As security improves, Pakistanis throng to militancy-scarred northwest for Eid

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Kalam Valley attracts thousands of tourists from Pakistan and an increasing number of foreign tourists. Pictured here on June 30, 2018. (AN Photo)
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Nasarullah Lake in Upper Swat, Pakistan, pictured on Oct 5, 2018. (AN Photo)
Updated 13 June 2019

As security improves, Pakistanis throng to militancy-scarred northwest for Eid

  • Rs5 billion revenue generated during six-day Eid vacations, says Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • More than 2 million tourists headed to the province over Eid but inadequate road infrastructure still a hurdle

PESHAWAR: More than 2 million Pakistanis visited the country’s militancy-scarred northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province over Eid-al-Fitr holidays, the province’s Tourism Corporation said on Tuesday, as Pakistan pushes to capitalize on improving security across the country and revive a dormant tourist industry. 
Pakistan was last a prominent tourist stop in the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought international travelers through the walnut and apricot orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.

Pishmal valley as seen on July 9, 2018 from Bayun near one of Pakistan’s most famous tourist destinations of Kalam. (AN Photo)

Since then, deteriorating security and the imposition of a harsh interpretation of Islamic laws by militants has chipped away at the number of visitors. The country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and erstwhile semi-autonomous tribal regions, now merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa along the border with Afghanistan, bore the brunt of violence by Taliban and other insurgents. But as security has improved dramatically in recent years and militant attacks are down sharply, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan hopes a new era can be opened for the tourism industry.
“There are many more new destinations waiting to be explored,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tourism minister Atif Khan told Arab News. “Improved security in the province and its newly-merged tribal districts mean people would soon be able to visit heavenly beautiful places like Tirah valley in Khyber tribal district,” he added, referring to a tribal region long known for its difficult terrain and governance challenges posed by its location on the porous border with Afghanistan.

Kalam Valley attracts thousands of tourists from Pakistan and an increasing number of foreign tourists. Pictured here on June 30, 2018. (AN Photo)

Sajjad Hameed, the general manager of the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said two million tourists had visited different parts of the province over the six-day Eid holiday. 
“On the occasion of Eid al Fitr, almost twenty lakh (2 million) tourists went to pleasant tourist destinations in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” the ruling PTI government said on its official Twitter handle last week, adding that most people had gone to Swat, but also to Kumrat in Dir Upper, and Kaghan, Naran and Nathiagali in the Hazara division. 
According to figures released by Deputy Inspector General of Police of Malakand Division, Said Wazir, police at the Ashiret check-post on the Chitral side of the Lawari Tunnel registered 11,000 vehicles carrying 71,000 tourists entering the district through the Tunnel. 
According to Ishtiaq Khan, superintendent of traffic police Abbottabad, nearly 100,000 vehicles carrying over 0.4 million people entered Abbottabad over the Eid break. Police sources in Malakand division reported over 147,000 vehicles and more than one million tourists entering Malakand division during just the first three days of Eid.

Shahi Bagh is a tranquil off-road tourist spot about 12 kilometers west of Gabral Valley in Upper Swat, Pakistan; July 14, 2018. (AN Photo)

Galiyaat Development Authority put the number of vehicles, including motorcycles, entering the area at 63,000, while an estimated 400,000 tourists visited the Galiyaat during Eid. 
Seth Matiullah, President of the Naran Hotels Association, said all 317 hotels on Naran Road, were at 100 percent occupancy through the Eid holiday. 
“The hotels, tents and camping pods were all full,” he said. “The overflow meant many tourists had to sleep in their cars. This is the best start to our season in many decades.”
Applauding the efforts of the provincial government in promoting tourism, Matiullah said tourists had been impressed with improved traffic management and health and rescue services.

A view of Kalam Bazar from Bayun Valley on July 9, 2018. (AN Photo)

“When tourists are happy, they tell others to visit the same places also,” he said. “The health department even set up a first of its kind emergency health unit at the 10,578-feet-high Saiful Malook lake to assist tourists facing breathing problems.”
However, Matiullah said the provincial government needed to prioritize improving the roads leading up to known tourist destinations if it wanted to attract yet more people. 
Minister Atif Khan said the provincial government had identified over two dozen potential tourist spots in the province and aimed to construct “basic road infrastructure and provide basic facilities like security, electricity and health.” He said a Tourism Police Force had also been raised for the first time 
Junaid Khan, Managing Director Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said one of the main reasons behind the high influx of tourists this season was a tourism awareness and promotion campaign spearheaded by his department.
“An estimated revenue of Rs5 billion was generated during the six-day Eid vacations,” Khan said. “The provincial government has allocated Rs2.4 billion for the construction of roads to tourist destinations in Malakand division. Similarly, Rs2 billion are reserved for the same purpose in Hazara division while another Rs50 million are reserved for construction of roads to the Sheikh Badin tourist site in the southern districts” Khan said. 
He added that the KP government had sought financing of more than Rs12 billion from the World Bank for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Integrated Tourism Development Project (KITE) aimed at improving tourism infrastructure, enhancing tourism assets and strengthening the management of tourist destinations. 
“The KITE project will help in promoting sustainable tourism in the province by improving the tourist-destination infrastructures, tourists’ experience, preserve environment and help authorities in better management of visitors,” Khan said. 

Jailed Pashtun lawmakers released after four months in custody

Updated 21 September 2019

Jailed Pashtun lawmakers released after four months in custody

  • Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar were arrested after a deadly clash at a security checkpost in northern Pakistan in May
  • In Twitter post after his release, Dawar thanked Bilawal Bhutto for support; said allegations of violence were “most hurtful”

PESHAWAR: After months of detention, two Pakistani parliamentarians from South and North Waziristan were released two days after they received bail in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a senior member of their political party, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), said on Saturday.
The two lawmakers, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, were arrested alongside several members of the PTM following a deadly clash between troops and party supporters at the Khar Qamar checkpost in North Waziristan tribal district in May, where 13 people were killed.
“Justice has won and it is proved that Wazir and Dawar were innocent. Both the members (of the) National Assembly are among us and our constitutional and peaceful struggle will get fresh momentum,” Abdullah Nangyal, a senior leader of the PTM, told Arab News.
He said that hundreds of PTM supporters greeted the two lawmakers when they came out of the high-security Haripur prison after midnight on Saturday.
“The release of the MNAs had to be delayed for hours because of submitting legal documents and furnishing surety bonds,” Nangyal said.

From right, lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, leader of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Manzoor Pashteen, PTM leader Abdullah Nangyal and lawmaker Ali Wazir in a car heading to the provicial capital Peshawar after the release of the two lawmakers from a jail on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Photo: Social Media)

Soon after their release, both parliamentarians drove straight to the provincial capital of Peshawar alongside supporters, from where it is expected they will travel onwards to their home constituencies in North and South Waziristan.
After his release from jail, lawmaker Mohsin Dawar said in a series of Twitter posts that the “allegation of violence against us preachers of non-violence,” was the most “hurtful in all this.”
“I would like to thank all of those who raised their voice for our release. There are too many names, but one that I must mention is @BBhuttoZardari for his unwavering support both in & out of parliament,” he tweeted.
Headed by Justice Nasir Mehfooz, the Bannu bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Wednesday had conditionally approved bail applications that said the lawmakers would furnish surety bonds of Rs. 1 million each.
In addition, the court barred the parliamentarians from leaving the country, and directed them to appear before district police officers once a month.
Later, in a detailed verdict, the bench stated that the bail was granted only for a period of one month, and would be subject to conditions of “good behavior.” Before the expiry of that period, both men would need to file fresh bail applications in the PHC.
Separately, the two lawmakers were also named in a case lodged on June 7 at a police station in Bannu, after an IED explosion in Doga Macha in North Waziristan tribal district, left four army officers martyred. Wazir and Dawar were already in custody at the time of the IED blast and received bail in the Doga Macha case last month by an anti-terrorism court.