Let's promote ‘religious tourism’
Since many Sikhs visit Pakistan throughout the year, we can use their arrival and presence for economic benefit.
Over 8,000 Sikh pilgrims from various countries visited Pakistan recently to celebrate the 543rd birthday of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev. This is not the only occasion in the calendar year when Sikh pilgrims come to Pakistan to visit their religious sites.
The federal government has always been sensitive to the needs of Sikh pilgrims, but few in government may have thought that this traditional hospitality can also be converted into a source of earning. Since so many Sikhs visit the country throughout the year, it can use their arrival and presence for its own economic benefit.
This kind of ‘religious tourism’will not only help promote our soft image to the rest of the world (showing that we are tolerant and welcoming of those from another faith), it will also allow the government to earn some much-needed revenue.
There are some 26 million Sikhs around the world – and it is a religion that has one of the strongest diasporas in the world. In addition to Sikh pilgrims from India, a large number of Sikhs live in different countries and all of them can bring much-needed foreign exchange to Pakistan.
Also, to make optimum use of this opportunity, every time there is a Sikh festival and visitors are expected, Pakistan should make its visa procedures for Sikhs from India more flexible. Of the 8,000 or so Sikhs who just visited the country, a mere 3,000 are Pakistani. While both Pakistan and India are expected to soon announce a new liberalised visa regime, Pakistan can take the first step and issue more visas for Sikh pilgrims this year.
Today, Pakistan is a high-risk country, thanks mainly to the ongoing war on terror. People, especially businessmen and tourists, are hesitant to visit and this calls for out-of-the-box thinking. Of course, in this particular case, we have a situation which is tailor-made for us to take advantage of. Simple and effective facilitation of those international tourists who do come to Pakistan, even if it is for religious purposes, can help turn around tourism as an industry.
Punjab in particular can play a lead role in this since it has a bond of both language and culture that it shares with its counterpart in India.