PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province will host a conference for Buddhist countries next year in a bid to boost greater religious tourism, a senior official said on Saturday.
Buddhist tourism has an estimated market of 500 million Buddhists across the world, according to the US-based think tank, Pew Research Center. For these Buddhists, Pakistan’s Gandhara region in the country’s northwest, which includes Mardan, Taxila and Swat, holds a special place. Specifically, Korean Buddhists trace their religious origin to the area that is now Pakistan, which was where Korean monk Hyecho traveled 1,300 years ago.
In a brief chat with Arab News, spokesperson for the KP Tourism Corporation, Nisar Muhammad, said the idea for a conference first emerged during a meeting between provincial tourism minister, Atif Khan and South Korean Ambassador to Pakistan, Kwak Sung-Kyu on Friday.
“Though the date has not been specified yet, the conference is expected to be held by the end of January or the start of February next year,” he said.
A statement released by the KP Tourism Corporation said both dignitaries had agreed to set up the Gandhara Research Center in the province with the help of the Korean government.
“KP has more than 2,000 Buddhist historical and sacred sites and the provincial government is taking effective steps to secure and develop these places,” the statement said, and added that Khan’s government had earmarked Rs. 1 billion for the preservation of all archaeological sites including Buddhist holy sites in the province.
Reverend Dr. Neung Hur, a leading Buddhist monk and academic from South Korea, told Arab News he appreciated the KP government’s efforts in planning to host a Buddhist countries’ conference, which would project sacred Buddhist sites to the world and attract more pilgrimages.
“This conference is of paramount importance...(it) intends to promote interfaith harmony and bring followers of different faiths closer,” Dr. Hur said.
Dr. Esther Park, a Korean Buddhist scholar, added that the people of her religious community had matchless regard for the Gandhara region of KP, which had thousands of sacred Buddhist sites.
“We are keenly looking forward to attend this conference,” she told Arab News.
Earlier on Wednesday, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Pakistan, Noordeen Mohamed Shaheid, held a meeting with the Tourism Minister in Peshawar to discuss religious tourism, bilateral relations and investment in various sectors, according to a press release.
On the occasion, Shaheid said 72 percent of the population of Sri Lanka comprised of Buddhists and that a Buddhist delegation would visit Pakistan, especially KP province, early next year.