Art and the spirit of life.

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Is the life that we live meaningful? Why do we live? Socrates states that an ‘’unexamined life is not worth living’’, should we than conclude that quiet reflection would lead us to places where we could find a sense, a real purpose in life. If the result of Socratic reflection leads us to nowhere: than what?

Is the life just about good food, good dress, good looks and satisfying other bodily and emotional needs? Is it about love… or maybe it is just about nothing. In search for greater wisdom in life, and to develop an ability to form an interpretive community of ‘valued’ individuals let us look around.

We invite our readers to try and interpret a famous painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya who had once left his home to live in a desolate place. Convinced of the inhumanity of humans, the immorality of moral beings, and the frenzied violence all around he painted pictures that shows and demonstrates something of value to us. Here in this picture he has painted a ‘lonely dog’ that is barking into darkness.

The Dog

Francisco Goya

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Engaging with Art

July 3, 2010 1 comment

The Blind Girl by John Evert Millias

Art is a way of expression, conveying a feeling, a judgement and an observation. Twentieth century German existentialist philosopher Martin Heideggar explains the essence of art in terms of the concepts of being and truth. He argues that art is not only a way of expressing the element of truth in a culture, but the means of creating it and providing a springboard from which ”that which is” can be revealed. Works of art are not only merely representations of the way things are, but actually produce a community’s shared understanding. Each time a new artwork is added to any culture, the meaning of what is to exist is inherently changed.

To enrich our culture we need to ask what we are doing to create our ‘truths’ so that we are guided to be, and to live. Sadly a culture that is devoid of creative engagement with itself and its past risks losing ‘aura’ for its inheritors and at some point it tends to lose its ‘lustre’ altogether thus leaving people in the limbo.

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Drowning of promises in the Hunza River Lake

July 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The voice of the people of Ataabd is muted by Pakistani noise and the promises of development and humanitarian relief remain drowned in the Hunza river lake.

Everyone knows few things about Pakistan, and it is easy to associate religious violence, nuclear weapons, and chronic political instability with that country. For all the wrong reasons Pakistan grabs global headlines. One always hears about al-Qaeda hideouts in the metropolitan cities like Karachi, the so called Quetta Shura who are giving ISAF forces in Afghanistan a hard time, and of course the most dangerous place on earth the bloody Af-Pak frontier in the Frontier province oF Khyber-Pakhtunkhuwa. This variety of death and destruction in Pakistan drowns the voices of those who don’t suffer relatively too much, as BP CEO Tony Hayward would have said in relation to the vastness of ocean and the BP oil spill. Yet there comes the story of an ‘ironic’ natural disaster that killed 19 people on January 4th this year but create a beautiful lake in its wake. Attabad, a small hamlet of about one hundred households, in the Hunza valley located in the Northern Karakorum mountains, was struck by a massive landside whose debris was so huge that it blocked the roaring Hunza river and thus a natural lake began to form along the river

The landslide was predicted by experts and government geologists seven years ago as an earlier massive earth quake in the nearby Astore valley had created cracks in the fragile mountains of Attabad. However scientists with only super human capabilities could have foreseen the timing, and ferocity of this landslide. Ever since the prediction the inhabitants lived a life of fear, of an impending disaster. And on that day elders of the community had travelled to the nearby administrative town of Aliabad to remind the authorities that their lives were in danger. While they were negotiating with the officials the disaster had struck, little did they know that their homes were in ruins now?

The government was slow to respond so the local community form surrounding villages got together and rescued all the survivors and extracted the dead and buried them with proper Muslim rituals for the departed. Two days later the federal authorities came to know about the incident and high officials quickly reached the site in their helicopters. Governor QZ Karia, accompanied by the NDMA boss Gen Farooq reassured the community that they will ‘do everything they can’ to help them and actually promised to burst the debris and open the highway within three weeks. Little did they know that this will take more than thirty weeks without any chances of success in sight? While slow work to remove the debris began on January 12th the lake started to expand slowly yet steadily upstream engulfing low-lying valleys, thus the patches of arable land belonging to poor people started to disappear, houses now submerged in water many people became new refugees. People had to destroy their homes to save wood from damping in the water, and the savagely beautiful lake kept expanding claiming 150 houses.

While the slow pace of work was going on the leadership of NDMA kept the local community in dark by telling them that they will create a spillway ‘very soon’. After more than five months when the melting glaciers were pumping in more 10000 cusec water into the lake the work was stopped and everybody expected a massive outburst. Communities along the river banks downstream were removed in the expectation that there could be a sixty feet high tide flowing down the gorges.  Bemused children told stories to each other that the ‘flowing ocean’ bring mermaids in it. Eager as they are, children waited to catch a mermaid for them, so was the upbeat modern electronic media of Pakistan which converged on Attabad valley for three days in the hope of catching the glimpse of a massive water outburst. Among the curious guests to watch the spectacle were the Pakistani PM SYRG, leader of the opposition NS, and other political figures and members of bureaucracy. This didn’t happen. They went away. They left promises but alas those are now drowned in the 370 meter deep ironic Hunza river lake, and the voices of the poor are mute in the big Pakistani noise of violence, war on terror, and the ever elusive Presidency of Mr AAZ.

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Pakistan’s Hunza Valley: Another Paradise Lost?

June 15, 2010 Leave a comment

GBPost is pleased to share an article recently published by Dr. Herman Kuertzman, Chair of Human Geography at the Center for Development Studies in the Institute of Geography, Freie Universitat Berlin. Dr Kuertzman has researched the Karakorum region for more than two decades and he has a wealth of experience in trying to understand the long-term impact of road-construction and mega-building projects on local communities. In this article he very vividly describes what has been happening since January 4 disaster in Atabad. Alluding to the economic peril this event has caused he says that ”No potato crop will be harvested this year; thus the only cash crop of the valley fades.” I would concur with him, and it is unfortunate that the long and hard fought battle in gaining some ground from nature and its elements in our beautiful Hunza valley seems to be slowly slipping back from our control. (Editor)

Herman Kuertzman:

The new year in the Hunza valley began with a catastrophe. On January 4, a crack in the sloped terrain of Attaabad in the Upper Hunza valley widened and gravity took its toll: houses in the village collapsed. A major landslide caused a wave of dust and gravel; subsequently, material from the moraine blocked and dammed the Hunza valley. Four months later, the villagers in the northwest of Karakoram still live in a state of uncertainty.

Attaabad is one of the younger villages in Hunza, inhabited by people from the central oasis five generations ago. The exposed location made irrigated agriculture difficult, favoured orchards and allowed easy access to the high pastures.

The crack in the slope had been discovered some time ago in the aftermath of the Astor earthquake. Humanitarian organisations such as Focus Humanitarian Assistance had assessed the likely danger and advised the villagers to leave their unstable abodes high above the Hunza river. Despite the timely warning, around 20 people lost their lives, 50 houses were destroyed and 1,500 people were displaced and forced to live in camps or with relatives and friends in neighbouring villages. The Karakoram Highway – while undergoing repairs by Chinese engineers – was damaged along a 1.5-km stretch. A lake formed upstream into Gojal where it submerged roads and bridges, lands and residences of Ainabad and Shishket. Recently it reached Gulmit, the largest village and tehsil headquarter of Gojal, however, the upper lake level has not been affected yet.

When the landslide occurred, the Hunza river released only 2% of its summer melt waters; day after day the run-off rate increases. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was assigned the task of mitigating the disaster by constructing a spill-over channel that stops the water level from rising and perhaps could support a controlled drainage. Time slipped away while politicians of Gilgit-Baltistan, development activists from NGOs, village representatives and council members, self-proclaimed experts and army engineers from the Frontier Works Organisation debated the future of the dam and lake. Some suggested utilising the lake water for power generation and/or tourism purposes; others discussed the stability of the dam without sound geological and geo-morphological evidence. There was also a call to bomb the dam.

Meanwhile, culprits were sought and demonstrations were staged against bureaucrats and politicians accused of inaction. The supply of basic foodstuffs and the transportation of ailing residents was initially enabled by army helicopters. As the crisis grew, a ferry service consisting of small boats was introduced that allowed some commuting and transportation of goods. On both sides of the lake, trucks meant to transport goods to and from Sost Dry Port, the hub of China-Pakistan trade across the Khunjerab Pass, became stuck. International trade along this one and only regularly functioning trade corridor between Central and South Asia has stopped for the time being.

Elders of Hunza society say the January landslide is the biggest natural disaster they have ever experienced. Hunza is a highly vulnerable environment and its extreme mountain valley system is characterised by the most extensive glaciation outside the polar regions as well as some of the steepest slopes on earth. Natural and man-made disasters are not unknown in the Karakoram; survival under these harsh environmental conditions has brought fame to the Hunzukuts for being capable and enduring mountain folk. To put the January disaster into perspective, its only necessary, to look back at history.

From 1830 to the 1990s, the details of 124 damaging events from the Hunza valley were preserved via archival sources, oral traditions, travelogues, reports, interviews and observations. The single most important destructive force has been the movement of glaciers. Glaciers have a role in nearly half of all recorded events. Glacial movements cause direct destruction when glacier advances cover cultivated lands, irrigation systems and roads. Glacier surges might be triggered by a variety of events, including landslides and rockfalls in the ablation zone, resulting in a significant deviation in glacier-surface velocities. In fact glacier advances and natural dams that cause lake formations can cause other disastrous effects.

Glacier dams can break, releasing the water stored in the temporary reservoirs and causing huge floods. The next biggest threat comes from snow and ice avalanches, which are as consequential as the combined phenomena of mud flows and rockslides. And while weather-related action from wind and thunderstorms has been of minor importance here, the heavy rains of September 1992 and 2001 caused substantial destruction to local infrastructure and agricultural resources. All these events have affected habitats, farmland, roads and bridges to varying degrees.

The present cultural landscape of the Hunza valley is the result of coping with these disasters. Direct earthquake-triggered mass movements have not been registered although 42 earthquakes occurred in the Hindukush-Karakoram region between 1876 and 1911. This run of seismic activity damaged roads and buildings, mainly in Chitral and the Gilgit valley. Out of 102 earthquake events with epicentres in Northern Pakistan between 1912 and 1971, no direct destruction to habitations could be established for the Hunza valley. The Attaabad disaster falls into this category: an earthquake contributed to the destabilisation of the slope, the slope collapsed years later causing the blockage of the Hunza valley and the formation of the Gojal lake.

Within the period of recorded observation there have been only four events that led to the complete abandonment of settlement sites in the Hunza valley. The 1830 mudflow and glacier advances in the Chupursan valley were the most dramatic events as a whole tributary valley of the Hunza river had to be sacrificed; all villages were destroyed and covered under a thick layer of fluvial deposits. Only within the last century has systematic resettlement resumed and continued until today – more than 330 households have built hamlets there.

Less than three decades later, in 1858, the severe rockfall at Sarat and the damming of the Hunza river caused flooding of all villages from Sarat to Pasu. In addition to the loss of village lands due to the undercutting of terraces, the juvenile village of Sarat was abandoned and resettlement took place after 1931. Both areas had been newly developed filial settlements of settlers from Central Hunza and of migrants and refugees from Wakhan who had superseded Kirghiz nomads and converted seasonally utilised pasture areas into permanent habitations with mixed mountain agriculture.

The case of Sarat holds an important lesson for the present Attaabad crisis. Sarat’s ground zero is within two kilometres from Attaabad’s danger zone and acts as a historical reminder of the scope of a disaster to be expected. In 1858 a lake was formed in a similar manner as now. When the lake had reached a length of more than 20 kilometres the dam collapsed and the lake released a flood wave that followed the course of the Hunza river into Gilgit and the Indus. The contribution from the Hunza river to the Indus was of such force that close to Attock, where the Indus leaves the mountainous terrain into its floodplain, the water level rose in virtually no time.

To quote a contemporary report: “At 5 a.m. on August 10, 1858, the Indus at Atak (Attock) was very low; at 7 a.m. it had risen 10 feet; by half an hour after noon it had risen 50 feet, and it continued to rise until it stood 90 feet higher than in the morning.” The speed of the rising flood waters drowned a colonial army that was camping on the bank of the Indus. The event took place when British dominance in South Asia was at stake and their supremacy was challenged. Because of the political significance the records of the 1858 Indus flood are well known.

What is likely to happen one and a half centuries later? If the Attaabad dam collapses and the Gojal lake empties at a high speed, the effects will be significantly more dramatic. During the 20th century the Karakoram Highway changed the infrastructure and livelihoods of people on the Indus and Hunza valleys in a manner that caused the expansion of follow-up construction of link roads, extension of village lands and settlements closer to the river banks. Nowadays every tributary river to the big rivers is connected by a jeep or truck friendly suspension bridge or concrete viaduct.

Development agencies, the Public Works Department – sometimes labelled the public’s worst department – and international donors have contributed to bridge construction and road building. The Tarbela Dam on the Indus claims to be the world’s largest earth-filled dam and is both the major regulator for Punjab’s irrigation and Pakistan’s prime hydro-electric power generation station. Above Tarbela, Basha Dam is under construction. Feasibility was attested despite high probabilities of earthquakes and flood releases. Damage caused by the Attaabad flood wave would be a mega disaster in every sense of the term.

While the NDMA predicted the lake to overflow by May 29, no significant damage was reported when Newsline went into print on June 2. Although the lake’s water levels are steadily on the rise, Assistant Commissioner Hunza Nagar Zameer Abbas commented that the breach was unlikely for another three days. The NDMA has worked hard to enable a controlled overflow: they completed the planned spillway within the soft top layer of the dam. The spillway seems to be working as it is discharging the water building up in the lake, but the outflow to inflow ratio of 1000:3000 cusecs paints an unpromising picture. In addition, one news report suggested that the water leakage level had reached 350 cusecs on June 1. Other emergency measures have also been taken in the form of standby helicopters and early warning sirens placed at vulnerable locations to facilitate evacuation. But the glacier melt is increasing day by day, and as the lake exceeds a length of 14 kms, more terraced fields and orchards are inundated along with surrounding villages. No potato crop will be harvested this year; thus the only cash crop of the valley fades. The scope of the upcoming disaster seems to be grossly underestimated and in the meantime, residents wait with bated breath for the looming catastrophe and what could be Hunza’s worst natural disaster to date.
Source: Newsline, 15 June 2010

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Governor Dr. Shama Khalid’s first visit to Gilgit-Baltistan

April 13, 2010 4 comments

(Gilgit) April 13: According to reliable news sources Dr Shama Khalid,the first governor of Gilgit-Baltistan has arrived the capital city Gilgit on her first ever official visit to the newly created ‘’provincial unit’’.

On arrival at the airport she was received by Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah who was accompanied by Chief Secretary and other high government officials. Dr Shama will hold public meetings in various districts including the Hunza-Nagar district where a major natural disasters has killed more than fifteen people and displaced hundreds of others.

Dr Shama Khalid with Syed Yusuf Reza Gillani

Dr Shama who was born in Astore but was married off to a doctor in Abbotabad, was appointed the first governor of Gilgit-Baltistan after the introduction of a long-due legal empowerment package that created structures of governance similar to those practised in the other four provinces of Pakistan. It may be noted that the announcement of of the appointment of a female governor was made by Pakistani president Asif Zardari in an unscripted public speech in Larkana Sindh.This public announcement subsequently became policy and the search began for appropriate candidates. Negotiations were held and offers were made to a number of PPP female politicians including Ms Sanama Bhutto and Sherry Rahman belonging to various part of Pakistan and nobody was really willing to take up the challenge of the job and thus it was decided to choose a so called ”local” or someone from the region itself and hence the appointment of Dr Shama Khalid.

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(VIEW) Irony! Battle of man with Nature

April 10, 2010 1 comment

Attabad: Hunza Life is full of ironies. The devastating landslide that blocked Hunza river on January 4 2010 has now slowly grown into a stunningly beautiful lake.

Fun Birds

Already sea birds have started hovering over the lake-water, and some people visit the site just for fun as well. The landslide killed at least 15 people and has slowly displacing many more in the wake of its expansion, submerging Karakorum Highway, engulfing the precious agricultural land, thus creating an unprecedented crises in Hunza. Yet there are ways to convert a crises into an opportunity, and man has always struggled with Nature to convert its challenges into opportunities for human progress and advancement. As a matter of fact, dam construction is a costly, and time-consuming activity. It requires years of planning, allocation of budgets and resources and above all it requires political will to take the initiative and begin the process of construction and development. This natural dam has solved all the problems at once, and this natural dame cum lake can be preserved..But again it will require a great deal of collective sacrifice, and a willingness to accept risk for greater rewards later in the future.

The Strange Look

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China wants to expand its role in Gilgit-Baltistan

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

(London) April, 10: Speaking at an international conference of business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs in London the Chinese Ambassdor to the Court of St James Mr Liao Xiaoming stated the importance of  Gilgit-Baltistan in promoting trade in South Asia. Talking to the journalists afterwards he said that China is committed to promoting trade in the region as a means to bring peace and stability and also promote cultural relations. He also opined that Sino-Pak free trade zones would boost trade and help eradicate poverty, and address issues of development in the region. Responding to a question on Sust Dry Port he said that this ”project, along with the Karakorum Highway” is a big example of enduring Sino-Pak friendship, and expressed his hope that this friendship will continue to grow in the future.

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