KHYBER Pakhtunkhwa has more than natural beauty. For Buddhists worldwide it has Takht Bahi, near Mardan, which Unesco rates as Pakistan’s most complete Buddhist monastery. Organised on modern lines, even this small segment of Pakistan’s vast tourism potential can prove to be lucrative. However, no Buddhist faithful, no matter how keen on pilgrimage, would come to Pakistan if he does not feel safe. Providing security for him is thus the first task the authorities should think of as they strive to organise Pakistan’s tourism industry according to international standards. Swat’s virtual occupation by the Taliban had dealt a blow to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s tourism industry; the terrorists’ expulsion from that tourist paradise, however, had only a marginal impact on tourist traffic because of the larger national image in which Pakistan has come to be associated with violence directed against minorities in the country and non-Muslim visitors.
The provincial government’s eagerness to revive tourism and make use of an opportunity to do so must be welcomed. Under the 18th Amendment Islamabad has handed over nearly 100 archaeological sites to the provincial government. The latter also wants the Starving Buddha, a Gandhara masterpiece in the Lahore museum, back in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are nearly 4,000 Buddhist relics in museums all over Pakistan, and Peshawar quite legitimately lays claim to them. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Tourism Corporation is also expanding and reconstructing the Swat museum with Italian help. However, tourism cannot click without a flourishing domestic industry, and more effort is needed to boost this. Terrorism has driven away foreign visitors, investors, artists and scholars and discouraged Pakistanis themselves from exploring their own country. Buddhists from Japan, South Korea and other Far Eastern and Southeast Asian countries would flock to Pakistan in droves if they could be sure of the safety of life and limb.