Thursday May 30, 2024

Ticket to paradise

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
July 07, 2023

Under the auspices of the prime minister’s task force on Gandhara tourism, it was indeed an honour for me to chair a round table conference on Wednesday (July 5), which was attended by 20 diplomats from various countries, including Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sudan, Malaysia, Norway, Palestine, Kyrgyzstan and Spain.

On the occasion, 70 foreign missions of Pakistan abroad ensured their participation virtually. All participants engaged in a candid discussion on promotion of faith tourism.

During my briefing, I assured that Pakistan is committed to welcoming foreign delegates attending the three-day International Gandhara Symposium to be scheduled on July 11-13. Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari are invited to grace the ceremony as chief guests, while the highly respected, honourable religious leaders from Buddhist-majority countries including Korea, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand have confirmed their participation.

The Takshashila declaration will be issued in the ruins of present-day Taxila, which was known as Takshashila in the ancient Gandhara era hundreds of years ago and where once the great philosopher of our region Kautilya Chanakya used to teach his students. The colourful cultural ceremony of Gandhara Media Awards at the PNCA auditorium on July 12 is also a unique part of the three-day conference.

While every nation dreams of progressing in the world, only those who tirelessly struggle under the right leadership in the right direction in the right way are able to make their dreams come true. Today, if the US is the world’s only superpower, there is the ‘American Dream’ behind it.

My dream of transforming Pakistan into a tolerant and prosperous country started becoming an undeniable reality when at the end of December last year; the All-Pakistan Minorities Heritage Photo Contest was announced under the auspices of the Pakistan Hindu Council. Its aim was to explore the sacred religious sites of non-Muslim minorities across the country as well as to promote interfaith harmony and tolerance in society.

For the first time in our national history, a special ceremony was held at the Prime Minister Secretariat to mark World Heritage Day on April 18. The prime minister of Pakistan was invited as chief guest to distribute prizes among winners and launch the book titled ‘Top 100 Minorities Heritage Sites’ compiled in response to photo entries submitted from different parts of the country.

Within one month, on May 15, the prime minister appointed me as the chairperson of a special task force to promote Gandhara tourism across the country. As the minister of state, I took the first initiative to celebrate ‘Buddha Purnima’, the birthday of Gautama Buddha, at the Islamabad Museum and declared every Wednesday as ‘Buddha Day’ to explore and learn about Gandhara heritage sites.

The first visit was made to the thousands of years old Buddha caves in the town of Shah Allah Ditta, Islamabad on May 31. On June 14 and 15, a two-day tour to Swat, known as the birthplace of Buddhism, was made to visit various archaeological sites there.

In connection to the weekly series, Mankyala Stupa located in Rawat was visited on June 21. Various diplomats and residents from Indonesia, China, Germany, Kenya, Korea, Vietnam and Sri Lanka also accompanied the taskforce.

During the reign of Ashoka the Great, the Gandhara region transformed into a stronghold of Buddhism, but it is on record that there was freedom to practice other religions, including Hinduism and Jainism. People from other parts of the world used to come here to study. Due to the influence of Greek, Persian and locals, the unique Gandhara art emerged in the region.

I am glad that my dream is now turning true and if only 0.1 per cent of the Buddhist tourists visit Pakistan initially for pilgrimage to their religious places, we will get a huge foreign exchange of $1.7 billion in the first year, which can gradually reach $6 billion in the next two years.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani