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Saturday May 18, 2024

A new game changer

The ancient Gandhara civilization of 2,500 years belongs to the northern part of present-day Pakistan

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
April 13, 2024
A representational image showing Takht-i-Bahi Archaeological site of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. — APP/File
A representational image showing Takht-i-Bahi Archaeological site of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. — APP/File

I have finally introduced the Gandhara Corridor Bill in the National Assembly after much homework. During my visits to foreign countries, I study how these societies live. After a comprehensive comparison with my beloved country, I have come to the conclusion that God Almighty has blessed Pakistan with all kinds of resources and four seasons. Unfortunately, nobody else but we ourselves are responsible for the failures we are facing nowadays.

First, our country’s economy is weak, and the main reason for this is that we are not utilizing our resources properly. Second, our hostile policies are not acceptable in today’s modern world; our diplomatic relations are not up to the mark to promote people-to-people contacts. Third, the most important factor is the vital need to develop tolerance, patience and brotherhood in our society without any kind of bias and discrimination.

Undoubtedly, God Almighty has blessed Pakistan with such priceless treasures in the form of archaeology and heritage that the systematic arrival of international pilgrims can lead to a significant increase in foreign exchange, highlight a positive image in the international community, and promote interfaith harmony in our society.

The ancient Gandhara civilization of 2,500 years belongs to the northern part of present-day Pakistan. It reflects the glorious past of Buddhism in our region. Once, the area that is now the federal capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, used to be a significant part of the great Gandhara in ancient times.

The key objective of the Gandhara Corridor Bill presented by me is that Pakistan should establish a tourism corridor with Buddhist-majority countries in the region, including Nepal, China, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mongolia. These are the countries that are considered close to Pakistan on the diplomatic front, and the citizens of most of the countries have the facility of visa-on-arrival in Pakistan.

If only 0.1 per cent of the world’s Buddhist population (about 500,000 pilgrims) lands at Islamabad International Airport for annual pilgrimage to Gandhara sites in Pakistan, our country’s foreign exchange will increase by $1.7 billion in one year, which will gradually exceed $6 billion dollars in two years. In the next phase, facilities should also be created for the pilgrims of Jainism, Hinduism and other religions who are interested in Gandhara.

Under the Gandhara Corridor Bill, a top-level institutional mechanism should be devised whose head must be nominated by the prime minister. Under the proposed corridor, a commercial series of Gandhara exhibitions will be started in different countries. The income generated through the venture will be mutually shared between Pakistan and host countries.

Different initiatives would be taken for the promotion of the Gandhara civilization in universities and higher education institutions across the country, and scholarships would be provided to talented students seeking career opportunities abroad.

Similarly, in order to curb extremism in society, media representatives will be ensured training opportunities in Buddhist countries under the Gandhara Fellowship. I believe that religious harmony and tolerance were once the prominent hallmarks of the Gandhara period. That is why Gandhara should not be limited to ruins or archaeology, as the Gandhara civilization is actually based on tolerance, harmony and brotherhood among different faiths, communities and classes of society.

I would like to assure that the proposed establishment of the Gandhara corridor at the federal level is not at all any conspiracy to take over Gandhara sites in different parts of Pakistan but to facilitate the provinces under the 18th Amendment while simultaneously respecting provincial autonomy.

In my view, the Gandhara corridor will not only prove to be a game changer for the country's development and prosperity but also result in remarkable achievements on the diplomatic front.

I hope that all stakeholders will support the Gandhara Corridor Bill introduced by me for the national interest of Pakistan.


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

He tweets/posts @RVankwani