MIRPUR (AJK)-AJK Sardar Masood Khan said here on Saturday that the government was focusing on economic development with emphasis on promoting and developing the tourism industry in AJK.

The president expressed these views while inaugurating a three-day grand tourism gala – the ‘Summer Tourism Festival 2018’ hosted by AJK Tourism Department in Mirpur.

On the occasion, the students of the Government Model School Mirpur welcomed the president with a well-rehearsed march-past. The school band also played the national anthem and tunes from various national songs for the audience. The students of Zobia School for Special Children Mirpur also presented a tableau.

The president visited the stalls set up by various departments of the AJK government, private entities and tour operators alike. The other stalls also displayed books, artifacts, exhibits, local products and traditional foods.

The president said that Azad Kashmir is beautiful area that has huge potential for tourism as it possesses varied landscape and climate. He said that the tourism festival is the first of its kind organised in the southern regions of Azad Kashmir. The president added that areas of Mirpur and Bhimbar are tourist destinations in both summers and winters.

He said that AJK has many historical and religious sites like Sufi shrines, forts and archeological sites. He said forts dating back to the Mughal, Sikh, and Dogra rule include Baghsar Fort, Ramkot Fort, Muzaffarabad Fort and Mangla Fort. These sites he said are not only tourist attractions but also a source of knowledge for researchers studying ancient civilizations, he said.

The president said that AJK is at the cusp of an economic revolution and the government is focusing on infrastructure development throughout its regions. He said that the government’s priority is construction of new roads, energy production, development of industry, universal access to health and modernising the agriculture sector. This development, he said, would direct and indirectly affect the tourism industry in AJK.

He also said that a 200-kilometer tourism corridor will also be established which will pass through tourist destinations like Chakar, Sudhan Gali, Haji Pir, Lasdanna, Toli Pir and Banjosa. This corridor will promote tourism and will have quality facilities to cater to the growing number of tourists, he said.

Masood said that Mirpur being the first planned city of Azad Kashmir will play an important role in the development process as under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor a Special Economic Zone will be set up which will be connected to main CPEC route via the Mansehra-Muzaffarabad-Mirpur Expressway.

Next year, Mirpur will see a huge influx of foreign investors and tourists alike, he said. The president informed the crowd that the Pearl Continental Hotel group will soon complete a modern luxury hotel in Mirpur overlooking the Mangla Dam reservoir, which their management claims would be the best in the country.

He urged the promotion of water and adventure sports like jet skiing, paragliding, boating, parasailing and scuba diving. He said that the nowadays tourist look for such activities other than the normal site seeing activities.

He also highlighted the deplorable human right situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. He said that our Kashmiri brothers and sisters are living their in virtual imprisonment where every day they are being killed, maimed, incarcerated and dishonored with impunity. “Our foremost duty and responsibility is to raise our voices for innocent Kashmiris living in IOK. We must be their voice as they have been made voiceless. We must let the world know about the atrocities perpetrated by India and bring them to task for their illegal and barbaric occupation in IOK,” he said.

The three-day tourism festival will include performances by paragliders, rowing competitions, tent pegging, horse riding and a traditional cattle show. The event will also host a Sufi Night paying tribute to the great Sufi saint and poet Mian Muhammad Baksh.

The event was attended among others by Raja Mushtaq Minhas, AJK Minister for Information, Tourism and Information Technology; Chaudhry Rukhsar, Member AJK Legislative Assembly; Ms. Midhat Shehzad, Secretary Information, Tourism and Information Technology; Prof. Dr. Habib-ur-Rehman, Vice Chancellor Mirpur University of Science and Technology; Sardar Javed Ayub, DG AJK Tourism Department; Adnan Khurshid, DC Mirpur; Riaz Haider Bukhari, SSP Mirpur; representatives of the civil society, the media, and a large of people from Mirpur, surrounding districts, the whole of AJK and Pakistan.