By Asif Hussain
The Gilgit-Baltistan region is situated in the extreme north of Pakistan between longitude 72-75 in the North and 35-37, latitude in the East. It joins Xingjiang province of China in the north, Afghanistan and the Chitral District in the northwest with Tajikistan (Central Asia close behind). In the southeast side there is a cease-fire line of more than 300 kms with Indian held territory of Jammu and Kashmir. In the east, Kohistan and Mansehra Districts.
The three great mountainous ranges of Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush surround it. There are more than 19 mountain peaks exceeding 7,600 meters, including the K-2 the second highest peak and the Nanga parbat the third largest one of the world with 40 famous glaciers. Indus is the main river, which originates from Mansroor Lake in the Karakuram ranges of Tibetan belt. The area is full of natural endowment and is featured with a spectacular panorama with fast flowing rivers, twisting turbulent streams, eye catching meadows and high pastures, lush green forest pockets, Crystal blue lakes, lofty barren mountains with snow covered peaks. The Federally Administered GILGIT BALTISTAN scattered over an area of 72496 sq. kms. Surrounded by three famous mountain ranges of Karakoram, Hamalaya and the Hindokush represent a unique geographical location in the world. The profile of the available geographical data is as under:
Tourism is world widely changing rapidly as nature, heritage, and recreational destinations become more important because of new emerging risks for tourism development. Conventional tourism is forced to meet tougher environmental requirements. This scenario has become a challenge to GILGIT BALTISTAN Governments and private enterprises to develop new approaches to the tourism market. It is confronted with many risks like Security, law and order issues, terrorism, war fears, crime, political instability, health risks, environmental disaster and catastrophe etc.
The tourism in Pakistan has grown, as the 9th largest business whereas it has emerged as a 5th largest business in the province according to a Private Sector Profile prepared by GILGIT BALTISTAN Strategy for Sustainable Development. The share of revenue in the sector is 8% and the profit ratio is 19%, while the investment is 10%, which is considered to be inadequate. According to the results of the said sample survey, this sector has a contribution of approx. 2% in overall employment generation in the region.
The tourist flow in the region is mostly from Japan, Germany, Korea, British, France, Dutch, Span, Italy, New-Zealand, , Australia, USA, Canada, Austria, Poland and Belgium etc. What they need to see in this part of the country is the unique natural endowment, world famous mountains and peaks, cultural diversities, flora and fauna etc. The expectation of tourist’s is the recreation at cheaper rates-easy excess and communication facilities, pollution free environment, security and minimum health hazards. They are justified in their demands because they pay for it that leads to develop small and medium enterprises, job opportunities and contribute to the economic development of the region.
The present Government is very much keen to promote tourism in GILGIT BALTISTAN because of the fact that it is the lifeblood in the economic development of the region. Some of the important and appreciable steps taken by the GILGIT BALTISTAN Administration include establishment of Tourism Development Board, giving status of industry to tourism and the first ever Tourism Policy prepared but unfortunately it stands nowhere at the hands of high-ups.
The survival of Tourism industry according to global competitiveness is mainly depending on the three principles-customers voice for satisfaction, profitability and sustainability. There must be new applications and practices to promote Tourism to compete with the world market. These practices may include summer camps, corporate training, incentive tours, study tours and events. All these require you to learn new skills because the only constant in life is a change. This change is needed in accessibility, Political stability, Safety measures, Value for money destination, Friendly people, Creativity, Destination management, Language ability, good services, dependability and reliability.
Malaysia now a day is called true Asia for introducing Green Tourism in the country because they have shifted from the idea of rest and relaxation to more security / health oriented and quality of life experiences including active and sport-oriented trips. Identically Germans prefer hiking, mountaineering and climbing while French are partial to water sports, hiking and cycling etc. Competence building of GILGIT BALTISTAN Tourism Development Board in events management should be given top priority for arranging seasonal events for attracting domestic and international tourists. Knowledge like wealth need to be widely and evenly distributed if people are to keep the independence required for human dignity, and the “haves” prevented from taking advantage of the ‘have-nots”.
Thus People must be able to enjoy and learn natural, historical and cultural characteristics of unique environment while preserving the integrity to those sites and stimulating the economic development opportunities in local communities. Therefore green tourism envisages on (1) effectively promoting the preservation of entire local eco-systems.(2) Be economically viable in order to attract financing and be sustainable.(3) Be well planned, financed, managed and marketed in order to meet the stringent environmental and recreational demands of a true eco-tourism development. It encompasses on the introduction of nature games, outdoor skill like mountaineering, camping and rock climbing, Risk Management, Business management skill, marketing leadership, branding, teamwork and communication. Experts say “ Sustain tourism but not at the expense of economic balance but balance it not at the expense of tourism”. The event management practices should be given top priorities because it brings large number of people together with economic benefits for many people.
It is very unfortunate to say that Peace and religious harmony has been a big issue for the last 25 years and has emerged a great hindrance in tourism promotion in GB. According to a press statement appeared in the local newspapers, the Governor GB has shown great concern over it and alarmed it to be a catastrophe if not checked and resolved immediately. There is no doubt about it and he has rightly analyzed the critical situation in this part of the country. Probably the GB administration would develope a plan to address this serious issue that may need political, moral and legal support requiring further powers from the Federal Government. It may be pertinent to say that peace an religious harmony cannot come outside, yet sincere efforts and laws need to be implemented with community mobilization. The solution to the problem is available in the Gilgit Baltistan empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 and Local Government Order 1979 (amended 1996).
A Task Force consisting of MLAs, Local Councils, intellectuals, and GB Administration need to be constituted for this purpose. This Task Force should be facilitated to raise awareness in the communities in the whole province besides consultative meetings with various religious leaders and communities. The outcome resultantly would be in the form of recommendations for implementation. No matter it will take some time but would certainly lead to Sustainable peace and religious harmony in the region.
Thanks to the President of Pakistan Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and the present people’s government for paying due attention to the region granting provincial status is another hallmark in the history of Pakistan. Although the Tourism sector has totally been shifted to the provinces under 18th amendment, yet because of limited fiscal budget, the people of GB are looking for further intervention by the Federal Government in financing and boosting up of tourism sector mobilizing possible available resources.
Green Tourism in GB is essential for survival; it is spawned by faith, sustained by hope, and strengthened by enthusiasm. It is greater than sight, deeper than a dream, broader than an idea. Vision encompasses vast vistas outside the realm of predictable, the safe, the expected. No wonder we parish without it.
The writer is Chairman Pakistan Red Crescent Society Gilgit Baltistan Province.