IN Islamabad, it can be difficult to distinguish between foreign tourists and other foreigners and visitors. Sometimes, people who look Pakistani may actually be foreigners, perhaps of Pakistani decent.
At other times, a foreign-looking man or woman may be a Westerner having a job and living in the city.
There are hundreds if not thousands of foreigners in the United Nations, in the embassies, international NGOs and foreign companies. Some retired foreigners, perhaps married or widowed, with young descendants, also live in the city.
In summer, foreigners and locals alike get relatives and friends visiting from far and near. They are summer guests and at least some of them can be called tourists.
“That also goes for foreigners who stay on after conferences and official meetings,” a European diplomat says. “But there are not so many conferences in the summer,” he adds. “The rest of the year, Islamabad is a popular conference city, surprising many with its peaceful and friendly atmosphere, and excellent conference hotels.”
There is another group of ‘half-tourists’, too, namely the overseas Pakistanis who come on home leave to visit families and friends. But what about Pakistani emigrants who have lived in another country for two or three generations? “I feel a bit like a tourist in Pakistan although I am here partly for business and partly for family visits,” Munawar Nabi says.
“My parents emigrated to Norway in 1972, and I was born in the new land, and so was my wife Shakila,” he adds.
“Now we are back in Islamabad for summer holidays where we stay at a friend’s house in the capital. He is an accountant and I am in the same field in Norway. Our children, who are soon becoming teenagers, take it as a great holiday time. Our youngest boy, who is just 2 years old, has no sense of it all, of course, but he seems to enjoy the heat more than the rest of us.”
“We went to Gujrat to visit my father’s aunt last week,” Ismail (10) says.
“We only have her and one other close relative in Pakistan,” the sister Wania (12) adds.
“I still feel that there is something special about Pakistan. It is the country closest to me save for Norway. But in the end, I am very much Norwegian. That is where I have grown up and have my friends. That is home to me,” Wania says with quite a bit of self-confidence, and her brother agrees.
“We all observe roza (fast). The children are quite adamant about it although they are young and don’t really have to do it yet,” the mother, Shakila, says. She is a team leader in the social service department in Oslo City Council. “The family has found a practical way to fast,” she explains.
“Since we are on holiday, we can schedule our time as we want, so we go to bed after Sehri and get up about mid-day, or even later. Then the hours of fasting seem much shorter, and we can all manage it.”
“We enjoy Iftar. It is a feast every day,” Wania adds, and her brother says that later at night they sometimes go for a pizza to the nearest market.
“Yes, too much pizza,” the father says. “But there is nothing we can do about it. A more sober lifestyle will return soon enough when we are back in Oslo, with school and work.”
“Islamabad is an excellent place to visit for tourists. Unfortunately, both guests and foreigners are worried about their security,” Ingeborg Breines says. She is a Norwegian and was earlier Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO) in Pakistan.
“I visited all the historical sites on the World Heritage list during my time in Pakistan, such as the Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens, and the Mohenjodaro Ruins. Taxila Museum is excellent for a day-trip from Islamabad, and so is the Takht-i-Bahi and Sahr-i-Bakol in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” she adds enthusiastically.
“European tourists and other visitors will be fascinated by the colours they see, the music they hear and the exotic markets in Pakistan,” she adds.
“Visitors don’t have to go to Swat or the Northern Areas, but if they can and choose the right season, they will never forget the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people,” Ingeborg Breines says, now retired in the beautiful land of Norway.
Adil Zaidi and Rehmat Niazi in Pakistan Tourism Development Authority (PTDA) are more cautious. They say Islamabad is a very safe city, even compared to other capitals in the world, but foreigners don’t know that.
However, the host country is also concerned about the security of visitors and would be careful ‘letting them loose’. “Incidents would worsen the country’s image. Instead, we focus on domestic tourism, but also on special packages for foreigners,” a PTDA official says.
“For all visitors to Islamabad, there is plenty to see,” he said, listing attractions such as Lok Virsa Folk &Traditional Heritage Museum and Faisal Mosque. “In summer, one can cool down in the Margalla Hills or in the nearby Murree Hill Station, as the Brits called it,” Adil Zaidi says.
Their retired PTDA colleague from Kashmir, Masood Satti, adds that his valley is beautiful and there is great potential for tourism. “It is just four or five hours’ drive to Muzaffarabad, the main city in Kashmir. Two days is the minimum time for a Kashmir visit,” he underlines.
Rehmat Niazi underlines that there are many specialised forms of tourism too, which are doing well, and he mentions various religious groups visiting Islamabad from within Pakistan and abroad.
And just as he has mentioned these positive aspects, a large group of South Korean tourists walk into the Pearl Continental Hotel in Rawalpindi.
“We will be in Pakistan for about ten days, and the first impression is really positive,” explains Kang Wook Ja and her husband Hwang Seon Do.
“We have been looking forward to this packaged tour for a long time and we are very excited about it. We will travel to several cities and even go up to the Northern Areas,” says the friendly Korean couple as they enjoy the welcome mango drinks in the five star hotel lobby.