The prolonged delay in repairing of the strategic Alam Bridge has become a cause of embarrassment for the Mehdi Shah led government in Gilgit – Baltistan. The Alam Bridge was closed for heavy traffic in mid of May after some cables holding it broke down. After a lapse of almost 45 days, the bridge still awaits restoration.
Alam Brige is a very important piece of infrastructure connecting Baltistan with rest of the country. The people of Skardu and Ghangche districts rely very heavily on the bridge for obtaining supplies from outside the region. Suspension of traffic on the bridge led to shortage of different commodities in the markets of Skardu and Ghangche. Traders and transporters organized strikes across Baltistan to protest against the government’s failure to restore the bridge. Smaller vehicles were initially allowed to cross the bridge but recently it has been closed for all sorts of traffic and instead another vulnerable bridge, known as Ram Gath Bridge, is currently being used for light vehicular traffic.
According to government sources, the delay was caused by a tussle, on a “whose-responsibility-is-this” kinda issue, between the National Highway Authority (NHA) and Frontier Works Organization (FWO), who are often seen acting like competitors in Gilgit – Baltistan. The controversy between these two organizations was so large that the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit – Baltistan had to intervene, by taking a Suo-Moto notice of the situation.
On June 28, 2011, the Supreme Appellate Court after a specially called hearing ordered FWO to complete repair of Alam Bridge within 3 weeks.
The court had to intervene because the ‘dialogues’ and ‘statements’ of the political representatives failed to make any difference in the attitude of FWO and NHA.
The tussle between two federal organizations has highlighted the GB government’s inability to exercise complete authority in the region. Be it the case of draining the dammed Hunza River or that of repairing the damaged Alam Bridge, the people of Gilgit – Baltistan are witnessing the helplessness of their elected representatives in front of certain institutions.
It is important for all organizations of the country to realize that people of Gilgit – Baltistan want to see their elected leaders as powerful political players in the region, and not as titular rulers. In the existing situation, the idea of self-governance may seem to be a distant dream to thousands of the residents of Gilgit – Baltistan. In order to dispel the impression, the Self-Governance Order 2009 needs to be implemented in its true spirit. This is important to make the people believe that their deprivations can be overcome, gradually, through political reforms.