Munir Ahmed// Federal government (Pakistan) is still reluctant to withdraw its order imposing ban on the foreign tourists visiting Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) without obtaining an (additional) no-objection certificate (NOC) from the ministry of interior in Islamabad despite of a formal request from the GB chief minister. A letter recently sent by the ministry to the Gilgit-Baltistan government says that it has been reported that foreigners are frequently visiting Gilgit-Baltistan without obtaining an NOC or security clearance from the ministry, which is against the rules. The letter asks the authorities concerned to take concrete measures to curb the practice.
The GB government and the tour operators have a valid stance that the foreign tourists wish to visit Gilgit-Baltistan do not get visa until they have compulsory NOC and clearance from the federal ministry of interior. Why another NOC after their arrival? There has been no precedent for foreigners to obtain an NOC for visiting tourist points after getting visas — a process of two to three months. This seems to be intentionally discouraging Gilgit-Baltists tourism — the only seasonal source of livelihood for the natives after the small portion of dry-fruits sales.
On the other hand, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government withdrew the NOC required for foreign tourists visiting Malakand division in March 2016 to promote tourism in the area. The only threat they are facing is an increase in the tourism.
To me, this letter reflects the cowardly defeat of the federal government to prevent the country from security breaches. Despite the deployment of heavy contingent in Gilgit-Baltistan spearheaded by a Corp Commander, I believe the agencies could not impede and arrest the culprits involved in unfair practices. So, they are suspicious about every activity in the northern parts, and discourage every foreigner coming to Pakistan. In many cases, the locals are also monitored minutely by the army while they go for trekking.
The federal government letter to strictly implement the NOC shows that the agencies have totally collapsed to interrupt the outflow of information. The letter seems to be an out-dated approach that reminds the era of British slavery when every place was no-go-area. The outflow of information depended on the piece of paper. Maps and photographs were manually done and developed. Skilled riders and trained horses were used to send information from one place to another.
The dearest federal interior minister shall know that those who want to spy on any part of Pakistan need not to visit these places. They have the best spying tools to monitor every inch of our country. So, please get out of the ‘slavery era’ practices. These do nothing but harm the life and livelihood of the locals, and the sanctity of their homeland. Please don’t punish Gilgit-Baltistan for their ancestors’ decision to unify with Pakistan. Respect those who willingly come to see the natural treasures of our country and spend their hard-earned money to fly to Pakistan, helping us earn good foreign exchange. Learn from the neighbouring South Asian countries as how to be more tourists’ friendly and observe the hospitality norms.
We all know our governments and the establishment is always reluctant to bring about positive changes. But, we need to demand the facilitation of foreign tourists coming to our country. Believe it or not, the tourists won’t harm us or our land. Be confident to assume that everyone visiting our country is not a threat. After successfully organising the final match of the 2nd PSL in Lahore, the government should have faith in its capabilities.
Pakistan Association of Tour Operators (PATO) has already termed the imposition of the ban as the ‘economic murder’ of Gilgit-Baltistan where the 70 percent of the locals’ livelihood depends on tourism.
Thanks to the GB government’s international partners who have spent a lot of money to showcase the region as a peaceful territory of culture and landscape. Let’s not damage the investments made on the propagation of soft image of the region and the country during the last several years. The tour operators put a lot of efforts and invest resources to attract foreign tourists to Pakistan while the federal and provincial governments sleep over their responsibilities to promote tourism. Imposing another NOC would further discourage foreigners from visiting GB. Let us all be a part of the promotional efforts, and discourage the government from igniting the problems for the GB economy.
The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at email@example.com. Source:www.dailytimes.com.pk