The World Bank has shown interest in helping Pakistan promote religious tourism in the country and has said the potential for cultural and heritage tourism linked to Sikhism remains unexploited. While this is true, tourism as a whole is not a sector the government has been able to develop. While there is huge scope for Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus to visit Pakistan, we also have beautiful Islamic monuments and relics, which are neglected and could turn Pakistan into a cultural tourist destination.

A World Bank mission is scheduled to visit Islamabad and Lahore next month to discuss details for a 60 million dollar project with the help of public-private partnerships. If all goes well hundreds of thousands of Sikh, Buddhist and Hindus may start visiting Pakistan on a regular basis. Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora, first elected Sikh member of the Punjab Assembly, has said that the project will boost the local hotel industry, and thus have a spillover effect in other sectors. This may also help ease tensions with minorities, and create space for them to protect their religion and relics. Currently 20,000 to 25,000 Sikh pilgrims visit the country annually. These numbers would be much higher was it not for our security situation. Pakistan is a holy destination for Sikhs, and in light of this project it is hoped that the state makes sure that we send out a signal that we wholly support pilgrims and tourists that want to visit these sites.

This kind of tourism has been beneficial for several countries. Saudi Arabia in the 1960s did not have a huge infrastructural system but they realised that without uplifting the country’s religious tourism industry they would not be able to turn themselves into a regional power. This kind of tourism will open up avenues for us to explore other sites that have been neglected due to lack of interest or funds, as well as preserve them.