National and International Issues

Pakistan’s Journey from Terrorism to Tourism

Alyne Tamir, aka Dear Alyne, is an American tourist who visited Pakistan last year before visiting seventy other countries. She projected Pakistan as one of the most attractive tourism destinations for international tourists. In an interview with a leading English daily, she said ‘Pakistan went from terrorism to tourism’. She is one of the many foreign tourists who have recently visited Pakistan and became its ambassadors. Some six years back she might have never thought about visiting Pakistan.



Pakistan had been witnessing the worst wave of terrorism in 2014. Militant attacks per month were averaging at around 150. Suicide bombing, IEDs, kidnapping, target killings and other types of militant attacks became a routine in the country. North Waziristan was the epicenter of terrorism in the country. The government of Pakistan decided to launch a decisive military operation in North Waziristan in June 2014 with the name Operation Zarb-e-Azb which turned out to be a watershed moment in the recent history of the country. Pakistani Armed Forces struck a fatal blow to the militants in the country flushing them out from almost everywhere in erstwhile FATA. Operation Khyber-2 also achieved the desired goals. To eradicate the residual elements of anti-Pakistan militant groups, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was launched in 2017 in which intelligence-based operations (IBOs) were the key to success. 


There are some challenges ahead too. Coronavirus has hit the tourism industry badly. If the situation does not improve, the tourist spots may remain deserted. Even if the situation gets under control, people are expected to avoid public places for quite some time. The year 2020 may not give an encouraging picture as we have been witnessing during the last four to five years. 


According to the Annual Security Assessment Report for the year by an Islamabad-based think tank, Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), the average militant attacks in the country have dropped to the lowest in the last 15 years. The report claims, “In 2019, militant attacks in Pakistan dropped to the lowest level during the last fifteen years while 44 percent decline in suicide attacks has been observed as compared with the year 2018. Militant attacks in the country have dropped below the level of 2004, the year when militant attacks had picked up momentum in retaliation to the deployment of regular troops of Pakistan Army in FATA.”1 According to the PICSS Militancy Database from 2007 to 2014, an average of 2,704  people were killed every year while an average of 4,134 peoples were injured every year. Death and destruction was the face of the country during all those years. One of the most devastating attacks in December 2014 killed around 143 people, mostly students at the Army Public School Peshawar, which resulted in uniting the nation against terrorism. In January 2015, Pakistan adopted a twenty-point National Action Plan (NAP) to fight the challenge of terrorism comprehensively. Since the adoption of NAP, a sharp and consistent decline in terrorism trends has been observed in Pakistan. According to the PICSS Militancy Database, the average militant attacks per month has dropped to 13 in 2019 which was over 150 per month in 2014. 
Pakistan’s journey from terrorism to tourism was rightly appreciated and termed as ‘absolutely remarkable’ by the visiting United Nation’s Secretary General António Guterres. It is worth noting that the UN has also declared Islamabad as a ‘family station’ for its staff in June 2019.
Pakistan was ranked as the world’s top adventure tourism destination by the British Backpacker Society in 2018. “Pakistan is the clear winner of the British Backpacker Society’s top 20 adventure travel destinations 2018 and we encourage keen travelers to book a trip now,” the backpackers, who have traveled to over 101 countries, shared on social media. “Pakistan is one of the friendliest countries on earth. So, prepare to be invited into people’s homes, take more selfies than you can count, and have every preconception that you ever held about this area of the world changed forever,” one of the backpackers Samuel Joynson told Gulf News. In 2019, Forbes ranked Pakistan as one of the top ten coolest places to visit. The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report placed Pakistan in the top 25 percent of global destinations for its World Heritage sites.


Tourism at cultural sites has experienced a massive increase since 2014. From approximately 1.6 million visits in 2014, the tourist traffic at cultural sites rose to 6.6m visits in 2018, a 317 percent increase in five years. Punjab, as the largest and most populated province, contributed approximately 95 percent whereas tourist traffic in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa fluctuated over the years. 


Foreign tourists are increasing every year in the country. Inbound tourism in Pakistan has witnessed a marked increase of over 70 percent during the year 2018 as compared to the corresponding year, mainly due to multiple initiatives, especially improved security situation. Tourism at cultural sites has experienced a massive increase since 2014. From approximately 1.6 million visits in 2014, the tourist traffic at cultural sites rose to 6.6m visits in 2018, a 317 percent increase in five years. Punjab, as the largest and most populated province, contributed approximately 95 percent whereas tourist traffic in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa fluctuated over the years.2
The tourism industry can generate handsome revenue for the country. Currently, its contribution is estimated to be 2.7 percent of the GDP. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan's GDP in 2016 was USD 7.6 billion (PKR 793.0 billion), constituting 2.7% of the total GDP. The government estimates that by 2025 tourism will contribute USD 9.5 billion (PKR 1 trillion) to the Pakistani economy.3 According to the WTTC report released in 2019, tourism contributed 254.5 billion rupees (USD 20 billion) to Pakistan’s GDP in 2018, accounting for 7.1% of the total economy.4 The report also shows that 3.85 million jobs were created in 2018, accounting for 6.3% of the total employment.
The government of Pakistan has taken many initiatives to promote tourism in Pakistan including visas on arrival for citizens of 50 countries.5 Pakistan has also revoked orders for NOCs for tourists to enter into Azad Kashmir. The tourism departments of provincial governments are also playing an active role in promoting tourism. Despite Pakistan’s efforts to attract more foreign tourists, it is a fact that 92 percent of the total tourists are local. To sustain the economy, Pakistan will have to attract more and more foreign tourists. Religious tourism is getting special attraction with the opening of Kartarpur Corridor for Sikhs. There is huge potential in this sector which is so far untapped. 
The rapid development of Karakoram Highway is expected to promote adventure tourism in the north which has always remained the main attraction point for foreign tourists. The proposed Railway line ML1, between China and Pakistan, is expected to further boost the tourism industry in the north.
There are some challenges ahead too. Coronavirus has hit the tourism industry badly. If the situation does not improve, the tourist spots may remain deserted. Even if the situation gets under control, people are expected to avoid public places for quite some time. The year 2020 may not give an encouraging picture as we have been witnessing during the last four to five years. 
Another issue that needs to be addressed is authentic data. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation is supposed to provide tourism-related data, however, there is absolutely no data available on the site. If one goes with the World Bank data quoted by Computer and Enterprise Investigations Conference (CEIC), and World Tourism Organization then the tourism industry is on the decline since 2014. It is not clear who on Pakistan’s behalf provides data to these international organizations. If Pakistan has a negative picture at authentic international forums, the responsibility lies with Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation which operates as a tour operator rather than a ‘Tourism Development’ entity. 
Internationally, tourism businesses are increasingly adopting digital technologies. However, in Pakistan, we still could not integrate online payment gateways into our routine business activities. State Bank of Pakistan may take the lead to improve online payment gateways. 
Tourism in Azad Kashmir has been affected badly by unprovoked shelling and firing by the Indian forces along the Line of Control (LOC). Keeping in mind India’s hegemonic designs, the internal crisis over Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the situation along the LOC is not expected to improve in 2020, thus it will dent the overall progress in the tourism sector in the country. 
With the potential settlement of the Afghan conflict, Pakistan is expected to see further improvement in the overall security situation. It will attract more foreign tourists and we are expected to see the tourism business flourish further, creating more jobs and revenue for the country. The question is, are we ready for that?


The writer is Managing Director at Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. 
E-mail: [email protected]


1. https://www.picss.net/anti-state-violence-dropped-to-15-years-low-picss-security-report/ 
2. https://www.dawn.com/news/1508132
3. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1011394/tourism-to-contribute-over-rs1-trillion-by-2025/
4. https://pakistantourntravel.com/2019/09/23/government-tourism-policy-its-challenges/ 
5. https://visa.nadra.gov.pk/tourist-friendly-countriestfc/

 

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