Monday September 25, 2023

Gandhara corridor

August 25, 2023

A few years ago, when the government of Pakistan announced the establishment of the Kartarpur Corridor, I clearly expressed my hope that this corridor would pave the way for opening more corridors in Pakistan and the region.

Being chairperson of the prime minister’s taskforce on Gandhara tourism, I believe that Pakistan should now take a step further and establish a new tourism corridor with Buddhist-majority countries in the region, including Nepal, China, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Mongolia.

According to my proposal, the Gandhara corridor will consist of a governing board, having representation of all stakeholders at the federal and provincial levels. The chairperson, with the status of federal minister, must ensure arrangements for special pilgrimage flights by connecting Islamabad (a significant part of Gandhara in ancient times) with the capitals of the Pakistan-friendly Buddhist countries of the region on a pro-bono basis .

Under the Gandhara corridor, facilitation of only 0.1 per cent of the Buddhist world population may result in the arrival of at least 500,000 Buddhist tourists at Islamabad International Airport each year. Regularizing the process with all stakeholders at the federal and provincial levels will lead to generating a huge revenue of approximately $1.75 billion within the first year, $3 billion in the second year and $6 billion in the third year respectively, followed by a massive increase in revenue generation in further years.

The historical and ancient cities of Gandhara located in Pakistan, such as Taxila, Takht Bahi, and Swat, should be declared as twin / sister cities with the modern cities of Buddhist-majority countries. The draft of the Takshashila Declaration reflects the undeniable fact that thousands of years ago when the world was plunged in the darkness of ignorance, great philosopher Kautilya Chanakya used to teach knowledge and wisdom in our land.

According to my proposal, no funding from the government will be required. The self-sustainable corridor will not only generate funds for its smooth functioning, but also contribute a handsome amount to the national exchequer on an annual basis. Under the corridor, at least five centres, namely the Gandhara Tourism Support Centre, Gandhara Research Support Centre, Gandhara IT & Media Support Centre, Gandhara Event Support Centre and Gandhara Academia Support Centre are proposed to be established.

The corridor will lead to the systematic arrival of international Buddhist tourists, improvement in tourism and travel facilities, promotion of Gandhara art and its export through legal souvenir shops and the end of exploitation of local artists in the black market. Under the said plan, commercial series of Gandhara exhibitions and expos will be started in different countries, so that the income generated through selling tickets and sponsors will strengthen our national economy.

The establishment of Gandhara student clubs and societies in universities and higher education institutions across the country will also be encouraged. In this way, not only the new generation will be involved in the awareness campaign for the protection and promotion of the Gandhara civilization, but they will also be empowered to explore education and career opportunities in the Buddhist countries connected through the Gandhara corridor.

Last month, during the international Gandhara Symposium, my presentation under the title ‘My Gandhara Dream’ was highly appreciated by international monks and delegates from various countries. The chief guest, President Dr Arif Alvi, specially mentioned my name in his speech. The Buddhist monks also endorsed my vision and categorically said that the Gandhara dream of Dr Ramesh Kumar is in fact a dream of everyone and we must join hands to make it a reality.

I believe that the employment and business opportunities created through the Gandhara corridor will also result in curbing terrorism, defeating anti-social elements, projecting a positive image of Pakistan in the international community and strengthening cordial diplomatic relations at the international level.

The writer is a former member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani