July 28, 2010

Amid turmoil, Pakistan reaches out to Buddhist tourists

The Guardian's Riazat Butt calls it a case of fiddling while Rome burns: Pakistan reaches out to Buddhists amid allegations that its intelligence service is actively aiding the Taliban while putatively aiding US/Coalition forces in Afghanistan. (The war is of course taking place on Pakistani soil as well, the border region being so nebulous and porous.) UPDATE: A plane crashed in Pakistan today, killing 152 people.)

The outreach to Buddhists is part of an overture to Thailand, which sees a lot of Pakistani tourists but doesn't send tourists back to Pakistan:

Pakistan is seeking to highlight its Buddhist heritage as part of a broader effort to attract more visitors from Thailand and the ASEAN countries. A key objective is to narrow the huge imbalance in visitor arrivals; in 2008, a total of 63,258 Pakistanis visited Thailand but only 2,618 Thais returned the favour. Diplomatic, economic and tourism officials on both sides say stronger bilateral efforts to fix the imbalance are long overdue.

In Bangkok, Pakistani ambassador Sohail Mahmood has organised visits by Thai Buddhist leaders to Pakistan's Buddhist heritage sites, such as Taxila, Takht-i-Bahi and the neighbouring city remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol. Both are among the six Unesco heritage sites in Pakistan.

In Islamabad, Thai Ambassador Marut Jitpatima says he sees huge potential for developing contacts in at least three areas of commerce: gems and jewellery, construction contracts for Pakistan's huge infrastructure needs, and imports of halal food from Thailand.

He said a Pakistani business mission would visit Bangkok from Sept 21-23 for talks with halal food producers, research and standards experts. He said there was huge potential for using Pakistan as a base for exporting Thail halal food to Middle East the Central Asian markets.

Thailand has its own problems with sectarian violence, primarily in the Muslim-majority south, but also in Bangkok.

[Image: Damaged Buddha in Swat Valley, Pakistan]

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