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Challenges in Delivering Services in Gilgit-Baltistan

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In November 2021, I joined the Soni Jawari Center for Public Policy (SJCPP) as a Junior Scholar. The SJCPP was newly established at the time, and its primary goal was to conduct policy-oriented research on how to improve the performance of public services in Gilgit-Baltistan. The SJCPP also aimed to develop partnerships with development agencies and advise the government of Gilgit-Baltistan on policy issues. As part of its work, the SJCPP began collecting data and consulting with stakeholders to identify the challenges that institutions face in delivering social protection services in Gilgit-Baltistan. The SJCPP’s first stakeholder consultation session was held on January 3, 2023, with government officials from both provincial and federal organizations. The second stakeholder consultation session was held with representatives from civil society, the private sector, and beneficiary organizations. These workshops were organized to develop a social protection policy for Gilgit-Baltistan. In this article, we will explore the challenges that institutions face in delivering services, with a specific focus on social protection services.

The launching ceremony of Gilgit-Baltistan Social Protection Policy.

Firstly, Social protection services in Gilgit-Baltistan are not available in all areas, especially in remote and hard-to-reach communities. This is due to the fragmented geography of GB, with many valleys located in far-flung areas that lack road access and network facilities. Service providers find it difficult and costly to reach these areas, so they often focus on providing services in urban areas. This problem could be addressed by developing infrastructure in remote areas, such as building roads and improving telecommunications. Service providers could also hire more staff to reach these areas.

Secondly, there is a lack of coordination between service providers in Gilgit-Baltistan, leading to overlapping services. This is because there is no central database of all regional beneficiaries. As a result, some beneficiaries receive services multiple times, while others do not receive any services at all. One solution to this problem is to create a central database of all beneficiaries in Gilgit-Baltistan. This would allow service providers to coordinate their efforts and ensure that no beneficiary is left behind. Moreover, there is a need to improve communication and collaboration between service providers. This could be done through regular meetings and workshops.

During the workshops, we learned that there is no clear definition of who is eligible to receive social protection services in Gilgit-Baltistan. This is a problem because it can lead to services being provided to people who do not need them, while those who are most in need may be excluded. Well-defined beneficiary identification criteria are essential to ensure that social protection services are targeted to those who need them most. These criteria should be based on objective factors, such as income, assets, and vulnerability. They should also be transparent and easy to understand so that people can be sure that they are eligible to receive services.

Further, for the beneficiary identification process, the provincial departments need to coordinate with LSO, community organizations, and village organizations because they are in a better position to identify poor people/households in their respective rural areas.

Another challenge that service providers face in Gilgit-Baltistan is the lack of internet connectivity in remote areas. This lack of connectivity creates a barrier to effective communication and service delivery. For example, service providers may not be able to access online databases or communicate with other service providers in real-time. This can lead to delays in service delivery and can make it difficult to target services to those who need them most. The government of Gilgit-Baltistan should work to improve internet connectivity in remote areas. This could be done by investing in infrastructure, such as building new towers and laying fiber optic cables. The government could also provide subsidies to internet service providers to make internet access more affordable.

In conclusion, there are a number of challenges that institutions face in delivering social protection services in Gilgit-Baltistan. These challenges include limited geographical coverage, overlapping of services, lack of beneficiary identification criteria, and lack of internet connectivity. These challenges can make it difficult to target social protection services to those who need them most. The government of Gilgit-Baltistan should work to address these challenges by developing infrastructure, improving coordination between service providers, and clarifying beneficiary identification criteria. The government should also work to improve internet connectivity in remote areas. By addressing these challenges, the government can help to ensure that social protection services are delivered effectively to those who need them most.

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NATO’s Military Engagements: Understanding Their Political Implications

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance that plays a crucial role in maintaining international security and stability. NATO’s operations span a broad range of activities, from collective defence to crisis response and conflict resolution. These operations carry significant political implications for the alliance, influencing its internal cohesion, relationships with other international actors, and approach to emerging security challenges. This article examines the political implications of NATO’s military operations, exploring the effects of these operations on the alliance’s cohesion and decision-making processes, as well as its interactions with other global and regional players.

Flags of the 26 member countries of NATO,
NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium.

NATO was founded in 1949 as a collective defence alliance aimed at deterring aggression in the Euro-Atlantic area. Over time, its scope has expanded to include operations beyond its traditional area of responsibility, including crisis response and conflict resolution missions in regions such as the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya. Additionally, emerging security challenges such as cyber threats and hybrid warfare have required NATO to adapt its operations and strategies.

Map of World depicts member states of NATO and the EU.

Today, NATO not only continues its foundational mission of safeguarding the freedom and security of its members, but also plays an active role in crisis response, conflict resolution, and stabilization efforts around the world. As the alliance navigates these expanded responsibilities, it faces complex challenges and opportunities that impact its political cohesion, decision-making processes, and relationships with regional and international actors.

NATO’s military operations play a pivotal role in shaping the alliance’s political cohesion and decision-making processes. Given the diverse interests and priorities of its member states, coordinating a unified approach to operations can be challenging. However, joint operations often strengthen solidarity among members by fostering cooperation and a sense of shared purpose.

For instance, NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) demonstrated the alliance’s ability to work together despite differing national interests. The mission highlighted the importance of aligning member state priorities and contributed to strengthening the alliance’s decision-making processes.

Nevertheless, divergent interests among member states can also lead to tensions, as seen in

NATO’s operations in Libya in 2011. While some countries, such as the United Kingdom and

France, were more actively involved, others, such as Germany, took a more cautious approach. These differences can impact the alliance’s political cohesion and decision-making.

NATO’s involvement in crisis response and conflict resolution operations outside its traditional Euro-Atlantic area has significant political consequences. These operations impact NATO’s relationships with regional actors and international organizations, shaping perceptions of its role as a global security provider.

For example, NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011 marked a shift in the alliance’s approach to operations outside its traditional area of responsibility. This intervention carried out under the mandate of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, highlighted NATO’s ability to respond to complex crises in regions such as North Africa.

However, these operations can also strain NATO’s relationships with regional actors. In Libya, for instance, the lack of a clear post-intervention strategy led to criticism and strained relations with some regional partners. Similarly, NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan has faced criticism from regional actors for its perceived interference in domestic affairs.

NATO’s operations shape perceptions of security and stability in Europe, influencing the alliance’s relations with Russia and other key stakeholders in the region. NATO’s eastward expansion and deployment of forces in Eastern Europe in response to Russian aggression have heightened tensions between the alliance and Russia.

For instance, the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia prompted NATO to bolster its presence in Eastern Europe, including deploying multinational battalions in the Baltic states and Poland. These actions aim to reassure NATO members in the region and deter further aggression. However, they have also led to increased tensions with Russia, which views NATO’s expansion as a security threat.

NATO’s role in shaping perceptions of security and stability extends beyond its relations with Russia. The alliance’s operations in the Western Balkans, for example, have contributed to regional stability by supporting peacekeeping efforts and facilitating dialogue among conflicting parties.

NATO’s response to emerging security challenges, such as cyber threats and hybrid warfare, reflects evolving political dynamics within the alliance. The increasing prevalence of these challenges has prompted NATO to adapt its strategies and operations to address new forms of warfare.

For instance, NATO’s adoption of a cyber defense policy in 2012 and the establishment of the NATO Cyber Rapid Reaction Team demonstrate the alliance’s commitment to addressing cyber threats. These efforts reflect the growing recognition of cyber threats as a significant challenge to international security.

Similarly, NATO’s approach to hybrid warfare involves a combination of traditional military tactics and unconventional methods, such as disinformation campaigns and economic pressure. The alliance has developed strategies to counter hybrid threats, including the creation of the NATO Hybrid Warfare Center of Excellence.

NATO’s responses to emerging security challenges have implications for its role in shaping international norms and governance in the digital age. By leading efforts to establish standards and best practices for cyber defense and hybrid warfare, NATO contributes to the development of international norms in these areas.

NATO’s operations carry significant political implications for the alliance and its relations with other international actors. The impact of these operations on NATO’s political cohesion and decision-making processes, as well as its relationships with regional actors and other stakeholders, is multifaceted. Additionally, NATO’s response to emerging security challenges reflects evolving political dynamics within the alliance and has implications for its role in shaping international norms and governance in the digital age.

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Food Insecurity and Nutrition Challenges in Gilgit-Baltistan: From Adolescence to Motherhood

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food insecurity

Gilgit-Baltistan, the mountainous region, is situated on the northern outskirts of Pakistan and has a population of around 2.1 million, with 49% female and 50.8% male. The growth rate is 2.15, and the total fertility rate is 4.7. It is known for its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and strategic significance.  

The total area of GB is 72971 sq km, but mountains and glaciers cover the most significant part, about 66% of the total area. The total cultivable land is only 2%, and 50% are cultivable.  Due to limited cultivable land and urban sprawl, Gilgit city has diminished available farmland, replacing fertile fields with concrete structures. This expansion has disrupted the traditional agricultural landscape. Along with this, the dramatically increasing population and climate change reinforce food insecurity in the region.

GB is facing many socio-economic, cultural, and environmental challenges.  The lack of infrastructure and inadequate connectivity to the rest of the world posed a considerable challenge.  Lack of access to quality healthcare services and education is another potential hindrance. Food Insecurity is one of the significant challenges in the region.  Food insecurity is when an individual or household lacks access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy life.

fruits gilgit baltistan - food gilgit baltistan

Food insecurity is the primary cause of malnutrition, which refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients, or impaired nutrient utilization. Current inflation, poverty, recurring disasters, and political and economic volatility drive food insecurity in the region of GB. Food insecurity leads to all forms of malnutrition, i.e., undernutrition, hidden hunger, and overnutrition. 

Malnutrition among children under 5 is an emerging issue in the region. According to the National Nutrition Survey- 2018, the nutritional status of children under five in GB is alarming and needs to be addressed at the earliest convenience.  46.6% of children are stunted under five, 12.2% suffer from wasting, and the overweight percentage is 9.4. 

Another concerning factor contributing to malnutrition is poor maternal and child health care practices from the conception of pregnancy to the second birth of a child, the initial 1000 days. Not all mothers are sufficiently informed about the importance of breastfeeding during 1000 golden days.

The National Nutrition Survey (NNS 2018) indicates that 20.1% of women start early breastfeeding initiation and 54.9% exclusive breastfeeding in the region. The PSLM 2018 Indicates women of reproductive age, overweight women are 19.6%, and underweight women are 10.1%.

Children under the age of five suffer from chronic poor nutritional status due to deficient intake of some of the essential micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin D, Zinc, folic acid, and iron during critical stages of physiological changes of pregnancy and child growth.  These figures of malnutrition under the age of 5 worsen due to the recurring floods and looming inflation in the GB.

The issue of maternal children’s health and nutrition needs to be addressed urgently as it is emerging and affecting countless households.

There is a critical window of golden opportunity from conception to two years of age to prevent child stunting. During these 1000 days, a healthy diet and proper care are essential. Maternal micronutrient supplements (MMS) programs prevent and control nutrient-related deficiencies in pregnant and lactating mothers and infants. Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) are highly beneficial for adolescents and pregnant mothers to prevent anemia.

Adolescence (12-15) is the second-fastest growth period after infancy. This growth period is the second window of golden opportunity as the adolescent growth stage describes the onset and progression of pubertal changes known as the Tanner stage. Nutrient and caloric requirements are significantly increased to meet growth and developmental demand correlated with the tanner stage. The estimated caloric requirement for adolescent girls is 2070 to 2400 per day, with a protein requirement of 46g. This requirement should be met for healthy growth and development.

Proper Nutrition at the right time, especially during adolescence, can secure the healthy well-being of mothers and children and lead to a healthier generation. To address the malnutrition and nutritional needs of infants, mothers, and adolescent girls, UNICEF has developed 10 interventions. These interventions not only improve the nutritional status of children, but also of mothers and adolescent girls.

Action 1: Breastfeeding within the first hour of life is vital to children’s survival.

Action 2: Exclusive Breastfeeding in the six months of life makes the child healthier.

Action 3: Solid foods and mothers’ milk after months of age help infants increase and grow.

Action 4: The right Foods in the quantity and quality fed frequently from 6 to 24 months ensure optimal growth and development.

Action 5: Good hygiene and clean hands keep young children healthy and strong.

Action 6: Iron and vitamin A supplementation and deworming protect young children from disease and anemia.

Action 7: Nutritious food given frequently during and after illness is necessary for the child’s recovery.

Action 8: Life-saving food and care given at the right time, save severely malnourished children.

Action 9: Improving adolescent girls’ nutrition today will secure children’s nutrition tomorrow.

Action 10: Better nutrition, particularly during pregnancy and lactation, are essential to women’s health. 

This essential nutrition should be implemented in households and among family members, especially husbands, who should be informed about the proper nutritional care for lactating and pregnant mothers. Girls at their adolescent age should be taught about proper nutrition care and its importance for the rest of their lives and their maternal life.  

Maintaining a nutritious diet with a healthy lifestyle during adolescence can pave the way for healthy mothers, and a healthy mother, in turn, lays the foundation for a healthy generation.

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Development Planning in Gilgit-Baltistan – The Missing Link  {A reflection}

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Mr. Sajjad Hyder, Chief Economist, Planning & Development department has recently retired from his service after serving almost three decades, commencing from April 1993 to November 30, 2022. He, as Chief Economist, was responsible for leading public Investment management policies for designing and implementing various socioeconomic development projects and programs in the region.  Moreover, concoction of substantive policies for socioeconomic development in all sections was also part of his job responsibilities.

The retired officer, Mr. Sajjad Hyder, has shared the following reflection, regarding public investment management in GB, which is based on his 30 years of exposure as a development planning practitioner:  

Development Planning in Gilgit-Baltistan – Missing Link

Historical background: The development economics was born immediately after the second world war with the birth of the Breton Woods international financial system to facilitate development and eradicate poverty in the countries that were emerging out of colonialism. The Planning commission Pakistan was formally established in 1953 with the Harvard Advisory Group (HAG) officially became its coach soon after. Based on their methodology, the country introduced formal 5-year planning in 1955 which with periodic interregnums continues until today. In Gilgit-Baltistan, development planning starts with the inception of 2nd Five Year plan by establishing a Planning Cell in 1971.

It is not out of place here to say that most of the project cycle management components in GB have fallen into misuse, while others have developed serious defects. Following are the major gaps, in my observation over last 30 years with the department:

REASONS OF INEFFICIENCY IN DEVELOPMENT PLANNING IN GILGIT-BALTISTAN:

As indicated earlier, Public Investment Management in Gilgit Baltistan starts from 2nd five-year plan.  This system served well the needs of this region in
early stages as the planning & development department was an empowered organization headed by a development commissioner in BS 20. Over time, however, the system developed several problems due to degradation of the organization in view of successive political developments in the region. Presently, Gilgit-Baltistan’s PIM system (development planning) is mere shadow of the concept given by the Harvard Advisory Group, meaning, in capacity, influence and effectiveness.

To understand the sources of inefficiency, it is necessary to review all the stages in the public investment process to identifying gaps and weak points in the processes and procedures.

 Guidance and Screening: Identification and screening components of PIM are badly compromised due to atrophy of economic planning in Gilgit-Baltistan.  Three broad factors were mainly responsible for the waning performance of the PIM system in GB: 

1) Rigidities of the PIM system: The structure of the economy changed from a public sector led to a private sector led economy. This structural changed called for a different role of the planning system, in general, and particularly, the role of P&DD. This required different skills and competencies than what are available with the department. 2) Dominance of crisis management over economic management: As projects started to slow down due to economic policy and planning adopted in firefighting mode. Longer term planning as well as public investment became casualties of the crisis mode which has preoccupied the GB Government for the last several years.

3) A sharp decline in the capacity of the PIM system in GB: With no medium-term plan or strategy available to define the sectoral and sub-sectoral priorities of the government, the project identification process became largely ad-hoc, with identified projects reflecting more the priorities of political leadership than those established through a well thought out plan. The void left by abandonment of the planning process is largely filled by the politicians, where a large number of projects are identified by politicians, or by the line-departments on directives of the politicians.
Ironically, the Planning Commission manual, provides ample guidance for identification, appraisal, and implementation of various programs / projects but of no use in GB.

Project Preparation and Appraisal: In the beginning, the quality of project preparation and appraisal was quite satisfactory. However, over time, these functions weakened, mainly due to following reasons:

  • With mounting fiscal difficulties, the line departments faced an increasing
    squeeze on their operational (recurrent) budget. Inclusion of a project into
    the ADP therefore became a mode of getting additional fiscal resources
    for the line departments, from which it can finance some of operational
    needs left unmet by inadequate recurrent budget. There was therefore a
    big enough incentive for the line departments to get as many as possible
    projects into the ADP as soon as possible. This forced them to cut
    corners on project preparation and pull all strings and levers to get project
    approved.  {Roughly, only 3 percent of development expenditure goes to create or acquire physical assets, whereas 31 percent is spent on operation expenditure}.
  • Political intervention in the development process increased adversely
    affecting the quality of project preparation and the moral of
    development-related staff in the departments and P&DD. There never has been any tradition in GB of undertaking ex ante or ex-post independent reviews of the preparation and appraisal process even for important projects.
  • Games” in the project preparations and approval processes: Limited capacity of the P&DD to properly appraise projects has given rise to some “gaming” behavior within the line departments to get whatever they want from the project approving authorities by deliberately include unwanted expenditure items (e.g. a large number of vehicles) in the project design just to distract the P&DD’s appraisal team to focus on these items, leading to a less than required focus on other areas and costs of the project. {The end result is leading to implementation delays, changes in scope and design of the project, cost overruns and consequently loss in benefits from the projects}.
  • Project Selection and Budgeting: Once a project is included in ADP in principle, administrative and political wheels start moving to get the project approved, irrespective of whether funds for the project are available or not, and it is technically viable or otherwise.  This leads to a number of projects making into the ADP with insufficient (at time a “token” allocation). This allocation is usually not even enough to pay for the
    salaries of the project staff. Moreover, this also leads to thin spreading
    of resources across other projects. As such, many projects get under-financed, which causes implementation delays, and a large throw-forward. A large throw-forward leaves little room for the incoming new government to implement its development agenda with full vigor. This has created a number of implementation issues undermining the efficiency of public investment.

Project Implementation: Project Implementation has been a weak area in GB. For ADP projects, shortcomings in project identification, preparation, appraisal, and approval processes make implementation very difficult. In addition, projects are usually managed by staff taken form regular cadres of government, with limited project management skills.

At times project management is assigned as an “additional responsibility” along with the person’s normal work. Moreover, procedures governing project financing, procurement and contracting are overly cumbersome. Hence, implementation delays and the consequent cost escalations are a norm rather than an exception for ADP.

Public Procurements: Weak procurement practices remain one of the major reasons for inefficiencies in public expenditure, including public investments as procurement is a highly technical subject. In addition, the volume of public procurements is huge, both in size and number. There are not enough skilled procurement specialists within the GB Government to manage all these procurements. Moreover, weak accountability and defective bidding and contract documents have given rise to corrupt contracting procedures and practices which directly undermine the efficiency of public expenditure in general, and particularly public investment.

Monitoring & Evaluation: Despite being a function mandated to both the line departments and the P&DD, project monitoring requires considerable improvements. To date, most of monitoring that is undertaken relates to inputs and compliance with procedures and processes, output and impact monitoring continues to be considered as outside the purview and mandate.  

Project Completion and Service Delivery: Although procedures for completing a project and soliciting operational resources are well laid out, yet they are hardly ever followed. Project completion report (PC-IV) is filed only in cases where the project requires recurrent expenditure allocation to be operational. Following are the reasons for inadequate allocation of operational budget to a newly completed project:

i) Weak estimates of operational resources: While preparing the PC-I, the line
departments deliberately understate the recurrent expenditure implications of
the project. This is done to improve the chances of getting the project
approved and included in the development budget. The finance authority
takes these estimates very seriously when making operational allocation after
completion of the project.

ii)  Implementation delays not only lead to escalation in project cost, but also in recurrent expenditure required to make the project operational.

iii)  Inadequacy of R&M allocations lead to deterioration in quality of service
delivered by the projects, reducing value for money under projects.

Missing Links in Functioning of Planning & Development Department: P&DD GB has thus become a project approval body where most of the projects are not identified based on technical considerations or as part of a shared approach to maximizing growth and welfare. These developments adversely impacted the value for money under development.
At all stages of the project, P&DD is supposed to keep track of performance. However, this tracking is now not happening to maximize project performance. At the project initiation, the PC1 form requires a full cost-benefit and economic analysis of the project to be presented to the approving bodies, after scrutiny by the sections.
When the project is complete the sponsoring agency must send a completion report, the PC4. Seldom is this report completed and hence there is little evaluation of the work done and its proper costing. After 5 years of the completion of the project, an evaluation report, PC5, reports on the performance of the project comparing it to the stated expectations set out in the PC1. Once again, these reports are seldom if ever completed. Altogether, role of P&DD is to approve projects and maintaining expenditure management afterwards. 

Too Many Projects, Too Little Return
The technical details of policy and projects such as basis of evidence, cost-benefit,
rates of return and rigorous feasibility or sensitivity analysis have gradually been
withdrawn from senior policymaking forums.  Looking strictly at the project
development and management system, several weaknesses have crept into the system, lowering their impact and rate of return.

These are:

1) Projects are approved without due diligence. Feasibilities, cost-benefit analysis, spatial determination, and several other details are often subject to political or other considerations. Approvals are pushed through with executive fiat.

2) Projects frequently have large cost overruns. Using a selection of ADP projects overruns are frequent and quite large. This is a combination of poor project management, infrequent delays leading to cost escalation as well as poor initial preparation.

3) Excessive focus on brick and mortar. The bulk of the investment is in hard infrastructure such and link roads are the biggest components. Even in the social sectors and other sectors, departments are interested in brick and mortar and even the approval process favors that.

(To be continued by highlighting proposals for improvement)

Mr. Sajjad Hyder joined P&DD, as Research Officer (BS-17), in 1993 and worked in all the sectors of economy, undertaking research studies and region’s policy development initiatives for socioeconomic development. Main research studies include: Northern Areas Strategy for Sustainable Development, in collaboration with IUC Pakistan, Norther Ares Report on Participatory Poverty Assessment in collaboration with planning commission Pakistan, and Gilgit Baltistan Economic Report {Broadening the Transformation}, a joint venture with ADB and world bank. His contribution in major project interventions include Pakistan Social Action Program, under which significant impact was seen in primary education, primary health care and rural water supply and sanitation in this region.  Altogether, Mr. Sajjad Hyder, as young officer {that time}, had acted a leading role in SAP interventions as a catalyst.  

In the years ahead, Mr. Sajjad Hyder, was elevated to the positions of Assistant Chief (BS-18), Deputy Chief (BS -19), and Chief Economist (BS-20), having commendable contribution (s) in the socioeconomic development of Gilgit=Baltistan.

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