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EDITORIAL: Promoting tourism is right up the priority subjects along with improving the environment, planting billions of trees and building millions of homes, in the list of things that are part and parcel of Prime Minister Imran Khan's core vision for Pakistan. Interestingly, putting Pakistan in the forefront of the war of awareness against Islamophobia is also pretty high on that list. And now he's found a way of scoring two hits off one ball by presenting a unique package tour to encourage "Muslim tourism" in Pakistan. And it does seem like a pretty fine idea to exploit "Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments" in the west, which makes Muslim tourists no longer feel as welcome there as they used to, to invite them to instead come visit our historical sites, religious heritage, mountain ranges, even a beach.

Of course for that we'd first have to brush up our ruins, make our mountains more accessible and really clean our beaches. And, of course, build the kind of infrastructure in all those places that tourists need to be able to visit them. Why all this has not already been done, and why no government so far thought it worth its time, is a long, sad story in itself. That is why the very fact that this administration takes it so seriously, and is bent upon making this sector a major contributor, eventually, to our foreign exchange earnings, is very encouraging.

Fishing for Muslim tourists is a good idea also because we don't have most of the attractions, or distractions that most western tourists look for, like discotheques, bars, clubs, casinos, etc. And we are in the process of cozy up to a number of Muslim countries, like Turkey and Malaysia. Plus the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) bonanza is giving our infrastructure a long overdue face lift, which should make travel up and down the country much easier and more affordable very soon. So the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fall into place; and with the PM himself pushing this 'project' with such spirit, there's every reason to expect a very forceful turnaround.

The government will, however, have to do something about the security situation, because it is beginning to worsen once again. Just like the old days, news headlines are again speaking of police and army officers killed in surprise bomb attacks. Everybody, inside and outside Pakistan, knew that Afghanistan would descend into uncertainty and chaos with the pullout of Nato forces and that would very quickly enable TTP (Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan) militants holed up on the Afghan side of the border to orchestrate terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. And since the script is playing out exactly as expected, our security agencies must move with great speed to nip this evil in the bud this time. Because till then we will remain caught in a situation where the Afghan security breakdown not only affects the peace in Pakistan, but also casts a very long shadow on its hopes of stimulating its economy through measures such as tourism.

It's nothing short of a shame that we are still in the very initial stages of even thinking about tourism and foreign exchange collectively in this country. And it's a very sad fact that the only reason we are not like Turkey, for example, which earns tens of billions of dollars every year from tourism alone, is that our leaders, one after the other, didn't think like their leaders, and they let our heritage, and our tourism potential, rot before our eyes. It can only be hoped that the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) government makes this one of the promises that it honours, not one of those that it tosses aside with characteristic reckless abandon.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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'Muslim tourists' this way, please

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