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Pak plays tourism card

world Updated: Jan 28, 2012 23:33 IST

Now better known for its regular suicide bombings and as a haven for the world's most-wanted terrorists, Pakistan hardly qualifies as a favourite tourist destination. But that doesn't mean that Pakistani authorities have given up on luring foreign visitors. Pakistan possesses plenty of potential tourist draws, from prime examples of Mughal and Buddhist architecture to some of the world's highest mountains, but in recent years convincing foreigners to come visit Pakistan's wonders has been an uphill battle.

If a raging Taliban insurgency wasn't enough to deter would-be tourists, the revelation last May that Bin Laden had been living for years in one of the country's resort towns achieved to convince even intrepid travelers to stay home.

"Tourism is next to nil," Mehr Tarar, a columnist for Pakistan's Daily Times, wrote this week. "To tempt people from any country to visit Pakistan would be more difficult today than to outline a workable peace plan between Palestine and Israel."

Still, local tourism officials are trying but their efforts sometimes border on the delusional or the pathetic.

This past summer Karachi's chamber of commerce organized an event to attract foreigners titled "My Karachi: an Oasis of Harmony" during that city's deadliest violence spree on record. Last winter the owners of Pakistan's only skiing resort declared it reopened years after the Taliban had destroyed the resort's only hotel and chairlift. The problem? The hotel and chairlift are still in ruins, and skiers were forced to carry their skis uphill before hitting the slopes.

Other times the timing was not quite right. Pakistan's government declared 2007 the "Visit Pakistan Year," but that year also happened to be the birth year of the Pakistani Taliban, a group that has claimed responsibility for nearly every bombing that has taken place in the country since then.

After a decentralization process that was carried out last year, Pakistan's tourism ministry was dissolved and the responsibility for tourism promotion was devolved to the provincial governments.

Armed with some of the country's most spectacular scenery, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province — formerly known as North-West Frontier Province — has decided to forge ahead with aggressive tourism promotion.

At the end of last year, the province announced plans to revive a steam train between the province's capital Peshawar and the Khyber Pass on the Afghan border.

Earlier this month, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa participated in the International Tourism Fair in Madrid, the first Pakistani presence at the fair in more than a decade. Also, this week Peshawar's chamber of commerce issued a blueprint to revive the province's tourism sector.

Whether any of these efforts will pan out remains to be seen. Locals bemoan that most foreign tourists go back home unharmed, but country’s reputation for violence still looms large.

In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post