Why Pakistan’s tourist spots are facing an onslaught

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That the magic was sprayed in a garish mix of chemical-laden paint all over the boundary walls of the winding main highways impressed no one. Some sharp-eyed tourists first reported this to the media, then it was followed by a local who filed an official request to register cases against these “killer” natural beauties.

The voice quickly echoed around the world of expert explorers who added to its tone and eventually forced the local administration to tear down the eye sores. A success story means something in the larger context of practical vandalism of nature’s gifts. Wherever you go, you are greeted by towering billboards blocking your view of the resplendent surroundings.

Telcos that are in a mad rush to somehow capture the remaining parts of a saturated market are most offensive by posting their packages on every other prominent rock. The rest of the space is taken up by the corporate sector – either by promoting soft drinks or by nibbling at items that are available at low prices but are advertised using and exploiting an extremely precious.

Local businesses are not far behind and they use a real license to be indigenous to go kill. The towers, boards, billboards, graffiti and billboards together form a horrendous visual polluter that spans major tourist spots in Pakistan. This goes hand in hand with land encroachments along rivers and streams or strategic points where visitors often stop and refresh to continue their journey.

This government is committed to developing tourism and inviting more foreigners to come and see and savor the enormous beauty of the country. But much of that effort is centered around building infrastructure and creating a more enjoyable narrative through broachers and high-end events, like ski competitions. Dealing with visual pollution is not really an idea that has clung to the upper echelons of power and politics.

Ironically, the promotion of tourism is exactly the kind of pressure locals are complaining about because it creates more space to hang posters and banners in the name of “marketing”. This is indeed a difficult balancing act: for Pakistani tourism to live up to its potential and achieve the kind of business miracle that the Pakistani economy needs, these regions must be open to take care of facilities such as lodging, lodging and picnics.

This itself is loaded with publicity stunts of the kind that ruin the environment and strain the eyes. Local people in these areas are also caught in the same dilemma. They want to make money but the cost that comes with it – unbridled displays of goods and services all around that destroy their peace of mind and make them feel alienated from the paradise habitat they are used to living in.

Often these internal frictions create violence. For example, over the past two years, tourism in Pakistan’s most visited hill station, Murree, in the sub-Himalayan region, has declined due to frequent clashes between locals and visitors who are accused of be callous and rapacious in their rejoicings.

But as incomes dwindled, locals again launched a concerted campaign to attract outsiders and rebuild their image of hospitality. There seems to be no easy solution to this swing of anger and invitation, tourism promotion and environmental destruction.

Perhaps recent events in the north can spark a serious debate in Islamabad and the related provincial capital over the management of both ends of the spectrum. The country can neither be left at the mercy of ruthless profiteers nor be allowed to keep its major tourist spots out of reach of outsiders.

— Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain1

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