Recently, a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Religious Harmony was held at the Parliament House. On the occasion, various issues came under-discussion, including religious pilgrimage to various countries, mainly in Iran and Iraq. It was noted that thousands of Pakistani pilgrims have to go to difficult border areas of Balochistan to visit holy sites in the neighbouring countries.
I expressed on this occasion that four major religions, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism, have strong roots in Pakistan. If we ensure to provide the best travel facilities, a large number of pilgrims from other countries would love to visit the historical, religious, cultural and natural beauty of Pakistan.
Ziarat is one of the most beautiful sites of Balochistan where many people used to come for picnic, tourism and travel. It has the world’s second largest forest of juniper trees, which are about 7,000 year old. Due to its natural beauty, Quaid-e-Azam also spent his last memorial days here. The shrine of famous sufi saint Kharwari Baba is one of the main attractions for tourists.
Similarly, a pilgrimage to the Hinglaj Mata Temple, located on the banks of the Hangul River in Balochistan, is considered a religious duty for the Hindu community. However, the recent unrest in Balochistan has severely damaged tourism.
There are many holy places for the followers of Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism in Sindh, also known as the land of saints. The shrines of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Shah Abdul Latif Bhattai, and Sachal Sarmast are very much popular among masses. Besides this, hundreds of mosques, shrines, temples, gurdwaras and other historical sites are great sources of devotion for the people. A large number of tourists from Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other countries want to visit Buddhist places of worship located in Pakistan. The historical churches, built during the British era, could also become a centre of attraction for Christian tourists belonging to Europe and the Americas.
In today’s world, the economies of most countries solely depend on tourism. That’s why, Malaysia, UAE, Thailand, Switzerland and many countries are using different marketing tactics to attract global tourists in order to boost national development. Pakistan has comparatively more opportunities in the field of tourism than other countries, but unfortunately in the last 73 years, the promotion of tourism has not been included in the priorities of any government.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a meeting of the government committee set up for the promotion of tourism in February this year, directed to complete the tourism plan in the next six weeks keeping the environmental, cultural and natural beauty of Pakistan in view. However, the public is still waiting for the recommendations of this high-level committee, consisting of advisers to the prime minister, special assistants and ministers.
Even today, access to most of the tourist destinations is not so easy. There are many travel difficulties for tourists. Religiously motivated tourists are also facing lack of facilities. Under the present government, the historic initiative of the Kartarpur Corridor had high expectations for promoting religious tourism but the trend has not gone further.
Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus has not only disrupted daily life around the world, but also damaged worldwide tourism. Many religious sites are still closed for preemptive measures, but I believe that the doors of such sacred sites cannot remain closed for a long period. As soon as Covid-19’s deadly attacks are brought under control, a large number of people will start visiting holy places. To deal with such a situation in an efficient way, we need to formulate a solid policy for the promotion of religious tourism on a priority basis.
I believe that the government can collect so much revenue from religious tourism that it can not only get rid of foreign debts but all developmental projects can also be completed successfully. Similarly, an atmosphere of religious tolerance will flourish and thus, a positive image of our beloved homeland can also be projected in the eyes of the international community.
The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.