Friday, 28 June 2013

Tourism and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir

Tourism and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry              29 June 2013

For many countries in the world tourism is the main source of their national income. Nearly all countries make great efforts to encourage tourism and provide appropriate facilities that more and more people come and spend money in their countries to boost the national economy.

Recently I visited Istanbul, Turkey, and saw tens of thousands of tourists from various countries. These people were not only impressed what Istanbul had to offer to the tourists, but they also spent millions of dollars that provided jobs to the local people. All tourists eat, drink, use transport, stay in hotels and pay visa fees and entrance fees etc.; and that provides employment to the local people and boost economy.

However, that is not what happens in the divided State of Jammu and Kashmir. It is sad that some forces with vested interest not only discourage tourism in the State of Jammu and Kashmir; but they also make special efforts to commit acts of violence and terrorism to frighten tourists and prospective tourists.

The government of India makes serious efforts to encourage tourism in the part of Jammu and Kashmir under their control. They do this not only to support the local economy; but also to give this message to the world that the worst is over in Kashmir and normalcy is returning. To counter that, the Pakistani government, their agencies and proxies make sincere and concerted endeavours to discourage, frustrate and frighten tourists in all parts of Jammu and Kashmir State.

People may remember that Pakistani backed religious fanatics systematically targeted tourists, killed them, harassed them; and in some cases kidnapped them. Idea was that non Kashmiris must stay away from Jammu and Kashmir; and that people of Jammu and Kashmir must not benefit from fruits of tourism. These fanatics did all these non - Islamic acts in name of religion. Islam does not allow acts of violence and terrorism, promotion of religious hatred, or killing of innocent people. Islam commands to respect guests and visitors and these fanatics killed them and harassed them in name of Islam.

Islam says no compulsion in religion and strictly demands that religious minorities must be protected; and that there must be no interference in their religious matters. These fanatics, in name of religion, declared to stop Amar Nath Yatra and persecuted religious minorities. They closed beauty parlours and in some cases threw acid on faces of women who went to these beauty parlours. It is strange that these fanatics did not ask their mentors to close beauty parlours in Pakistan, from where they were getting training, arms and directions, but felt appropriate to implement their orders in Jammu and Kashmir.

A few years ago I met a man in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. During conversation with me he explained his experience of a visit to Neelam Valley, situated in Pakistani Administered Kashmir. He lived in Lahore and went to the Neelam Valley with his family for a holiday. He said police check posts on the way to the Neelam Valley and the attitude of the security men was harassing and intimidating. He said wherever they went they were followed by two motor bikes all the time. He had his wife, sister and children with him. They felt so insecure that after two days they cut short their holiday and went back to Lahore.

The authorities in Islamabad DONOT like people to visit areas of the Jammu and Kashmir State under their control, especially areas adjacent to the LOC and Gilgit Baltistan. People of these areas live behind ‘Iron Curtain’; and the authorities don’t like even the Pakistanis to know what actually goes on in these areas. Apart from that they know tourism will promote the local economy, and will give people economic independence which will ultimately reduce their reliance on those who control and plunder these areas.

Furthermore, interaction with the outside world, even with well off and liberal minded Pakistani is not tolerated, as that could jeopardise their game plan and loosen their grip. People have to see the recent barbarous and inhuman attack on the Mountain climbers in Gilgit in the light of the mind-set explained above. I agree, there might be some other motives too, but the fact remains that authorities do not even like people of so called Azad Kashmir visiting Gilgit Baltistan and interact with each other.

The killed Mountain Climbers, who came from various countries, were our guests. All civilised people respect visitors. Their presence there was not threat to any state secrets or defence installations. They were spending their hard earned money there, which was helping the local people. Why kill them? It is crystal clear that the local people will never kill them.

Killers were not ordinary people. They were highly trained individuals who could not have reached that area without some ‘official’ support. The attack was well planned, and they were appropriately equipped with arms. The camp was at the height of 4,200 Meters; and the attackers knew exactly where to find them and what to do. One commentator said, “It takes two to three days to reach (the camp). The body needs to acclimatise for climbing up. How they went undetected is a big question."

It is a known fact that extremist groups in Pakistan get some official support. They were set up, trained, armed and financed to advance a certain policy that the men in uniform could not officially do. It is widely believed that different extremist groups have official patronage in Pakistan; and Western reputable writers and Think Tanks have extensively written on this subject. Mark Bowden, a famous author of many books related to South Asia and terrorism wrote:

‘But the issue of Pakistan was delicate. That unstable nation was critical to the war efforts in Afghanistan. It was a nuclear power in one of the world’s most volatile regions, and yet elements of its government, particularly its powerful intelligence agency, the Inter – Services Intelligence (ISI), were known to be in bed with all manner of Islamist radicals. Pakistan’s President Musharraf had been walking a narrow thin line with the Bush administration, providing enough cooperation to avoid being branded an enemy but falling well short of routing extremists hold in Pakistan’s lawless northwest.’   Source: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, page 79-80

It was because of Pakistan’s hobnobbing with the extremist groups that many experts on terrorism said ‘Pakistan was part of the problem’ and ‘not part of the solution’ in fighting terrorism. The American intelligence sources believed that ‘Pakistan had become the new safe haven for the terror groups after the fall of Taliban’. As the result of this double play America also got frustrated, and due to lack of distrust, President Obama had to say: “If we have actionable intelligence about high – value terrorist targets and if President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” It was as a result of this policy that America unilaterally conducted a secret operation in Abbottabad to kill Osama Bin Ladin. Despite the fact that Pakistani sovereignty was violated, Pakistani government congratulated America for this success.

The brutal killing of mountain climbers has further tarnished Pakistan’s image at the international level. The fanatic killers were wearing police uniform. This was the worst attack on foreign nationals for many years; and it will have very serious impact on tourism in this region. Naik Nam Karim, General Secretary of the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators said:

‘The killings were a "disaster" for Gilgit-Baltistan, where tourism is the main source of income. "It will destroy tourism in our area," he told AFP, saying that he had already received a slew of cancellations by email and telephone’. "We used to be able to convince foreign tourists that there was peace in Gilgit-Baltistan but this incident has ruined everything."

Foreign tourists were of two kinds: climbers and trekkers – those who wanted to see stunning natural beauty of the region. On average non-trekking tourists used to spend $3,000; and trekkers used to spend between $8-10,000 because they stayed here longer.

It must be pointed out that before the war on terrorism more than twenty thousand foreign tourists visited Gilgit Baltistan each year, which greatly helped the local people run their kitchens. The number of visitors has dropped dramatically to around 5,000 a year now. After this tragic incident who would like to risk their lives and go there; and it will hurt the local people immensely.

If the authorities in Islamabad are serious in combatting and eradicating terrorism and encouraging tourism, then they will have to take some bold steps which may not be popular in certain quarters. However, if they continue with their old policy, then I am afraid these fanatics will lead Pakistan to a disaster.

Writer is a political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir 


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