Recently, I started a project called 'Pakistan is Calling' in an effort to fight stereotypes against Pakistan. Through my project, I'm hoping to generate 12,000 USD to invite foreigners on a fully-funded trip to Pakistan in the spring of 2017.
So far, it has solicited impressive responses from travellers across the globe. Despite offering fully-funded trips, a number of people were willing to come on self-funded trips.
They only requested my help in obtaining a Pakistani visa because they needed an invitation from a national/resident for a visit visa, or from a travel agency for a tourist visa.
Because most of the people do not have any relatives or friends in Pakistan, who could send an invitation, they are compelled to approach a travel agency which will normally demand around $50-60 for an invitation — this excludes the visa-processing fee charged by Pakistani missions.
A couple of years ago, Pakistan announced a liberal visa policy — offering on-arrival visa to groups coming from tourist-friendly countries, which had registered their trip through a designated tour operator.
However, the policy was not very effective because the cost for fully-guided tours is quite high, and controlled by travel agents.
Additionally, Pakistan had also introduced a reciprocal-visa policy based on the principle that, "we will treat your citizens the way you treat our citizens and we will charge visa fee from your citizens equal to what you charge from our citizens".
While the policy honoured the self-respect of the citizens and state of Pakistan, I felt it was imprudent.
Consider this: One of the objectives of Pakistan's tourism ministry is to project the country as a 'tourist-friendly destination'. With this objective, I don't think the policy of reciprocity is very useful.
You are not allowing someone to enter your home, but then you are also expecting people to appreciate the beauty in your home.
It's very common for travellers to live like nomads thanks, in no small part, to freelancing and online blogging. I have interacted with hundreds of nomads who travel and earn money through their travel writings, or by working online while travelling.
I have also met people who have undertaken year-long travels and have wanted to visit Pakistan, only to apply for a visa and find out that the country has a policy whereby visit visas cannot be issued from a third country, unless they have been residing there legally for a long period of time.
For instance, if someone from the United States starts a world tour, reaches a certain country, for example: Iran, India or China and then decides to visit Pakistan for a couple of weeks, he/she will be turned back from that country's Pakistani diplomatic mission and asked to go to back to the US and apply for a visa.
This person will have no option but to skip travelling to Pakistan altogether, or go to visa-friendly countries like Sri Lanka or Nepal.
Home to some of the oldest civilisations, sunny blue beaches, exotic mountain ranges and the land of four seasons, Pakistan has immense potential as a tourist destination.
It is high time we reconsider our tourism and visa policies. I've had the good fortune of travelling quite a bit; my experience has taught me that the only way we can dismantle misperceptions about countries is through robust interaction.
It's only when we meet and speak to each other do we realise that things fed to us about a certain nation was not quite the truth.
Having examined our visa and tourism policies of various countries, I propose the following recommendations:
A visa-free travel or on-arrival visa facility should be provided for Pakistan's friends like Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Gulf, China, Malaysia, etc.
Remove the Letter of Invitation (LoI) condition for obtaining tourist visa for all nationalities.
Construct and upgrade the airports in Gilgit, Chitral, Skardu, Chilas, Turbat, Gwadar, Muzaffarabad and Mirpur for international flights, and invite foreign carriers — particularly from Europe to directly land there.
PIA and other private airlines should offer transit facilities at Pakistani airports, while carrying passengers from Central, South or Southeast Asia to Gulf, EU or Americas (or vice-versa) and transiting passengers should have the opportunity to get a transit visa on arrival for some amount of time in order to explore cities like Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore or even Peshawar, Sialkot, Quetta, Faisalabad and Multan.
Introduce an online-visa approval system like in Sri Lanka, Turkey and Georgia which is centralised and easy to manage for both visitors and authorities.
Decrease the exorbitant visa fee for all countries which will, in turn, help attract more visitors and get more revenue.
Discuss a simple visa policy on reciprocal basis with our neighbours, including China, Iran, India and Central Asian States (Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh or Bhutan)
Foster a competitive environment for airlines to allow reduced fares and better connectivity, particularly with neighboring countries. A lower landing cost will attract more airlines, including cheap ones, which will help bring in more visitors and revenue.
Address the reservations of the international community that has restricted Pakistani passports for reasons including, but not limited to, terrorism and smuggling.
For a better cultural understanding of Pakistan, it's important that the country be made more accessible. And I am optimistic that revising our current visa policies is a leap in the direction of removing misconceptions about Pakistan.
ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is encouraged that Pakistan will convert cash-strapped Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) into a limited company but said on Wednesday it will see if the reforms go far enough in restructuring the company.
Parliament adopted a law on Monday to convert PIA into a limited company but it prevents the government from giving up its management control.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had made the privatisation of the company a top goal when he came to power in 2013.
The privatisation of it and 67 other state-owned companies is also a major element of a $6.7 billion IMF package that helped Pakistan stave off default in 2013. The IMF has continued to release loan instalments despite missed targets.
“We are encouraged that a consensus has been reached on corporatization of PIA,” Harald Finger, IMF mission chief for Pakistan, told Reuters in an email.
“We will need to study the approved bill and discuss with the authorities their emerging plans to run PIA strictly as a commercial entity and strengthen its performance in the absence of a transfer of management control to a private investor.” PIA has accumulated losses of more than $3 billion.
It and other loss-making companies, including power distribution companies and steel giant Pakistan Steel Mills, cost the government an estimated $5 billion a year.
In February, the IMF released the last $497 million tranche of its loan, even after Pakistan shelved plans to privatise its power supply companies and said it would miss deadlines to sell other loss-making state firms.
Another $1.1 billion remains to be released
KARACHI: The Pakistan Coast Guards on Tuesday claimed to have arrested more than 70 illegal immigrants, including Afghan nationals, at Gwadar while they were attempting to enter Iran through Pakistani routes.
In a statement, the coastguards said security personnel arrested the illegal immigrants during a regular checking on Shahjahan Road.
“The arrested persons included 53 Afghans comprising 34 men, six women and 13 children,” it said.
The remaining 22 were Pakistanis who were arrested when they were attempting to enter Iran without valid visas and other documents, according to the statement. It added that they were poised to use the sea border to reach their desired destination.
This is the second such arrest made by the coastguards within the past one month, as the security agency on March 17 apprehended 103 illegal immigrants at Pasni while they were attempting to enter Iran without valid documents.
The spokesman for the coastguards said that there was a chance that criminal elements and militants made attempts to escape using the coastal belt due to the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb operation against terrorists.
“In view of the sensitive situation, the Pakistan Coast Guards has intensified checking through road checks and constituted special mobile patrolling teams in its area,” he added.
“Last month, coastguards officials apprehended 103 illegal immigrants, including 11 Afghan nationals, five Iranians and 87 Pakistanis from two different locations in Pasni.”
Under the set rules, he said, all the apprehended persons were handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for further investigation against the illegal immigrants in line with the defined laws.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2016
LAHORE: In the wake of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park suicide attack, the government has decided to arrest all individuals included in the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The decision was taken at a meeting on law and order presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here on Monday.
The prime minister expressed anger at Punjab’s security officials for ignoring an alert issued by an intelligence agency about presence in the province of four to five suicide bombers looking for a soft target.
He also expressed dismay over the leniency shown towards miscreants in Islamabad and asked Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was present in the meeting, to personally look into the matter.
A participant of the meeting told Dawn that the prime minister had ordered an immediate action against the history-sheeters included in the Fourth Schedule and said the action must not wait for a Rangers-police combined operation strategy and all law-enforcement agencies could act on their own to avert chances of criminals slipping away.
The Fourth Schedule comprises the elements found to be or suspected to be involved in anti-state activities, delivering hate speeches and/or activists of religious outfits not yet banned but related with militancy in any way.
At least 2,000 criminals are at present included in the list, the official said, adding that the action had been started across Punjab, particularly in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan.
The prime minister got infuriated at the Punjab home secretary when a joint director general of the Intelligence Bureau told him that the agency had issued a terror alert well in time.
Secretary Azam Sultan claimed in the meeting that his department had issued a circular containing the alert, but law-enforcement agencies overlooked it.
The meeting was told that the wife of a terrorist killed in an encounter months ago was now apparently operating the deadly network of a banned outfit. It was also informed that the suspected bomber, whose skull was found at the crime scene, had been working for a banned outfit and also recruited some youths for it.
The prime minister expressed displeasure over the entry of the miscreants into Islamabad’s Red Zone without any hindrance.
He was informed that organisers of the chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri had given an assurance that they would not cross a certain limit and that’s why Punjab police were ill-prepared to tackle the protesters.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016
LAHORE (News Desk) – While Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif is being appreciated by world powers for successful anti-terrorism operation in tribal areas of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia wants him to join its 34-country alliance as commander-in-chief after his retirement from Pakistan Army, a Pakistan’s daily claimed on Thursday.
“Riyadh has asked General Raheel Sharif to take over the position of chief of the coalition force to combat terrorist organisations which are maligning Islamic ideology worldwide,” reported the Daily Jang, quoting unnamed military sources.
The report further added that Raheel Sharif’s appointment as the coalition force commander will not affect Pakistan’s natural position in Saudi-Iran tensions. “Pakistani role in 34-country military alliance will also remain unchanged.”
The Saudi offer comes in light of the general’s increasing popularity in Pakistan and the west due to successful military operation Zarb-e-Azb, which improved law and order situation in Pakistan to a great extent.
As far as Raheel Sharif’s retirement or extension in service as Pakistani Chief of Army Staff is concerned, a statement of the Pakistan army spokesman said that Raheel Sharif will retire on due date, dismissing the ongoing debate over possible extension in Army chief’s service.
Raheel Sharif took over the position of Chief of Army Staff in November 2013 and is due to retire in the end of this year.
General Raheel Sharif is currently in Saudi Arabia to witness 20-country joint military exercise “North Thunder” along with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The exercise is being portrayed as show of military power in international media after announcement of anti-terrorism alliance.
Earlier in 2015, Saudi Arabia had announced Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Palestine, Comoros, Qatar, Cote d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen; as part of a 34-country alliance which will have its control center in Riyadh according to the statement.
THIS port town is touted as the next modern city full of opportunities for developers and residents alike. Yet, at the moment, the residents of Gwadar wish for nothing more than a continuous flow of water.
Officials say that the future “economic hub of Balochistan” will need 12 million gallons of water by 2020, failure to provide which will put at risk the ambitious plans.
All along the coastal highway leading from Gwadar to the Belar dam, 85km in the south-west, empty water cans are placed by the side of the road by residents from nearby and far-off villages to be filled up by private tankers on their way to Gwadar. Near one such line, a man named Din Mohammad is busy getting water from a recently filled can.
He’s putting it into smaller containers tied to his camel. In broken Urdu, he says that this is the only way his family of 10 gets water that is free of cost. There are other such men on the way to Belar, some of them on foot, going to get water.
There has been a severe water crisis in Gwadar district after the only dam providing water, the Akra dam, dried up at the beginning of this year. The $24m rain-fed project was constructed in the early 1990s to provide water to the villages but ended up becoming the sole provider to Gwadar city instead, explains the sub-divisional officer at the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Mohammad Shaban.
Sitting in his office, which is one kilometre away from Bakhshi Colony near the arterial road of Gwadar, he says that the Akra dam last received rainfall in 2010. Then the dam dried up in 2012, when not enough rain was recorded. “The meteorological department predicts rainfall in the coming two days,” he says. “It’d be good if it rains well, which would be enough for the Akra dam to provide water for the coming five years. Otherwise, we’ll have to look for alternative ways.”
In the wake of the water shortage and the Akra dam drying up, the Belar dam — a catchment area getting water from the Daramb mountain facing the Iranian border on its west — became a junction for private tankers coming from Gwadar. Mohammad Ali and other owners of 120 water tankers in Belar have set up 15 water pumps on the left bank of the dam.
These tankers make 27 trips a month, barring Fridays, to provide water to the residents of Surbandar, Peshukan, Gwadar and Jiwani. At present, residents in Gwadar pay Rs15,000 to avail a private tanker which helps for a week. Mohammad Surabh, a resident of Bakhshi Colony, says tiredly that he pays Rs15,000 for a tanker, “and then we wait for the electricity so that it can be utilised at home. We face a power shortage of eight hours a day due to the maintenance work around the area.”
The alternative source of water, which according to Shaban is a solution to the city’s persisting water issues, is the Mirani dam which is located 43 kilometres west of Turbat city, a five-hour drive from Gwadar city.
“When the dam was being constructed in 2003, there was a clear statement in the PC-1 of the project that Gwadar city will get 20 million gallons of water from the Mirani dam,” adds Shaban. But in the revised PC-1, after retired General Pervez Musharraf’s government, the clause was removed by the incoming government, he explains. This, though a viable solution, he says, will cause conflict in the coming days as both cities need water.
At present, Gwadar city needs 4.6 million gallons of water; the Akra dam was supplying 2.5 million gallons. So the city was already short of some two million gallons of water, says the director-general of the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA), Dr Sajjad Hussain Baloch.
“We witness a dry spell every two to three years. As a temporary step, the chief secretary of the province has made the desalination plant in Karwat, located in Gwadar, partially functional which is providing 500,000 gallons of water to the city,” he claims, adding that the Balochistan Development Authority (BDA) wants the plant to be fully functional by the end of the month.
However, sources within the PHED say that the plant, which was initiated in 2006, faced delays in its functioning and was “forcibly made functional” after a push from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) last November.
NAB found that the water pipelines needed to supply water to the city were missing. The source further adds that Karwat is providing 200,000 gallons of water rather than the amount claimed by the GDA DG.
The construction of two other dams — the Sawwar dam undertaken by the provincial government and Shaadi Kaur by the federal government in 2012, both located in and around Pasni, Gwadar district — is yet to be completed, which authorities say is at the root of the problem.
SDO Shaban says: “If these dams had been completed in time, we wouldn’t have had to to rely on other sources of acquiring water. Embezzlement and a lack of funds is another issue which needs to be sorted before the water shortage snowballs into a bigger conflict between the towns.”
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016
For years, Pakistan has denied that the Afghan Taliban enjoys a safe haven on its soil or that Islamabad could do anything to end their violent campaign in Afghanistan that has seen tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and international troops killed since 2002.
But in an unusually candid admission, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, says that Islamabad has considerable influence over the Taliban because its leaders live in the country.
"We have some influence over them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities. Their families are here," he said. "We can use those levers to pressurize them to say, 'Come to the table'. But we can't negotiate on behalf of the Afghan government because we cannot offer them what the Afghan government can offer them."
Aziz made the comments at Washington's Council on Foreign Relations think tank on March 1. He added that Islamabad pressured Afghan Taliban leaders to participate in the first-ever direct talks with the Afghan government on July 7, 2015.
"We have to use these levers and [have] restricted their movements, restricted their access to hospitals and other facilities, and threatened them that 'If you don't come forward and talk, we will at least expel you'," he said of the tough message Islamabad sent to Taliban leaders, most of whom are believed to be operating out of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan Province.
"[We told the Taliban leaders that] we have hosted [them] enough for 35 years, and we can't do it anymore because the whole world is blaming us just by [their] presence here," he said.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and China last week agreed on a road map to end the Afghan war through negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban.
Taliban representatives are expected to join Afghan officials in the first round of peace talks in Pakistan during the next few weeks.
Aziz, however, took pains to convince Washington's audience that Islamabad has abandoned its support for the Islamist militant groups.
"After our government came into power in 2013, there has been a significant change in our policy. We are now moving against all terrorists without discrimination," he said.
Speaking alongside US State Secretary John Kerry on February 29, Aziz said Pakistan now has little interest in fomenting violence in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Who would like to set one's own neighbor on fire with the hope of saving one's backyard?" he asked.
This article was originally published on gandhara.rferl.org and has been reproduced with permission.