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August 8, 2019

Tourism without travel


August 8, 2019

It is difficult to understand how tourism, a much propagated sphere, is to be promoted when there are no roads to carry visitors from either overseas or from within the country to the most picturesque spots in Pakistan. The lack of roads presents even greater hurdles for residents of the area who suffer month after month and year after year, finding it impossible to reach hospitals, places for work or other business. The thousands of people of Upper Swat have been waiting for the 35 kilometre long Bahrain-Kalam road to be built since it was washed away in the floods of 2010. Nine years later, their wait continues. The latest reports suggest this piece of road will not be completed even next year, leaving residents in a constant state of hardship. Locals relate the problem to political circumstances. But whatever the truth, the fact is that tourists cannot reach key spots in Upper Swat including Bahrain, Kalam, Gabral, Utrol, Ushu and other places.

All these locations were perfectly accessible to people from other parts of the country a decade or so ago. Things have worsened rather than improved. Residents themselves with some assistance from the district administration were able to repair parts of the damaged road so it could be used by local vehicles. After years of protests, they were also able to persuade the government in 2017 to complete the road in two years. There was much excitement when heavy machinery and other equipment was moved to the area, building the hopes of people that indeed the road would appear once again in their valley. But, while work did continue under the National Highway Authority even in winter, the road could not be built. It is now thought that it is unlikely it will be completed even next year. The excitement has faded.

Citizens everywhere in the country depend on the state apparatus and the governments they have elected to provide to them the basic amenities necessary for life to continue. The loss of tourism too means a down-slide in important revenue for these people. But it seems no one appears to care. In this day of technology, it should not be impossible to piece together a road which had existed before 2010, even in rocky, mountainous terrain which makes building hard. This has been achieved before in Pakistan, where the Karakoram Highway is an example. A nine-year wait is far too long. People suffer in a state of growing hopelessness, and it is this hopelessness which eventually alienates citizens from the state, leaving them to believe they have no choice but to fend for themselves as best they can and that no matter how they cast their ballots, nothing will change.

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