Tourism & Ideology

Tourism and Ideology

The history of the people of Pakistan is re-written while the history of the Pakistani landscape is allowed to disappear.

The ideological orientation of the Pakistani state tends to obliterate the possibilities of social and economic advancement of the country in many areas. Tourism is one, an industry whose potential to provide income to a cash-starved nation remains largely untapped.

Pakistan is in many ways like Egypt, its landscape bristling with antiquity. This heritage goes right back to the Indus civilisation, whose silent testimony is to be found in the stones and seals of Harappa and Mohenjodaro on the Punjab plain. What is today Pakistan was also the centre of Buddhist learning, with Texila as just one such monastic centre.

Unfortunately, the rich historic and artistic heritage represented by the Gandharan Buddhistic art, which manifested itself on this soil, finds only the rare connoisseur among those who have inherited the land. From recent history, Pakistan has to show Nankana Sahib, birth place of Guru Nanak, one of the holiest places for the Sikh community. In Lahore, is the capital and fort of the great Sikh king Ranjit Singh. The mountainous northern region is considered rugged and exotic—Hunza, Chitral, Baltistan—the very kind of terrain that extracts tourist dollars by the millions elsewhere in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush, from Ladakh to Nepal, Darjeeling/Sikkim, and Bhutan.

Pakistan, thus, has the 'products' to attract visitors from the West, and from Southeast and East Asia. But there is too little of them, and the tourists who move around in Pakistan today are the domestic travellers, mostly the noveau riche from Punjab and elsewhere heading up for the cool of the hills of Murree and further on.

Those who would develop Pakistani tourism must realise, however, that the challenge is greater than a simple strengthening up of the tourist department. The state ideology itself is in the way of tourism. To preserve the ancient artefacts and monuments—for their own sake and for tourism—requires a certain type of societal mindset and an open-minded socio-political environment. On the one hand, the elite as well as the public at large must develop in themselves a love for the ancient heritage of the land. On the other, they must have the desire to create a welcoming environment where the foreigners feel comfortable enough to experience the ecstasy of being in a land of antiquity. Despite its corrupt ruling elite, Egypt has managed to do this. Pakistan has not.

Certainly, Pakistan also lacks the kind of infrastructure that encourages tourism, including roads, railway, air facilities, hotels and the service ethos, which lies at the centre of tourism. The lawlessness is also a stumbling block, for who would want to vacation in a region where gun-touting extremists can at any time come around the corner, where religious sects go at each other with murderous intent, and where it is not extraordinary for dacoits to take hostages for ransom.

Much of these perceived threats to security can be resolved by strengthening law and order, but it is the ideological mindset of the Pakistani state that does not permit the preservation and propagation of history which would "legitimise" the very heritage which would be the centrepiece of Pakistan's ability to attract tourists. Through political orations, through schoolbooks and tomes of politically-correct history, generations of Pakistanis have been conditioned to negate this heritage, and taught instead to take pride in having roots in other parts of Asia. This includes the tendency among the elite to claim descend from migrants from the Arab-Persian shores.

Although most Pakistani Muslims are indigenous to South Asia and converted to Islam at a very late stage, the history and social studies books teach that history essentially started when Mohammad Bin Qasim made landfall on Sindh in the eighth century AD. The history of the medieval period is nothing more than simplistic idealisation of the Muslim rulers of India. Students are informed about the benevolenceand ingenuity of the Turk, Afghan and Mughal rulers, and even casual invaders from the north such as Mahmood Ghaznvi and Ahmad Shah Abdali et al, are idealized.

In short, the history of the people is re-written while the history of the landscape is allowed to disappear. As a result, among those who define the ideology of the state, there is visceral anathema for the Indus civilisation and the great Buddhist era. Similarly, Guru Nanak is considered to be a religious leader of the enemy rather than the great reformist intellectual and poet he was. The cumulative result of this is that today the Pakistani public has no reverence for its past and no aspiration to preserve vestiges of its history. What it does not appreciate, it therefore feels no need to share with the rest of the world.

In the early 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and some left leaning intellectuals, particularly Major Mohammad Ishaque of the Mazdoor Kisan Party, did try to rehabilitate the historical linkages. However, that effort did not make any headway in face of the ideological onslaught of the state, which was at that time moving swiftly towards theocracy. In the latter years, the descendants of Bhutto and Gen Ziaul Haq and other elite plundered the national historical treasures and started shipping them abroad—the sale of a Buddha statue to the Smithsonian only one of the many examples. The corrupt elite, which knows better, has been blinded by greed. It cares nothing for preserving the greatest historical sites and preserving the remnants of the long-gone eras. Members of this elite, rather than seeking long-term income for the people through tourism, do not think twice of plundering ancient sites to export artefacts to Western collectors and antique shops.

A new ideological framework about history has to evolve, one which appreciates the non- Muslim heritage of present-day Pakistan even while remaining fully cognizant of the monumental contributions made by Muslims to the Indian civilisation. Like the Arabs, Iranian and other Muslim nations, we have to respect our history—all aspects of it. If Egypt can revel in and take economic advantage of its pre-Islamic past, so should Pakistan. However, if the Pakistani state remains prisoner to the present ideological parameters, and the economic elite limits itself to heartlessly allowing the plunder and destruction of ancient heritage, an industry like tourism will continue to lack space in Pakistan in the years to come.

The irony in all this is that, by default, present-day India has become the heir and custodian of the Indus Valley civilisation and the ancient Buddhist civilisation of South Asia— no matter that Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Texila happen to lie across the border. Pakistanis have no one else but themselves to blame.

Loading content, please wait...

Related Stories

No stories found.
Himal Southasian