The ‘gold star’ for perverse optimism should surely be awarded to the Minister for Education and Tourism, Mr Rana Mashood Ahmed Khan, who, flying straight in the face of current reality, is going all out - or so he says - to promote international tourism right here in the so-called ‘land of the pure’.

In addressing the high-ups of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) recently, Mr Khan instructed that they follow the Thai and French models of tourism development,  promote pilgrimages to Buddhist sites such as Taxila, train guides to take tourists to neglected historical sites in Cholistan, launch upgraded travel agency courses, hold an International Tourism Expo in Lahore, brush up on archaeological matters and - this one makes perfect sense - introduce articles and picture stories of historical sites in the Punjab into the curriculum from Class 1 to Class 8 of all schools in the province that might - this is not quite beyond the realms of possibility - instil at least a modicum of cultural understanding and acceptance of now sadly lacking religious harmony into young minds that are, for a wide variety of reasons, currently shockingly narrow indeed.

Pakistan is, from north to south and east to west, a fascinating melting pot of customs and culture, and, no doubt about it, from spectacular mountain scenery in the north right down through the rolling lure of the plains, the harsh beauty of deserts and the marvellous beaches of the Makran coastline in Balochistan - the country has all the scenic splendour that international travellers desire. But the well intentioned minister would appear, in his enthusiasm, to have overlooked the most important fact of all, which is, quite simply, that ‘looks are not enough’. 

There are various ‘classes’ of international tourists and, presumably, Mr Khan dreams of boosting what can only be described as a miserably ‘failed’ industry back into financial orbit. But the stark reality is, sadly, moneyed tourists are not going to add Pakistan to their agenda of holiday destinations anytime in the foreseeable future as, unlike intrepid mountaineers who can and have been shot at and killed here, and very unlike the passing through hippies of the 1960s and 1970s who - until Russia stopped their road to India via Afghanistan - were more than happy to while away time camping out in places such as Swat, the majority of today’s  international ‘explorers’ expect - make that ‘demand’ - certain facilities and freedoms that are certainly not available here.

They desire, for example, a decent range of resort hotels and up-market guesthouses in which, aside from everything being in working order, there are facilities such as swimming pools, evening entertainment and - this is of prime importance to international holidaymakers - alcoholic beverages to indulge in as they relax to watch the sun go down and the moon rise over Rakaposhi or wherever and this, unless the law of the land catches up with modernity, or even with the Gulf States, they simply cannot have.

They also require - nay expect - to be treated as the human beings they are rather than be stared at, jostled and otherwise hassled if they are intrepid enough to explore places such as bazaars or if they dare to indulge in a day on the beach. However, given the currently prevailing mindset and rapidly deteriorating social structure, none of these requirements are likely to be met. Quite the opposite in fact and especially so if they are unfortunate enough to be mistaken for - or actually are - American citizens in which case they would not, unless they have an impenetrable ring of security 24/7, be safe to so much as sneeze and, as for foreign women daring to don ‘beach ware’ or even fashionable hot weather gear, forget it!

Then, as if all of the aforementioned was not enough, there is the question of public transport and no, this cannot, just in case Mr Khan has thought of it, be overcome by the rapid introduction of fleet of luxury buses to whisk tourists from point A directly to point B with a brief detour to a point of historical interest along the way.

Affluent tourists expect, unless they have undertaken a ‘special interest’ holiday only, to be able to do things like hop in a reliable cab, a clean one with air conditioning and a polite driver, who can actually drive without frightening them to death, to take them to destinations of their own choosing, destinations where the fear of being robbed or kidnapped is not on the agenda. But again, unfortunately yet true to say, none of this can be even remotely guaranteed right now or, truth being harsh, for the next few years at least.

As it stands, Pakistan cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be marketed as an international tourist destination as such. Sure, a certain number of ‘controlled’ and ‘secure’ pilgrimages are already an existing annual event, a goodly number of enthusiastic mountaineers come too as do a very small number - and this is shrinking - of international travellers daring to visit family or friends, but with Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa basically out of bounds, Karachi a city at war and all hell set to spill over the border from Afghanistan when the forces of foreign occupation flee next year, it must be accepted that, with the deepest regrets Mr Khan, the time for ‘copying’ the Thai and French tourist systems is definitely not now!

The writer has authored a book titled “The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War” and lives in Bhurban.