ISLAMABAD: A private member bill was submitted to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking to establish the ‘Gandhara Corridor’ to link Pakistan with the Buddhist-majority countries in the region.

The bill was introduced by Hindu lawmaker Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani and its draft was submitted to the secretary of the National Assembly Secretariat under Rule 118 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly 2007.

“This act aims to encourage uniformity of approach among all branches of government and stakeholders for transforming Pakistan into a most favourite pilgrimage destination and an international hub of Gandhara tourism,” the proposed bill stated.

It also calls for establishing a high-level statuary body to ensure that due facilitation support at the federal level must be provided to provinces and administrative units for pursuing a “common national cause of promoting international pilgrimage/faith tourism through a systematic promotion of the Gandhara region”.

According to the bill, the corridor will be headed by the chairperson to be appointed by the prime minister, whereas the head office of the corridor shall be in Islamabad. However, it may set up sub-offices or representative offices at other places in Pakistan as it may deem appropriate.

Dr Ramesh Vankwani, in the statement of objects and reasons, took the stance that under Article 40 of the Constitution, the state shall foster goodwill and friendly relations among all nations as well as support the common interests of the peoples, including of Asia.

“Establishing the Gandhara Corridor would be a game changer…for connecting Pakistan with the Buddhist world,” he stated, stressing that the systematic arrival of international pilgrims would promote the economy and strengthen diplomatic ties with Asian countries.

According to Dr Vankwani, the 2,500-year ancient Gandhara civilization, belonging to the northern part of present-day Pakistan, reflects Buddhism’s glorious past in our region. “Today, over 7% of the world population (approximately 520 million people) is composed of Buddhists. Several Pakistan-friendly Asian countries including Japan, Koreas, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bhutan, Laos, and Mongolia are having large Buddhist populations,” he expressed.

“The Gandhara Corridor may in the performance of its functions seek assistance or facilitation of any office, authority or agency working under the federal government, a provincial government or a local government or of a representative designated by the provinces and territories. In this regard, provinces and territories may appoint a representative/focal person to provide liaison and assist the corridor in performance of its functions under this act,” the bill stated.

Gandhara Corridor aims to conduct research and analysis, enhance capacity, develop policy, and strategies, advise various branches of the government, foreign missions, academia, and professionals, facilitate the private sector, mobilise media, cultivate awareness and responsibility and help build capacity as individuals, establish partnerships with stakeholders and collaborations with national and international organisations for promoting Gandhara historical sites. It will also attract international pilgrims, including Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, belonging to various countries in the best interest of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

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