Revisiting the past

April 14, 2024

More Buddhists would like to visit Pakistan for religious purposes if better arrangements were made

Revisiting the past


 controversy has arisen over the move to enact an enabling law for a Buddhist Corridor. It is being contended that following the 18th Amendment archeology is a subject devolved to the provinces. The Federation is accused of encroaching on the rights and powers of the provinces.

The private member bill initiated by a Pakistan Peoples Party member in the National Assembly has raised eyebrows and reignited fears of rolling back the Amendment. Reports indicate that significant pressure is being exerted on this account. However, regardless of the sensitivity about the apportionment of the subject between the federation and the federating units, the intention as always is honourable. However, the outcome, seen in the light of the past initiatives, does not look substantial.

For decades, one has been hearing of Pakistan being the birthplace and nurturing region of many leading religions; and rightly so. This includes Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. An effort has been made to attract tourists to the sites for not only improving the image of the country but also to bring foreign exchange the tourists tend to carry.

However, not all those initiatives, policy decisions and steps have led to the results that were touted. Instead of exploring the reasons and the causes of the past limp response, it is often forgotten about or put to sleep and steps taken as if a totally new initiative is being launched which nobody had the brilliance to think about and conceive of earlier.

The basic reason why such great and obviously win-win proposals do not meet the desired results is the image of the country and its relationship with its neighbours. Hundreds of thousands of Sikh want to visit Pakistan from all over the world, particularly from Canada, the United States and Britain. At least an equal number want to visit from across the border but there are reservations in many quarters about the free flow of large numbers of people. The security concerns deter many tourists from visiting Pakistan. The situation or the image of the country as being hostile o tourism has been far too deeply etched in the minds of most people especially those from the West.

It is about time that some lessons were learnt about the enhancement of tourism from some of the countries that have made a success story out of this initiative. As a Muslim country Dubai can be an example.

Many Buddhist tourists, too, would like to visit Pakistan for religious purposes. Their numbers in the past have been limited. One does not know why except for the general reasons cited above. Many of the societies where Buddhists are in majority, too, have been successful economies and people have extra cash to dispense with. However, the number is too small to make a critical impact.

The Hindus have some of their most sacred sites in Pakistan, one of those being in Katas Raj. However, the suspicion and the doubts have always resulted in an underperformance of the initiative. As it is, residents of both India and Pakistan have had this yearning and an overriding one of visiting places that they once lived in or their elders lived indue to the huge migration of population in 1947. Senior citizens on both sides of the divide have had such longing to revisit the places of their origin but for a number of reasons usually the fear of too much travel and familiarity has been a dampener. Pakistan is not a tourist-friendly country. It does not offer the kind of facilities that are usually associated with tourism, albeit of a religious nature. Tourists can be harassed on the streets and the opportunities to relax in more ways than one are not freely available. Often there are many restrictions. Pakistan has been too long fed on a fundamentalist diet of religious discourse which sees many from outside as the enemies, the freedom to live and let live have suffered a mighty blow. The holier-than-thou attitude has not only made Pakistanis self-righteous to an unhealthy degree, but also been the source of gaps between societies, cultures and religions.

It is about time that some lessons were learnt about the enhancement of tourism from some of the countries that have made a success story out of such initiatives. As a Muslim country, Dubai can be a good example. The facilities it offers and the level of security assure the visitors of their safety.

There may be an intention to work on the sites and improve their condition for the religious tourists to be not shocked about the state of their disrepair but the original intention of making it accessible to the Buddhists from across the national divide in Pakistan may fall victim to the internal battles that never seem to get resolved. Every new initiative reopens new wounds as it were.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore.

Revisiting the past