Before I am ascribed labels of being “liberal” or a “foreign agent” or from “some banned sect” please attempt, if you can, to read my analysis and suggestions with an open mind.
Pakistan, after seventy two years of existence has nothing really to write home about compared to immediate neighbors or even disjointed twin Bangladesh, even lesser to show for the 40 something Arab nations.
In an NPR article titled Picturing Pakistan’s Past: The Beatles, Booze And Bikinis, “in a four-part Web series called Also Pakistan, Paracha includes a newspaper clipping that describes how The Beatles’ Paul McCartney was engulfed in a frenzy of fans at an airport bar in Karachi.” – that, too, was once Pakistan!
Critics would counter me saying “we’re a nuclear nation” – alright, what else? With a collapsing economy how long can we protect the nukes from the vultures out there?
12.3 billion dollars of external debt (which isn’t much compared to $33.1 bn for Bangladesh or India’s $521 bn) GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for Bangladesh is $249 bn, India $2.6 trillion respectively while Pakistan GDP is just $305 bn. Bangladesh per capita income is $1900 and India’s over $2,000 while Pakistan’s $1,600. The most alarming stats are in tourism, while Bangladesh makes a mere $400 mn in tourism, India makes $240 bn per year and Pakistan makes a mere $7.5 bn in tourism given our excellent landscape. Compare these three nations tourism income of Dubai’s alone which earns upwards of $70 bn with just 15 million tourists (Bangladesh 1.8 mn tourists, India 10 mn, and Pakistan only 1.9mn)
It’s a shame we’re not making atleast 10 times more from tourism then we are! Given the natural resource we have our GDP and per capita income is directly correlated to lack of tourism, when Mideast tourism hubs, literally an oasis in the desert with severe temperatures, harsh climate and hardly any nature in comparison to Pakistan which has literally everything from beaches to mountains to green fields to beautiful lakes and forests earn more than 10 times what we earn? Why is it that Pakistan despite it’s rich natural resource earns only a fraction of what it possibly can?
Why Tourism Revenue is sub optimal in Pakistan?
Tourism is a sector which is not just driven by infrastructure as is evident in Pakistan, but also by policies:
- Who would believe that for a foreigner to get a tourist visa to Pakistan is simply a nightmare! Whereas it should be literally visa on arrival as long as you can show you have the cash or means to spend!
- Alcohol, while widely consumed in-private in Pakistan is banned officially except for non Muslims and at select 5 star hotels as room service. Now anyone who has traveled the world knows that unless you’re seeking “Islamic” or “Rehab” tourism – a majority of tourists like to drink alcohol at public places, namely pubs and bars and also go to nightclubs with live music, drinks and dancing options. Pakistan has none, atleast officially. So a German couple or a French traveler or an American explorer, or even the Chinese, unless on a dry spell, will find it a bit odd to be vacationing with a rather dry nightlife sans alcohol, clubs and the works.
- Our neighbors whether India or slightly distant Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, most of the GCC except Saudi Arabia have easily available Alcohol and nightlife, so literally except Iran and Saudi Arabia all Muslim nations the entire world understand these as the pre-requisites for tourism.
- All Pakistan has are food joints, they too often serve dog and donkey meat (my inspiration, besides poverty and lawlessness for GadhaParty) unbeknownst to the unwary tourist.
- Is it not a shame that a beautiful country that can easily earn upwards of 10 times its current tourism revenue easily paying it’s external debt in a few years is lying stagnant, wasted and unexploited? For what reasons?
People will tell you it’s “Islamic” – however, the real barrier to tourism in Pakistan is cultural, it’s not religious. Pakistanis are sadly hypocrites when it comes to alcohol, a 2013 BBC article details the growing alcohol addiction problem in Pakistan, a nation where alcohol is officially banned! Not just the elites but even the lower and middle classes have decent alcohol consumption patterns, which leads one to ask what is good for the goose why not for the gander (traveler / tourist) – the answer is simple, while Islam is certainly not followed when it comes to alcohol (or even basic human rights aspects), the morbid culture of Pakistan where drinking or selling alcohol is not legally or socially accepted and nor are open night clubs. The elites party hard at home or sometimes even low lying private clubs, the masses are somehow programmed culturally to “reject” the advent of “Western values” and “culture” some go so far as to say “5th Generation War on Pakistani people and values” (while it’s 4th Generation technically yet the popular 5th Gen misnomer)
Impact of lack of publicly available Alcohol in Pakistan
I think lack of public Alcohol availability is a symptom of extremists’ survival and rise in Pakistan, which leads to their stupendous, laughable and sometimes alarming rhetoric on why Pakistan is the citadel of Islam, why “foreign powers, 5 top international secret agencies, internal enemies and agents” are all combining to “destabilize” Pakistan with differing versions of how some want an “UnIslamic Pakistan aka liberal” which many consider to have been the secular vision of Pakistan’s founder Jinnah, a man who consumed alcohol and was as liberal as can be, only formed Pakistan to save Indian Muslims from Hindu extremism & terrorism which is much on the rise today.
However the conspiracy theorists run amok on all sorts of wild imaginative ideas, some of which even I, in amusement, support, as people tend to feel “secure” and “united” when you tell them “hey the whole world is after you poor and lawless people for imaginary benefits only your mind can believe they stand to gain!” – and yet much as I am amused am also saddened in the same breath for I see this culminating in the status quo of spiraling inflation, massive poverty (90% plus in real terms compared to any decent country’s per capita income), lawlessness and the debt trap.
One is appalled at Pakistani double standards as the same nations we loathe for being “liberal and open for alcohol, women and party time” our people go to as cheap labor or undocumented illegal immigrants and send back “precious foreign exchange” – no conservative man or Mullah or analyst questions the “kosher-ness” of the money hence remitted!
Pakistanis look up to the Chinese as some sort of “saviors and father figures” which is an odd marriage as the Chinese are infamous for their crackdown on Muslims and human rights at home, plus the rather public scrutiny of every Pakistani’s dream “CPEC” deal which has been proved by many to be far less beneficial to Pakistan then portrayed every now and then. We just seem to be drifting towards a different, and visibly worse, set of masters than before. If we build on tourism, we don’t need ANY masters! We can finally be free!
Fact: (for anyone well traveled or even familiar with world media) Pakistan is, perhaps after Iran, one of the most despised and looked down upon Muslim countries in the world, even by many other Muslim countries, let alone non Muslim ones!
Take for example India, the worlds’ second largest Muslim population projected to have the highest Muslim population in the world less than 50 years!, that every single Muslim country in the whole world including our not so friendly neighbor, Iran, has good or excellent terms with is a sworn enemy to us! Forget the reasons, think of the bigger picture, why are we the isolated enemy’s of India and if we are indeed right in whatever we believe is the cause for animosity HOW COME not a SINGLE “brotherly” Muslim country stands with us politically or militarily against India? While we send our troops to them to fight THEIR wars when required?
Take also the fact that Pakistanis’ have the most severe visa restrictions all over the world. No one likes to welcome you to their land if you’re a Pakistani. You’re looked down upon, a decade back I wanted to visit Norway and was rejected by them saying “people from your part of the world seldom come with the intent of returning” – it was my first, graphic, insulting and hurtful instance of refusal from any country and a very painful one that as time went by I realized reasons thereof. Our people marry abroad to gain immigration, or seek asylum often on fictitious grounds (as I was told by many in the US and other places) and even resort to living illegally come what may then return to their homelands. Pakistan’s famous Dawn Newspaper clearly confirmed the obvious US shift “Media reports claimed on Saturday that the United States had added Pakistan to a list of countries which face visa restrictions for refusing to take back their citizen deportees and visa overstayers.” – Such is the apathy of our Government and (dis)ownership of her citizens!
The way forward (if any)
Thus unless a populist leader like Imran Khan takes the road less traveled and shouts out to the people to see reality for what it is, and do away with culturally mutilated religious dogmas who knows Pakistan may actually become a prosperous, progressive and respected country in the world!
Pakistan needs to go open, liberal, secular. It’s an antidote we need to take after Zia and US induced Talibanization drug which has secured our roots. Besides liberalization and de-radicalization at a state and street level, we need to ensure law and order, which as I wrote about in ChangePakistanNow should solely be the domain of ex servicemen. To ensure locals and tourists are safe and sound under the rule of law then corrupt, inept and lawless mafia of current police and judiciary.
Liberalization will lead Pakistan to the nirvana of growth and prosperity, if only people reflected with a cool head and understood!
Who can bell the cat? Mr Populist Leader Imran Khan or the obvious saviors of Pakistan, the Army, the most logical, liberal and progressive group of men and women remaining in today’s Pakistan.
CrystalHeart Kazmi (a writer on peace, prosperity, good governance for the world more at blahblah.info)