Pakistan, long accused by India of promoting terrorism and violence in Jammu and Kashmir, now seeks to forge a new partnership through tourism and promoting the common food heritage.
Pakistan will soon get to taste traditional Kashmiri wazwan, prepared by chefs from Jammu and Kashmir, at a food festival in Lahore. Pakistan Tourism Minister Neelofer Bakhtiyar, who attended the South Asian Tourism Expo in New Delhi April 19, gave a nod to the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department to hold the food festival.
Stating this, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Minister Mohammed Dilawar Mir, who was also here recently, said here that he also exchanged with Bakhtiyar the idea of striking a tourism partnership.
"We really want to explore such ideas as part of larger India-Pakistan peace process," Mir told the agency. "This is how people-to-people contacts will develop to help in doing away with misperception about each other.
"The Pakistani minister felt that jointly promoting tourism while focussing on Kashmir could have the potential to bridge the divides between the two countries," Mir said.
Bakhtiyar appreciated the initiative to make Pakistanis experience Kashmiri hospitality.
"It is now the (Indian) government to act fast and allow a food festival in Lahore," Mir said.
According to Mir, Bakhtiyar who recently came under fire from Islamic clerics for hugging her French male paragliding coach expressed her desire for a tourism partnership between Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir so that the tourism industry in the state benefited from the Pakistani markets.
Separatist violence in Jammu and Kashmir over the years has given a major blow to the once booming tourism industry although the signs of revival are very visible. The government is endeavouring to reconstruct the shattered tourism infrastructure in Kashmir.
"The mechanism (for the partnership) will be developed soon and we hope the idea takes a practical shape without procedural delay," Mir said.
He felt that the five trade points to be opened along the Line of Control (LoC) that divide Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan could also be used as a tourist gateway.
Despite separatist violence since 1989, Kashmir Valley received around half a million tourists last year, including 20,000 foreigners, according to official figures. Some 43,000 people also toured Buddhist-majority Ladakh.
With restrictions on Pakistani visitors to India, particularly to the Kashmir Valley, they have hardly got to see the picturesque state known for its enchanting beauty.