In response to the Interior Ministry imposing a strict requirement that foreign tourists obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) before visiting Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the Chief Minister of the region, Hafizur Rehman has approached ministry to protest a move that would “seriously damage” the province. Other individuals and organisations have shared his concern, and it is easy to see why; 70% of the people of GB depend on tourism as their source of income in the absence of any other major industry in the land. Putting fetters on growing international tourism puts those livelihoods in jeopardy.

The Interior Ministry’s reasons for reaffirming this ban are ill-defined and disproportionate. “National security” has been cited once more as a catch all without really making clear what the threats to security are. Furthermore, the requirement that the tourists obtain a separate NOC is duplication of efforts. While issuing visas all applicants are vetted and their destinations questioned and catalogued. If there is to be screening of individuals based on the fact that they aim to visits GB, it should be done in the visa application process and not afterwards in a separate and convoluted manner. Not only are government resources being wasted, but the time-consuming and uncertain nature of the NOC issuance process makes visits by foreign tourists to GB less likely.

The GB Chief Minister is right to protest this move strongly as it adversely affects the region. The Interior Ministry must realise that GB is one of the premier locations in Pakistan that draw international tourism and it should be making access to it easier not harder. Even when the Afghan conflict and the military operations were in full swing, a steady stream of foreign tourists still visited GB. Now with new roads and facilities being constructed under the China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) these numbers are set to increase. The government must immediately remove these fetters and allow tourism to flourish, and perhaps it can spread to other regions too.