GILGIT: The federal interior ministry has imposed a ban on visits of foreign tourists to Gilgit-Baltistan without obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the ministry in Islamabad.
A letter recently sent by the ministry to the Gilgit-Baltistan government says that it has been reported that foreigners are frequently visiting Gilgit-Baltistan without obtaining an NOC or security clearance from the ministry, which is against the rules.
The letter asks the authorities concerned to take concrete measures to curb the practice.
Reacting to the development, the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators (PATO) has said the move is tantamount to the “economic murder” of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Talking to Dawn, PATO joint secretary Muhammad Ali said the imposition of the ban would adversely affect the tourism industry in the region.
“Seventy per cent of GB people depend on tourism to earn a livelihood as there is no other industry in the region. The tourism industry in the region has already been destroyed after the situation unfolding in South Asia in the wake of 9/11,” he said. “The industry has also been damaged because of operations against terrorists in the north of Pakistan and the Nanga Parbat massacre of 2012,” he said.
Mr Ali said there was no precedent for foreigners to obtain an NOC for visiting tourist points after getting visas.
“Tour operators face difficulties in obtaining visas for foreign tourists. The condition of an NOC would discourage foreigners from visiting GB,” he said.
Mr Ali said that the move would move would also tarnish Pakistan’s image abroad.
Former PATO president Amjad Ayub said it took foreign tourists two or three months to obtain Pakistan’s visa and they were issued visa only after getting NOC from the interior ministry. He warned that further restrictions would deter foreign tourists from visiting Pakistan and ultimately they would cancel their plans to visit the country.
Mr Ayub said that foreign tourists visited the country to enjoy their holidays and they would be irked by such restrictions.
After getting Pakistan’s visa, foreign tourists were not required to get NOC for visiting a particular part of the country, he said and added that restrictions on foreigners’ visit to GB were injustice with the local people.
“Tourists visiting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh are not required to get NOC, then why for GB,” he asked.
Tourism in the region could not thrive on domestic tourists, Mr Ayub said.
PATO President Irfanullah Baig said the association would take up the issue with the authorities concerned and called upon the federal government to rescind the decision.
Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2017