeing things”, she said.
Today we live in a global world where time and space is compressing.
The process of globalization offers both opportunities and challenges to societies living in margins, she cautioned.
The regions of GBC have remained hitherto at the margins of major economic developments that occurred in the neighbouring regions. Being a corridor of Central and South Asia our region has become a pivotal point. We want to generate a discourse that will ensure a sustainable development in the region, she said.
The speakers said the changes emanate from Chinese interest and investment in Pakistan will soon expand into the larger interactions of the One Belt One Road policy that will involve many cultures, economies and ecologies under a single policy framework.
Others who also spoke on the occasion included Safiullah Baig, Fahim Baig, Zaigham Abbas, Muhammed Idrees, Sultan Ahmed, Israruddin Israr, Fazal Amin Beg, Ali Ahmed Jan, Noor Bano, Afiyat Nazar and Dr Muhammed Sadiq.