WASHINGTON DIARY: Tourism and the extremist threat

by Dr. Manzur Ejaz

Courtesy: Wichaar, November 18th, 2009

Despite finishing the Taliban, the core conservative ideology may survive and keep suffocating the country. Such an ideology will not allow the economy to grow in many new areas in which Pakistan has a lot of potential. Tourism is one such sector, but it needs an open society where everyone is welcome

Sitting at Frankfurt airport, waiting for my flight to Delhi, I indulged in conversation with an American couple, both in their 70s, who were on their way to see the Taj Mahal. The retired executive of a big corporation was treating his wife to see this world marvel. Similarly, standing at a small bazaar in Jodhpur, a city in Rajasthan, India, I saw hordes of Western tourists, all there to see a city that is no different than Sahiwal or Sargodha other than an old palace, a common sight in Rajasthan.

The road infrastructure is better in Rajasthan than most parts of Utter Pradesh, with new highways and roads connecting even remote parts. Most of the major cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner are just old beaten down towns with some new life in the largest city Jaipur. Some of the tourist destinations are tiny cities like Chichawatni — the neighbouring town to Harappa — with nothing much to see except a castle in need of serious repair. And yet, Rajasthan and many other parts of India have become the preferred destination for tourists. It will not be surprising if the statistics show that revenue from tourism has become the bread and butter of many states like Rajasthan.

Most parts of Pakistan have equally good or better road infrastructure than Rajasthan but lack in every other facility that tourists seek. Pakistan has an abundance of important historical sites, including Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Taxila, prime locations of the Sikh faith and many castles and palaces to attract tourists from all around the world. After all, the remains of the Indus Valley Civilisation and structures built by Hindu rajas and Muslim rulers are all over Pakistan. Hilly states, the Cholistan and Thar Deserts add to the stunning beauty of Pakistani territory. Yet, touring Pakistan is horrifying for its own expatriates.

Everyone knows that proliferation of religious extremism and jihadists have scared away foreign capital and potential tourists who can bring billions of dollars to Pakistani coffers. Leaving aside the old story, the problem is that Pakistan’s permanent establishment is trying its best to protect its core faith-centric ideology, which is the reason for all the trouble Pakistan now faces.

A recent issue of the fake “The Dawn”, not the Karachi-based respected daily, by a group of fifth columnists and ‘patriotic’ journalists was circulated on the internet. The fifth columnists included some enlightened opinion-makers. The short list of ‘patriots’ included the ones who are still sticking to the ideology and foreign policy that has brought the country to the brink of collapse. Most observers believe that circulation of such a list, through a fake newspaper, was the work of the intelligence agencies, notorious for triggering such malicious propaganda stunts.

Of course the Pakistani military is fighting the Taliban with full force. Despite the cynical view in some circles about its sincerity, it is easy to see why the military has to finish such a force. The military, as a group along with its industrial complex — the largest in the country — is at the top of the beneficiaries of the Pakistani state. Therefore the military’s interests are directly threatened if the Pakistani state is endangered. Using jihadists for proxy wars was another matter but when its own interests are at stake, the military is not going to be a bystander. Therefore the military action against the Taliban is very real and most probably will succeed, though it may take some time.

Despite the crusade against the Taliban and some other extremist groups, it seems that the military is trying to hold on to its own core ideology that has evolved during the last 60 years. The key components of this core ideology comprise an anti-India obsession and the use of religion as the state ideology. Both are linked: Muslim identity is deemed essential to fight Hindu India and vice versa. An anti-India religious identity has been made so pivotal that to fight the Taliban, the military has to dub them as Indian agents. This may be partially true, but everyone knows who created and trained the Taliban.

In this backdrop, the danger is that despite finishing the Taliban, the core conservative ideology may survive and keep suffocating the country. Such an ideology will not allow the economy to grow in many new areas in which Pakistan has a lot of potential. Tourism is one such sector, but it needs an open society where everyone is welcome.

Beyond Jaisalmer, in the remote part of the desert, small businesses run by Muslims and others have established entertainment resorts. The resorts offer a nightly stay in comfortable huts and tents along with entertainment programmes in the evening. Such resorts have provided hundreds of jobs to the local artists and common people. This has become an economic bonanza for the desert people. But it is possible only because of the openness of the Indian state. This is the reason that Western tourists flock to Rajasthan and other Indian states resulting in mammoth growth of hotel and other related industries.

Tourism is just one of the industries that can only prosper in an open atmosphere. As a matter of fact, industrial growth as a whole requires a religiously neutral setup.

The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com

Courtesy: http://www.wichaar.com/news/294/ARTICLE/17307/2009-11-18.html

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