Ninety per cent of Gandhara sites in the country are located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The soon-to-be-introduced “Gandhara Corridor Bill 2024” in the NA is seen as a blatant attempt to capture KP’s resources. The province is rich in natural and historic resources, with hydroelectric power, mines and minerals, and tourism ranking highly in generating income for the province.

Though KP has repeatedly been urging the centre to release its royalty on net hydel profit and natural gas royalty, amounting to billions in unpaid dues, the latest assault on its resources comes from the aforementioned bill set to be tabled in the National Assembly.

The bill is craftily designed to appropriate remnants of KP’s Gandhara Civilisation and divert the profits from KP’s Buddhist religious tourism to the centre.

The proponent of the bill is Mr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, an MNA from Sindh, who made a similar attempt in the past that was rejected by the Senate Standing Committee on National Heritage and Culture.

Last year, he introduced the Gandhara Cultural Authority Act, 2023, which was deferred by the standing committee. Now, he has reintroduced a similar bill, this time with the deceptive name of “Gandhara Corridor Bill, 2024.” Evidently, he is positioning himself for its chairman’s slot. Is he merely a front man acting at the behest of behind-the-scenes planners? This is the question on everyone’s mind in KP.

Constitutionally, this controversial bill violates the 18th Constitutional Amendment as the subject pertaining to the affairs of ‘Ancient and Historic Monuments, Archaeological Sites, and Remains’ was transferred to respective provinces after the abolition of the concurrent list.

It is also a redundant piece of legislation and directly encroaches upon the province’s institutions and existing laws that govern Gandharan sites in KP.

The proposed bill outlines the acquisition of property, both movable and immovable, containing Gandharan remains in the possession of KP. Financial earnings from KP’s sites, as well as grants and donor funding, are mandated to be deposited into the Gandhara Corridor Account, according to the proposed legislation.

The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), a federal body, was bypassed and not consulted regarding the proposed law. The PTDC is mandated to support and facilitate the provinces under its charter.

By establishing a parallel organisation within the federal government, this bill, after enactment, shall render the PTDC’s role useless, stifling its existence.

Instead, efforts should be made to open a religious tourism facilitation centre inside the PTDC for international tourists coming to Pakistan. Assisting them with NOCs will help market Pakistan as a destination for religious tourism internationally more effectively.

The chief minister of KP has vehemently opposed the bill and condemned its contents in the strongest terms. A cross-section of politicians from various parties in the province and heritage experts have also criticised it in unison. Legal experts from KP have insisted that the bill is flawed.

— The writer is a tourism expert based in Peshawar. alijan98@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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