THERE was a time not too long ago when Pakistan was considered the regional hub for many international airlines, such as the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa, and Cathay Pacific. Sadly, most of these airlines no longer operate in Pakistan. Most foreign airlines currently operating in the country are either Middle Eastern or East Asian, with the result that there is no competition between them to the detriment of the travellers. However, British Airways – The national carrier of the UK — will recommence operations in Pakistan after nearly a decade, according to a statement by the British High Commission. British Airways flight operations to Pakistan were suspended following a terrorist attack on the Marriot hotel in Islamabad in 2008. Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, the officials of the British High Commission termed restoration of peace in Pakistan as a good omen.
British Airways will be the first western airline to resume services to Pakistan. The country has been largely dependent on Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates and Etihad, with most international flights routed through the Gulf, making travel expensive and cumbersome for passengers. British Airways head of sales for Asia Robert Williams said: “It’s exciting to be flying between Islamabad and Heathrow from next year, which we believe will be particularly popular with the British Pakistani community who want to visit, or be visited by their relatives. We only fly somewhere when we know it’s safe to do so”. He further said that this is due to great improvement in the security situation in Pakistan in the recent years, and the return of British Airways will give a particular boost to growing trade and investment links. Of course, Pakistan military deserves appreciation for restoring confidence in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to revitalise Pakistan’s struggling tourism industry in an effort to bring in much-needed revenue to its fragile economy. There is a perception that Pakistan can earn billions of dollars from tourism, as Pakistan has a rich cultural and archaeological heritage, along with serene alpine valleys, pristine beaches and vast deserts peppered with vibrant Islamic shrines. Culture of four provinces is a bouquet that makes national culture. But what is Culture? Culture is the accumulation of a nation or its people’s spiritual, mental, moral, artistic, historical values and principles. The country is also home to some of the world’s tallest peaks including K-2, the second highest summit after Everest, which sits atop a region of 120 other mountains rising above 7,000 meters (23,000 feet). The improvement in security situation will open doors for other such international activities in Pakistan. However, Pakistan should not lower its guard.
While we have seen local media groups partnering with foreign media groups to bring in news and movie channels, we are yet to see anyone partner with travel and adventure channels like National Geographic or Discovery and bring them to Pakistan. Another step we need to take, arguably the most important one, is the need to rebrand Pakistan and project a different image to the world to alter existing perceptions. Almost everyone who visits Pakistan praises the nation for its beauty, potential and friendly people. However, that is not an image most people in the world are aware of at the moment. Of course, the government and media would have to create that awareness about Pakistan. It is hard to imagine why the tourism industry of a country with mesmerizing valleys, breath-taking meadows, and stunning lakes, have been neglected and left underdeveloped.
Martin Parr, a British documentary photographer and journalist, once stated: “The thing about tourism is that the reality of a place is quite different from the mythology of it”. Martin Parr is widely acknowledged for his photographic projects that highlight peoples and their cultures. Pakistan’s image was marred by the terrorists who started attacks on military and police personnel, and also people after Pakistan joined war on terror. However, perception is changing for the better as things on ground have changed quite drastically over the last few years. According to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), terror-related incidents declined 58%, from 2,060 incidents in 2010 to 681 in 2017, and only a few dozens in 2018. These figures are testament to the success of our Army during the massive military operations conducted in the northern areas of the country in the past several years; however there are some remnants that continue their vile acts.
Recently, the mastermind behind the attack on Chinese Consulate in Karachi, Aslam alias Achu, along with his companions, was killed in Afghanistan. Four guards of Aslam got injured, in an attack on his residence in Kandahar, when a meeting of the terrorists was underway. The injured were moved to Kandahar’s medical facility, but Aslam along with his companions succumbed to his injuries. Aslam was wanted in many heinous crimes, including an attack on Chinese Consulate in Karachi in which two Policemen were killed. He was involved in carrying out terror activities in Pakistan from Afghan soil. Aslam was treated at Max Hospital in New Delhi as he had fled to India after being injured in an operation by the Pakistan Armed Forces in Balochistan’s Sibi district. Reportedly, he was sent back to Afghanistan by the RAW. There is a strong perception that recent incidents of terror attacks in Karachi are handiwork of Indian proxies.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.