IN a series of previous articles, a vision was put forth to create a mega business sector for Pakistan based on its Gandhara Heritage. This mega sector would generate USD 20 billion/year (in current day prices) in revenues at its maturity. In the three previous articles, the details of the first seven links were presented which included streamlining the visa regime, organizing the NOC regime for diplomats and tourists, engaging Buddhist leaders to guide the development of this sector, launching a focused and organized campaign to market Pakistan and its heritage, organizing tour operators, sensitizing and training the local population, and organizing the sites and infrastructure. Let’s now focus on the details of the final three links of the value chain.
The 8th link proposes the need to coordinate financing and investment by domestic and international private sector. There are literally hundreds of sites which are sacred to Buddhists and/or admirers of Gandhara, and investors are keen to invest. For that to practically take place, the government needs to take the lead and facilitate access, security and provision of undisputed and reasonably priced land. For this purpose, the government can create designated “Gandhara Hospitality Zones” around the notable sites as identified by Gandhara experts and Buddhist leaders. The government can also declare “Gandhara based tourism” a “thrust sector” and ensure that one window operation is set up at Board of Investment which will facilitate in the realizations of the fore-mentioned objectives. Finally, preferential loans and other incentives may be launched to encourage investors for this thrust sector.
The 9th link propounds the need to set up a focused “donor coordination cell”. For the layperson, donors are the multilateral (UNESCO and the UN Group, FAO, WFP, EU, etc) and bilateral partners (USAID, DFID, JICA, and many more) of Pakistan. My definition also expands to include the international financial institutions such as World Bank, Asian Development bank, Islamic Development Bank, etc. The donor coordination cell can specifically map the investment available from the donors as per their existing budgets and future allocation. Rather than insisting to the donors to “invest in Gandhara based tourism” which they may not be able to immediately do since their budgets and country strategies are usually decided year/s ahead of time, we can, first work with them under their existing allocations and second, to design future targeted funding streams for this sector.
Under the existing allocations we can work in partnership with them and facilitate their investment as per their approved strategies. For instance, work with UNESCO in site development; WB and other multilateral banks in tourism infrastructure development and formation and training of tourism related government agencies; USAID, EU, JICA and others in hospitality and artisan skills development of local population, and so on. The exact partnership model will of course me much more elaborate and detailed. While we focus on the above in the short term, we can launch a dialogue and establish a joint long term vision, strategy and budget allocations with these international partners of Pakistan.
And now, we arrive at the last link to create this mega sector. Arguably, it probably should have been put at the beginning, but then people might have argued that we don’t need it. However, now that we have seen the expanse of this task and areas that need to be addressed, and the economic potential, it is easy to understand that the tenth and final link asks that we set up a “Gandhara Promotion Agency” (or pick any other name). The composition and legal formation can be determined by experts, but its need is not debatable. This agency will fine-tune and implement the preceding nine links, but will also coordinate the efforts of a multitude of federal and provincial entities including Foreign Affairs, Planning, EAD, Heritage, Religious Affairs, Interfaith Harmony, Tourism, BOI, Archeology, Museums, Small Industries, Culture and many more.
In addition to the above, this entity will also need to coordinate training of the immigration & customs officials, the CAA, security agencies, establishment (when and where needed), provincial police departments, and much more. We will need to assure that this entity stays above the political fray and the board and officials, while having access to the myriad government agencies, are neither political appointees nor strictly bureaucrats. It needs to be led by experts within the various domains, and a prerequisite qualification will be their commitment to development of Gandhara based mega sector. Their sincerity of purpose should be unquestionable. If we accomplish the above, I am confident that we will put Pakistan on a track towards long term prosperity. (Concluded)
—The writer is former Adviser to the Government and a sector development specialist. He has been promoting Gandhara worldwide.