THE PAF-hosted Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup currently under way in the snowy area of Naltar is ample proof of what Pakistan has been missing out on all these years: an opportunity to host international competitions and draw in both goodwill and revenue.
Skiers from 13 countries — from Europe, Asia and Africa — are participating. The event clearly shows the immense potential Pakistan’s north has when it comes to winter sports. In fact, Naltar, also hosted the country’s first ice hockey match last December between the PAF and Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts.
This potential must be encouraged in every possible way, and winter sports facilities developed wherever possible.
In the past, there have been threats, such as the attack on the Malam Jabba ski resort. But with terrorism having been contained to a large extent, the focus must now be on attracting tourists.
No doubt, the government’s recent move to grant visa on arrival to several countries and easing restrictions on movement will help in this regard. In encouraging winter sports — for both international and domestic enthusiasts — there will also be the added bonus of projecting Pakistan’s ‘soft’ image, which for long has been tarnished as the country was seen as a hub of militancy.
The winter sports economy in many countries draws in billions in tourist revenue. It would be of benefit to our rulers to make a serious study of how potential can be developed and the local industry boosted and employment generated in areas where otherwise people know only hardship, especially in the harsh winter months.
Unfortunately, the failure to develop Pakistan’s overall tourism prospects has been striking. In a country with both coast and mountains, there was much that could have been done to encourage sporting pursuits and further develop existing ones, such as mountaineering. This would attract both international and local tourists.
It is still not too late. Focusing on winter sports is a good start and the Naltar experience has been a positive one.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2019