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EDITORIAL: It was an important step forward for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s favourite project, i.e., promotion of tourism, when on Thursday he inaugurated an international airport at Skardu, capital of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), as well as a road connection between Skardu and Jaglot, which is situated at the junction of three major mountain ranges: Karakorum, Hindu Kush and Himalayas. Speaking on the occasion, he said, having widely travelled the world over he had never seen such magnificent mountain ranges as the ones in GB, adding Pakistan like Switzerland, which earns $ 70 billion annually from tourism, could earn billions by exploiting its immense tourism potential.

Indeed, Pakistan has plenty to offer from its great mountain ranges — including the world’s second highest mountain, K2, and incredible scenic beauty of its northern areas to vast plains and deserts dotted with cultural heritage attractions, Indus civilisation’s archaeological sites that go back to 7000 years, a charming coastline and wildlife-rich wetlands. For the thrill seekers there is mountaineering, skiing, white water rafting, mountain biking, desert jeep safaris and camel and yak excursions. Then there are ancient religious sites, regional sports events, folk festivals, arts and crafts shows. In fact, several international travel companies have ranked Pakistan as the best holiday destination as well as one of the highest potential adventure destinations in the world. Forbes magazine also included Pakistan in its “best under the radar places to visit in 2020.” With such impressive endorsements foreign tourists should be flocking to this country; that though has not happed as yet. There is considerable increase in numbers, but a lot less than expected. The reason is obvious. As the Prime Minister noted a few months ago during a visit to Naran — a tourist spot in Kaghan valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — promotion of tourism was not possible without peace; foreign tourists would come to Pakistan only if they felt safe and secure.

Although terrorists have been defeated to a large extent, violent extremism remains a clear and present threat in this country. Only a few days ago, a Sri Lankan national working in a Sialkot factory was brutally murdered and his body set on fire allegedly for committing blasphemy. The government has since taken some significant steps to stop the misuse of blasphemy laws. But the issue will not go away unless extremist elements, such as the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) are held to account. At one point, the TLP not only rejected the verdict of the Supreme Court in a false blasphemy case but also called for the assassination of three honourable members of the bench who had exonerated the accused. During its latest agitation its activists killed seven policemen trying to establish law and order, and wounded several others. Yet it has been allowed to function as a ‘normal’ religio-political party. Given this outfit’s track record, there is no guarantee it or someone’s of its ilk next target would not be a foreign tourist. It is more important to check violent extremism than it is to improve and expand infrastructure facilities.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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