Tourism was a major source of income for people in Swat and the valley’s serenity, natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of Gandhara civilisation attracted visitors from all over the world.
Marred by terrorism, it became a restricted area with severe socio-economic repercussions for its residents. With the destruction of its infrastructure, the tourism industry collapsed completely.
The 20 delegates from the European Union who recently visited Swat valley, were not only impressed by its dazzling beauty but also by its archaeological sites.
Danish envoy Uffe Wolffheche said, “It is encouraging to see how much progress has been achieved since the conflict a few years ago.”
Swat is much more peaceful now which is the result of very determined work on the part of the civilian authority, the military and the people public to encourage stability and progress, he added.
He also appreciated steps taken by locals to restore normalcy in Swat. “We see a lot of initiatives have been taken by the people themselves.”
The ambassador was also of the view that Swat valley had a huge potential in tourism. “I and my colleagues are very impressed by its dazzling beauty and astonishingly breathtaking scenery, but obviously, tourists care about security.”
The image that has been created by the militancy needs to be corrected, he suggested. “Firstly, you have to make sure that there is a secure environment and secondly and most importantly to communicate to the rest of the world that the situation has improved and tourists can now safely visit the valley.”
Replying to a question Wolffheche said, “Stability, peace, development and prosperity have to be the result of internal efforts. We can help, we can give advice but development has to be driven by Pakistan itself and that’s what we are seeing here and it’s very encouraging.”
Polish ambassador, Andrzej Ananicz stressed on better communication for streamlining tourism. “The basic rehabilitation of Saidu Sharif Airport to fly in tourists and reconstruction of roads is essential to promote tourism.”
EU Ambassador to Pakistan, Lars Gunnar Wigemark said, “If you don’t have a conducive environment or security and or an infrastructure in place, tourists won’t come.”
He also stressed that the procedure for getting a no objection certificate should be simplified to encourage foreign tourists to travel to Swat.
He said he would like to explore the area. “I want to come more often with my wife and see Kalam valley.”
“We visited some amazing archeological sites with amazing stupas from Ashoka’s period. It is very moving to see such an old culture up close,” Esther Lonstrup, development counsellor at the Danish embassy, told The Express Tribune.
“It is also very encouraging that such rich sites are preserved despite adverse events witnessed by this land.”
Swat is really a beautiful place with fantastic mountains, lush-green valleys and crystal-clear streams everywhere, she added.
Lonstrup said, “Swat valley has proved in the past an excellent area for tourists and it can play a vital role in the development of the area.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012.
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