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August 6, 2020

Many suffer in queues as tourists throng Swat

National

August 6, 2020

PESHAWAR: Thousands of people, a majority of them tourists and local residents of Swat, suffered in long queues on main roads due to mismanagement of the Swat district administration to ensure the ban on tourists to the scenic valley during Eidul Azha holidays.

Every year on Eid in summers, a lot of people prefer to visit tourist sites along with families, friends and relatives.

The provincial government had banned all tourist sites in the province since March 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic in the country and repeatedly advised people of other places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and rest of the country to avoid coming to Swat till the ban is lifted.

In this regard, Deputy Commissioner Saqib Raza had released a video statement to inform tourists from other places to avoid coming to Swat during Eid.

The government instructions were violated by the local administration as well as by influential people as despite the ban on entry of non-locals, they managed to cross all the checkpoints manned by the local police, and reach tourist sites, such as Malam Jabba, Miandam and Kalam. “We were strictly instructed to keep an eye on hotels in Kalam and don’t allow them to provide stay to the guests.

How long we will fight these hotel owners when the district administration couldn’t stop these people right at Landaki and Dubair Bridge near Shamozai in Swat,” said an official of the district administration in Kalam.

Pleading anonymity, he said the majority of people managed to reach Bahrain and Kalam were having the reference of government officials in the district administration, police, politicians and other law-enforcement agencies. He said it has become difficult for them and local police in Kalam to prevent hotels from providing stay to their guests anymore.

Referring to the crowds of people in Kalam, the government officials in Kalam said they didn’t feel if there was any ban on tourists in the valley. “Most of the people who arrived here had a reference of government officials in the Swat district administration, police and politicians. Better to open all the tourist spots for all the tourists by making it mandatory for them to follow certain standards operating procedures during their stay in these places,” the official added. Some of the tourists complained they were returned from Landaki police and Shamozai Bridge in Swat where police checkpoints are established to stop non-locals from entering into Swat.

“Despite the fact that we were made to wait for two to three hours in long queues, we were denied entry to Swat.

I planned to visit Kalam along with my brother and two cousins and many other people from our Khyber tribal district were allowed to proceed as they had a reference of the local administration and police officials in Peshawar,” said one Ishtiaq Afridi from Jamrud subdivision in Khyber tribal district.

He said they were first stopped by the Levies in Palai in the Malakand district and after an hour of requests, they allowed them to go but were then returned from Landaki checkpoint.

“I would have no regret, had they treated all of the tourists equally. It hurts us when the police allowed people with ‘references’ to proceed and returned us from Swat,” he complained.

When reached, an official of the district administration in Swat said they had already informed tourists to avoid coming to Swat so they don’t face any inconvenience.

“I don’t understand why people were still coming to Swat when the government had loudly announced a ban on tourist sites. We would love to see tourists coming to Swat so that local people can earn for the harsh winter in hilly areas of upper Swat but once the corona pandemic is over,” he added.

He admitted that some of the people could find ways to violate the law for their personal interest.

“I had switched off my cell phone when our relatives were making calls to me to help them go to Kalam on the second day of Eid. I know a number of people in the administration facilitated their friends and relatives in crossing police checkpoints,” the official added.

Residents in Swat said they suffered due to mismanagement of the administration and were stuck in traffic for hours.