The Express Tribune Editorial 7 December 2019

Enabling tourism


Pakistan has long been considered to have the potential to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world, offering a diverse landscape which starts with the sea in the south and rises to the peak of some of the tallest mountains in the world. It also boasts a diverse ecology. And with eco-tourism the buzz word in the industry today, Pakistan seems to have it all, yet it does not have anything at the moment. The government is cognizant of this and is looking to exploit this niche. A member of the recently-formed state-run National Tourism Coordination Board says that eco-tourism not only requires lesser investment than other fields of tourism but also actively engages the local community.
But how do we get from having potential to exploiting it? Experts, and even the government, realise that there has not been any concerted planning, inter-departmental cooperation or even the capacity to grow tourism. A long, hard road lies ahead to bridge this gap. First, we must strive to become more inviting as a country to foreigners. This will mean inviting people from across the world to visit and sample what we have to offer. Second, we must listen to the suggestions offered by those who visit. Most of the international bloggers and vloggers who have visited the country in recent years have all praised the big hearts and the warmth of the Pakistani people, but they also noted how we handicap ourselves owing to an abject lack of critical infrastructure.
This is where we should perhaps look to and learn from other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE and even up and coming tourist destinations such as Azerbaijan. While we learn from them how to boost tourism, we must also learn from the mistakes these places make and see what impact excessive tourism can have on some of these eco-tourism sites and how we can make such offerings more sustainable.


Discouraging smoking


For pleasure, people are willing to put even their lives at risk. This is perhaps why those addicted to tobacco smoking despite knowing full well that it kills do not give up the harmful habit. Ninety per cent of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. Pakistan is one such country, where the young generation is taking to smoking just for the kick that it gives. Among females smoking is mostly prevalent in the enlightened segment of society. Scholars are of the view that most emancipation among women have taken place via imitation.
In view of the growing number of smokers in the country health experts and activists have been asking the government from time to take effective steps to prevent smoking. A group of concerned citizens recently asked the government to take measures to discourage smoking. They urged the government to implement the decision it made four years ago to increase the size of the graphic health warning on cigarettes packs to 85pc. In January 2015, the government had issued an order asking manufacturers to increase the size of the pictorial health warning on cigarette packs from 45pc to 85pc and replace the image on the packs within the next five months. The decision was announced at a press conference by then Minister of National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar. She was awarded for it by the WHO. But the decision has not yet been implemented.
Activists went to the Islamabad High Court against the failure to implement the decision. The court issued an order a few days ago stating that the government must decide whether to implement or withdraw the notification within two weeks. Existing laws prescribe that the graphic health warning on packs must be 60pc of the size of the pack. In Pakistan, smoking kills 160,189 people each year. It seems that the authorities have taken this as merely “smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics


Digital Pakistan Vision

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is taking a victory lap after convincing former Google executive Tania Aidrus to head up its ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday described the project as one that would unleash the full potential of women and young people in the economy. This, he said, would be done by using e-governance as a tool to promote inclusion and do away with various forms of graft, while admitting that a few cybersecurity hurdles still needed to be addressed. The prime minister also called out detractors of the project, saying, “You won’t be able to stop us for much longer.”
For her part, Aidrus explained that the Prime Minister’s assurances had provided her with the confidence to “take a leap of faith and contribute to Pakistan”. She highlighted the economic potential in almost every sector of the economy with a comment about there being potential billion-dollar companies everywhere. She also made reference to Pakistan’s massive under-25 population and the growing middle class. Her confidence was reflected in her statement that “the question is not whether or not it can take place in Pakistan. The question is: how quickly can we begin?” Aidrus also introduced the five strategic pillars of the new initiative, namely access and connectivity, digital infrastructure, e-governance, digital literacy, and innovation.
Most of the talk on the occasion focused on consumption rather than improving quality of life. Indeed, the five pillars and what else is known of the project so far puts it within the scope of e-commerce and payment digitisation, which can provide quality of life benefits, but only as a side effect. Little is clear about how the project would provide benefits through expanded access to the internet and responsible use. We can only hope this was just an oversight, which will be addressed later. But it is also undeniable that digitisation of the economy and inclusion are both essential goals. Whether or not the project is as transformative as the Prime Minister suggested, these goals do need focus, and it is heartening to see a step taken in the right direction.

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