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Khalid Khurshid Khan, Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan (third from left); Ambassador Afzaal Mahmood and Nasruddin Rupani talking to media at the GB Investment Conference as part of Expo 2020 in Dubai. Image Credit: Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor

Dubai: Officials from Pakistan’s mountainous Gilgit Baltistan region have thanked Dubai for providing them an opportunity to showcase their unique culture, civilisation and untapped resources to the world at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“We are very excited to announce that we have got tremendous support from the business community and investors at Expo 2020 Dubai as we managed to sign 25 MoUs [memorandum of understanding] worth $2 billion (Dh7.35 billion),” said Khalid Khurshid Khan, the Chief Minister of Gilgit Balistan, while speaking to the media on Thursday at the GB Investment Conference.

The event organised by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan and the GB Invest Organisation on the sidelines of Expo 2020 Dubai, was attended by more than 200 businessmen and investors who interacted with the chief minister, ministers and other officials of GB. “It is the most successful event we ever had,” Chief Ministr Khan said.

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Wide range of sectors

He said the MOUs covered a wide range of sectors including hydro power, agriculture, minerals and mining, gems stones, tourism, health and infrastructure development. “Response from the Pakistani and other communities has been tremendous as we offer an ‘untapped land’ to explore now with flexible investment policies,” the chief minister explained.

Since connectivity to the 73,000sqkm region that houses three major mountain ranges including Karakoram, Hindukush and Himalayas has been in an issue, the Pakistan government has also granted permission to allow direct flights to operate from Dubai to Skardu Airport in Gilgit Baltistan.

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Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan Khalid Khurshid Khan (6th from left) and Ambassador Afzaal Mahmood with ministers, official and other delegates at the GB Investment Conference in Dubai.

Direct flights

“Agreement has already been signed with Dubai-based Flydubai and flights will start as soon as all arrangements are finalised,” Kazim Mesam, GB’s Minister of Agriculture, told Gulf News on the sidelines of the conference. He said that investors and tourists can now benefit greatly as it would be much easier for them to visit the region. They can now easily access the top-quality, high-altitude crops that are priced very highly in the world. “We expect to see our products, including vegetables and fruit making their way to the UAE market once the direct flights start,” he added. Other international flights are also on the cards including from Europe and China.

Follow up

Afzaal Mahmood, the Ambassador of Pakistan, said that his team would follow up with the investors to ensure all MoUs are materialised. “Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has provided opportunities not only to portray our centuries-old civilisation, culture and tradition, but is also giving us a chance to present what Pakistan has to offer in its different provinces and regions,” he said.

Ambassador Mahmood said that Gilgit Baltistan is a ‘hidden gem’ with untapped resources and those who manage to invest first would benefit a lot in terms of returns on their investments.

Initial sectors

The investment sector is also being promoted by the recently-formed Gilgit Baltistan Investment Organisation (GBIO) — a private sector initiative launched last year. The initial sectors that are being pushed to be highlighted for domestic and international investors are tourism, gems and minerals, agribusiness, tech-based services, renewable energy, and trade and commerce. 

The consortium is a partnership of five organisations namely, Rupani Foundation, Reenergia, Karakoram International University, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, and University of Baltistan.

Visit during holidays

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Khan has especially invited overseas Pakistanis to visit Gilgit Baltistan during holidays and also explore investment opportunities. “We came to Dubai as February was marked as the Gilgit Baltistan month at the Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Throughout the month, we showcased our tourism and investment potentials at Pakistan Pavilion through seminars, briefings and panel discussions to attract investment, he added.

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Dr Qaiser Anis, President Pakistan and Professional Forum in Abu Dhabi, Raja Nasir Ali Khan, Minister for Tourism and Sports at the MoU signing ceremony at the GB Investment Conference in Dubai on Thursday.

Some basic facts about Gilgit Baltistan

Gilgit Baltistan is located in the north of Pakistan. Famous Hunza Valley and the world’s second tallest Peak K2 are also part of GB. It is considered the capital of tourism and a hub of adventure tourism in Pakistan. The region is endowed with four seasons and some unique geographical features from stretches of mighty mountain ranges of the Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindukush to the world’s longest stock of glaciers outside the polar region.

With a population of just over 1.4 million and an area of roughly 73,000sqkm, the region is home to more than 800 peaks above 6,000 metres and five of the 14 highest peaks in the world. It is home to precious stone mining, high-altitude fruit, vegetables and trout fish.