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July 21, 1997

Social and Economic transformation of Northern Areas

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Social and Economic transformation of Northern Areas,
The Muslim dated December 21, 1997
By Syed Shams ud Din

The Northern Areas spreading over an area 72,496 sq km constitute a territory which is unparallel due to its unique geographical composition and immense natural beauty that has all along been a source of unabated attraction the world over. Leaving its touristic significance aside, the area has a great potential in terms of its untapped mineral wealth and immense glacial network which serves as veritable life-vein to the rest of the country.

Its geostrategic importance redoubled with the construction of the Kakoram Highway (KKH), linking Pakistan and China via Khunjerab Pass. The KKH will also serve the Central Asian Republics (CARs) as is evident from the agreement between Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, China and Pakistan in early 1995 regarding transit trade which if implemented, will surely turn these areas as a hub of activity in commercial context. The population of the Northern Areas is around 2.5 millions; the mainstay of the population has all along been the scant agricultural activity while acreage under it has always been quite negligible mainly due to innumerable geographical barriers vis a vis the non-existence of the direly needed modern technology specially on ‘Mountain Farming’.

In such a scenario, intensive efforts have so far proved quite unfructuous as a consequence of which bare subsistence of the entire populace is now squarely hinged on the importation of most of the food-grain from down country. Prior to opening of these areas to the outside world via effective means of transport-communication, the people would remain contented with the scant indigenous agricultural produce as the population then was quite contained vis-à-vis the resources available.

What has primarily plagued the agro-economy in the region at present is all ascribable to the lack of innovativeness vis-à-vis the exploding population which has, by the time, alarmingly acquired nightmarish dimension. The primitive agricultural economy in the aftermath of unabated toiling underway, miserably fails to yield tangible results to cope with the growing needs in the current economic scenario persisting in the region.

There is dire need of an instantaneous switch over from the primitive to the modern ‘mountain-farming techniques’ especially on the foot-steps of the neighboring China where they have successfully brought about miraculous change in the context of ‘mountain-farming’ in mountainous regions lying at altitudes like ours, on the other side of the border, as has recently been disclosed by an Urdu daily relating to Dr Shaheena Hafeez Malik – a well-known scientist of mountain-farming.

The situation persisting in the Northern Areas at the moment is such that almost all the consumable items are being imported to cater to the growing needs of the people here. Hence agricultural economy in this region remains subject to a constant stagnation mainly because of the fact that the pace of bringing more land under acreage in keeping with the population growth has quite dismally been never afoot in juxtaposition with the erstwhile agricultural land within the available arable pockets of valleys that has become ruthlessly decimated due to exploding population by virtue of which the superfluous populace is constrained to insinuate its way onto the farmland for erection of commodious shelters and this thrust virtually shrank the much needed agrarian activity.

Under such appalling state, there the need of a crash programme to be undertaken, to find ways and means with the use of modern technology to irrigate more land to cope with the growing needs of the people.
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