A country where there are huge mountains, highest peaks, flowing rivers and beautiful lakes where the birds from Siberia migrate to during the winters. The dancing waves of the sea and the welcoming arms of the deserts. A country on whose history, civilisation and culture, the entire world prides itself on. A country that is full of different kinds of rich culture. Its green fields resound with melodies of Sufi poetry and people all over the world are lovers of its folk songs. Having all of the above, if a country does not have a tourist, then that country is unfortunate.
The rest of the world may have nothing but they still present their civilisation, history, and culture of their country in a manner that compels people to visit their country. Our neighbouring countries depend on their tourism industries to sustain their economies. Not Pakistan. It is not only are our inept leaders who are responsible for tarnishing our culture but also the religious bullies and of course, terrorism – they are all to blame for successfully gobbling up our tourism industry.
All those foreigners who used to visit Pakistan have now forgotten the route to our country. Even our own people who were somewhat interested in sightseeing and wished to tell their children about our civilisation and history and thus used to go on tours across the country during school holidays now cannot muster up the courage to step out of their homes. The rich ones don’t like to see the beauty of their own country anyway and prefer to spend every holiday abroad.
Even if Pakistanis wanted to tour their own country, their feet are put in iron shackles first by the inflation and then by the unrest and the widespread plundering and killing, as well as the bomb blasts; preventing them from stepping out of their homes.
And where will a Pakistani go anyway? Balochistan, where the rule of terror and the FC exists? Or Sindh, where neither the cities are safe nor the villages? Punjab, which is being gradually given up to the lashkars in the hope of obtaining more and more votes? Or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is trembling from the fear of the Taliban? Or Swat, where people’s main sustenance was through tourism, had just started to get back on its feet when the Taliban shot Malala, thus pushing Swatis’ deeper in the abyss. Are there any other places left for tourists?
If a conference invitation, coupled with a free ticket for discussions on Malala or some other smouldering issue presents itself, intellectuals, journalists and activists will jump on the plane, eager to lend a ear to each other. They merely regurgitate the very same thoughts to each other at these conferences; such people will not be seen at the protests for Malala though, but if you bear their expenses, they will come running to participate in a heated debate on issues that plague the country and try to resolve them in a nice, cool environment for a few days.
Previously, whenever a poor person’s heart was distressed, he or she would turn towards shrines but now, even those shrines are being bombed. So we are left with historical sites, which attract the interests of neither the people nor the government. Forty years ago, the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) was established but now it is nearing its demise. Any day now, we will be hearing of its passing away. One cut of the knife was applied by the Taliban and the other cut was administered by the government who divided up everything for the purposes of reconciliation in a manner that the tourism ministry ended up in Jamiat-Ulema-i- Islam’s Maulana Attaur Rehman’s hands.
Maulana heading the tourism industry is like a blind person being made chairperson of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee – although that is what happens here anyway. As soon as the Maulana came to his tenure, he prohibited alcoholic drinks reserved for foreign tourists in the nationwide PTDC motels and guesthouses. Then, he went to Vietnam to attend the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Conference in Hanoi and complained about the international media portraying Pakistan as being unsafe. Furthermore, he declared the Taliban a peaceful group, leaving the international media and tourism experts shell shocked.
However, the last blow occurred when the federation transferred certain powers to the provinces, and the tourism ministry also came within the provinces’ control. The provincial governments can hardly manage to look after their provinces; the tourism industry is hardly of any importance to them anyway. The funds for the other provincial ministries and departments had always been embezzled and now the same will happen for the provincial tourism ministry. They sit comfortably after publishing a few advertisements in their favourite newspapers, when in reality there are no facilities anywhere across the province. Even the photographs used in these advertisements are taken from the internet with no credit whatsoever given to the original photographer. They must keep the newspaper people happy, and what better way to do that while saving a few lacs for themselves from the total budget.
If you do wish to travel the length and breadth of the country then either you or one of your relatives must be in the military, for their guesthouses are spread all over the country. If not the military, you must have some contacts within the bureaucracy to be able to tour the country. If you dare to go on a tour entirely on your own, you will barely manage to find a place to sleep in and you should forget about security altogether; just like you find a board in parking areas that say ‘park at your own risk’ even though you have paid.
Our tourism has been tarnished by everyone, from the Taliban right down to the incompetent governments. We can earn so much revenue from tourism; unemployment can be reduced greatly. While other countries mint money from their tourism industries, we are emptying out the public’s pockets without giving them anything in return. Whatever remaining entertainment we had left is now being thrown into the fire too. Only the mosques and madrassas are increasing in their numbers. But no one is ready to take up the responsibility of ensuring that means of education, entertainment, health and security are provided to people.
Don’t go too further, just take a look at Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and even Iran. The entire world travels to these countries for tourism purposes. Even if foreign tourists don’t go there, the locals use their holidays to go sightseeing in their own country. But in our country, people are urged to stay home during holidays. Even the phones are shut down as there might be ‘danger of terrorist activities’. What I don’t understand is if they already have information on terrorist activities, why do they tell people to sit inside their homes instead of stopping the terrorists from going ahead with their plans? In some ways that almost feels like terrorism is being spread by the government itself! The Taliban call up journalists and TV channels to give their interviews, get their statements published and yet are somehow never caught by anyone.
You and I ‘like’, comment and share photographs that show the majestic beauty of our beloved Pakistan on Facebook without even knowing who actually clicked those photographs. Someone probably copies photos off various websites without permission to post it on their Facebook page, while receiving praise for free. The one who actually clicked those photographs usually has no idea and even if he or she does, there is nothing they can actually do about it. The ones who used their photographs without credit were doing the country a service anyway.
At the most, you can derive some happiness from seeing these photographs and being proud of your history, civilisation and culture, so what if you cannot simply go and see all these scenic places. Not only do you need courage and money for this but you also need facilities and security. Who is going to provide you with the security? Not everyone’s relatives are in the military, nor does everyone have contacts in the bureaucracy. So then, just be content with these pictures on Facebook. Be sure to ‘like’ them.
The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.