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GILGIT: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday unveiled a development package worth Rs370 billion for Gilgit-Baltistan with a special focus on boosting tourism by enhancing road and aerial connectivity, power supply and upgradation of education and health facilities.

“This Rs370 billion package for five years is just a beginning. We will be assisting you more as you require. I predict, if you properly take care of tourism, you will no more need money from Centre. Rather we will seek funds from you. You cannot imagine how blessed you are,” the prime minister said at a ceremony here during his day-long visit.

He was accompanied by Minister for Planning Asad Umar, Kashmir Affairs Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and SAPMs Dr Sania Nishtar and Zulfiqar Bukhari.

The prime minister, who earlier unveiled plaques to inaugurate and kick off multiple projects under the development package, said he had been awaiting such a package for G-B.

He also appreciated Asad Umar for designing a mix of projects under the PSDP and Public-Private Partnership keeping in view the affordability of the federal government.

He said despite financial constraints owing to huge debt burden, the federal government had scraped a Rs370-billion package for G-B with whom he had had an association since his school days.

The uplift package consisted of hydel projects, new roads and Babusar Tunnel, scholarships and skills training for youth, upgradation of health and education facilities, water and sanitation schemes, promotion of SMEs and expansion of airports, particularly Skardu Airport, to cater to international flights. He said having visited Austria and Switzerland, he had found G-B as the most beautiful region in the world, also admitted by his foreign friends.

Even those who went through his book, “Indus Journey”, the people in Pakistan and abroad were stunned to see the beauty of Pakistan.

The prime minister said the previous rulers showed a blithe lack of concern towards G-B's development as they used to visit London for vacations where they had their children as well as properties.

However, he said the PTI government decided to exploit the potential of the region particularly in tourism.

Drawing a comparison between Pakistan and Switzerland, the prime minister said the latter earned around $60 billion to $80 billion just from tourism which was far higher than the former’s total exports of $25 billion.

He said the development of G-B would not only change the living standard of the locals but would also bring in foreign exchange for the country.

Appreciating the GB chief minister, Khalid Khurshid, for his passion to serve his people, Imran Khan expressed satisfaction over his decision of nominating him for the slot.

He told the gathering that G-B was an attractive destination for both summer and winter tourism. In summer, it will attract the locals while for winter, it was a suitable site for skiing which was also a major revenue source for Switzerland too.

However, the prime minister repeatedly instructed the G-B government not to compromise on town planning and environmental protection while executing the projects as it could prove counterproductive.

He said as the area remained disconnected, it helped the locals build a good community system which would also help the enforcement of bylaws for tourism as well as for town planning.

Calling it another step towards provincial status, Imran Khan said the incumbent government had decided to let the G-B government make its own decisions, doing away with a decades-old practice of overseeing the affairs from Islamabad.

He said an impression was created that the G-B people were incapable of running their affairs which provided an excuse for controlling the affairs from the federal capital.

The prime minister viewed that a society lacking rule of law could never prosper.

He said the people involved in petty financial crimes only inflicted loss to individuals, but the big plunderers caused damage to the whole country through money laundering which consequently caused inflation and poverty.

He said otherwise inactive for the last two decades, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had started going after “big criminals” during the PTI government.

He said the country was faced with “a corrupt mafia” but was confident to say that he had been “trained to defeat them”.

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