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In Conversation with Hussain Shah – Minister for IT and Special Assistant to the Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan | Rizwan Haider Shah

Mr. Hussain Shah is currently serving as the Minister for Information Technology and Special Assistant to the Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan.

Q: You are currently serving as the Minister for IT & Special Assistant of the Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan. Please tell us about your Political Career.

A: After completing my Matric, I travelled to Karachi for further studies. I did my FSc, Graduation and Masters from there. During my years as a student there, I was deeply connected to Student Politics over there. I remained the President of a Imamia Students Organization and I retained the chairmanship of around 18 Student Organizations over a period of 5 Years. Thus, I started my political career from student politics at my own educational institution in Karachi.

 

Q: You are currently serving as the Minister for Information Technology in Gilgit Baltistan’s Government. The region holds importance especially in the context of CEPC as well. What policies have you adopted and what initiatives are you taking regarding Information Technology in Gilgit Baltistan?

A: The point of concern is that despite having a literacy rate of 98%, there was no proper Department of IT in Gilgit Baltistan. However, I specially commend Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan Khalid Khurshid because due to their initiative, the IT Department was introduced in the Gilgit Baltistan Government.

However, no matter what department we consider, it can not produce reasonable results until a proper policy is not formulated. In the context of IT, we are in the process of formulating an IT Policy for Gilgit Baltistan which would be two-faceted – Long Term and Short Term.

In the Short Run, Chief Minister Mr. Khalid Khurshid has given us a package in which the IT Professionals of Gilgit Baltistan will be facilitated all the way from buying a Laptop to starting a Software House of their own.

In the Long Run, we would be establishing IT Parks in all districts of Gilgit Baltistan including Hunza, Ghizer, Baltistan, Diamer, Astore among others. Moreover, SCO is currently providing Fiber to Home Service and in the future, the IT education of the youngsters of Gilgit Baltistan will be provided to them free of cost, all services would be free, and even the IT Training Courses that usually cost a lot would be paid for by the Government of Gilgit Baltistan.

 

Q: As we see the current scenario in Gilgit Baltistan, a major chunk of network services is provided by SCO. Is there any scope for, and are you welcoming any private companies in the IT Sector of Gilgit Baltistan?

A: We have welcomed private companies in Gilgit Baltistan. Zong, Telenor, and other companies are working in Gilgit Baltistan, we just had its bid in the last month. Apart from these we have also welcomed other companies who are currently working in Gilgit Baltistan as well. We also welcome all other private companies to come and work in Gilgit Baltistan.

 

Q: What impact would that have in uplifting Gilgit Baltistan as a region?

A: It would produce employment opportunities, cause competition in the market which would lead to improved quality of IT Services and Goods.

 

Q: Improvement in Networking Services has both positive and negative impacts on the population. On one hand where we see increased access to digital world, we also see the rise of polarization on the basis of religion or politics. Given the culture of Gilgit Baltistan and the improvement of these services, do you think there would be any negative implications as well? If yes, how do you plan to mitigate them?

A: Positives and Negatives are always there in any and all phenomena. In this context, we have kept our youth engaged in healthy Sports Activities. As far as the IT aspect is concerned, I think it depends on the person itself that how he utilizes the tools at its disposal. Moreover, we plan to digitalize Gilgit Baltistan. For that it is necessary that work is done on health, on education, on tourism. It is essential that we digitalize our revenue.

We are lagging behind in IT if a comparison is made with other provinces, but the sooner the better. We will engage our youth in it God Willing. In future, we would also be sending our youngsters for IT courses in China which would also have job surety. It won’t be like they come here after completing the course and keep looking for jobs. They would be employed in the IT Centers that we would be setting up in all districts of Gilgit Baltistan which would be providing their services not only in Gilgit Baltistan but the entire country.

 

Q: Gilgit Baltistan has always been the epicenter of rich traditions, cultures, tourist destinations and sports. In your opinion, how can Information Technology help in promoting culture, sports, and tourism of Gilgit Baltistan?

A: I believe that IT holds the integral role in it. In the context of tourism, for example you just enter Gilgit Baltistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we are launching an app that would be guiding you regarding what tourist destinations lie in your proximity, the nearest health facilities, tuck shops, hotels, resorts, the weather forecast, the situation of roads ahead – thus a complete tourist companion app that would facilitate you in any and all aspects.

 

Q: Regarding Tourism, Gilgit Baltistan holds one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. There is an influx of local and foreigner tourists who visit the region. The biggest problem they face is of land sliding. Especially, as we see in the areas of Diamer, Tata Pani and the closure of Babusar Top greatly affects tourism. Is there any initiative in the plans to deal with the issue?

A: All our region of Gilgit Baltistan is mountainous in nature. Me, you, or any other technology in the world can not make it foolproof against it. Because whenever the weather is rainy, it causes such natural phenomena as land sliding. All the way till Khunjerab Top, on one side flows the Sindh River, while on the other there are mountains. We can not thus make a mechanism to avert landslides from happening. However other measures can be taken.

Recently, it has been finalized that the Gilgit Airport will be upgraded and extended for easier access to the region via air. Moreover, work is also being done on roads and tunnels. Coupled with the launching of the App that I already mentioned which would be connected with satellites & the betterment of cellular services, we would make sure that visitors have access to all relevant information.

 

Q: As you know that Cutting Edge Group of which Global Affairs is also a part, recently organized the Kashmir Premier League to uplift sports in AJK and has launched a team by the name of “GB Markhors” for its Season II. Do you think that similar events should be launched in Gilgit Baltistan as well?

A: We in Gilgit Baltistan do not currently have any proper stadiums, trainings or coaching for Cricket, Football, Volleyball, etc. Despite these odds, the youngsters of Gilgit Baltistan are not only playing their respective sports but also excelling in them. Recently, they have participated in sports events held in Quetta. In the field of Boxing, as you know that Usman Wazeer has made us all proud at the global stage, all through his own efforts. Similarly, the girls football event at Sost and others. Therefore, things are developing, we’re moving towards betterment. With some support from the Government, and moral support from the masses, I am sure the people of Gilgit Baltistan will achieve wonders and shall not stay behind anybody else.

 

Q: Lastly, as we see the famous Polo Festival that is held in Chitral. In a similar fashion, there are number of fairs and festivals that are held in Gilgit Baltistan, especially in the Chapursan Valley. Would your government facilitate such events in the near future?

A: Absolutely, they are going to be held in the near future. I have also had a discussion with the Sports Minister Mr. Raja Nasir who is a young and immensely talented person working tirelessly for Gilgit Baltistan. He is doing a great job and working hard in the context of sports and events in Gilgit Baltistan. His policies regarding sports and tourism are also commendable. So Gold Willing, you will surely be seeing events of this kind at Gilgit Baltistan and abroad. Some events are scheduled to take place in Dubai as well. A free-style polo event is also going to take place in Islamabad.

You will see the promotion of Gilgit Baltistan’s sports and culture across the world in near future.

Rizwan Haider Shah

Written by Rizwan Haider Shah

The Author is The Bureau Chief of Global Affairs for Gilgit-Baltistan. He can be reached at rizwanhaidershah512@gmail.com.

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