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Pakistan’s International Gandhara Symposium | Buddhist Tourism

July 18, 2023

The first worldwide “Gandhara symposium” was conducted in Pakistan’s federal capital of Islamabad, which has created enormous prospects for the country to both increase Buddhist tourism and improve its international reputation.

At the same time, though, it is essential to fix the problems that have contributed to the widespread bad perception of the country.

Senior monks and scholars from numerous Buddhist countries, including Myanmar and Vietnam, where not only Pakistan but also the Muslims were experiencing image problem, deemed the symposium a huge success.

In light of the dignitaries’ recommendations, Pakistan is likely to create a Gandhara Cultural Authority to remove obstacles to the global dissemination of Gandharan culture.

Religious leaders from other countries have urged the government to broaden its marketing efforts outside the Buddhist community.

Attending scholars and religious leaders expressed a desire for the effort to be expanded to include non-Buddhist visitors interested in learning more about the ancient Gandhara culture.

One of the most frequently asked questions was, “Why do terrorists re-emerge in Pakistan and why do they attack places of worship?”

However, the organizers and even the officials there mostly disregarded such questions.

Honorary rector of the World Buddhist University in Thailand and Buddhist scholar Anil Sakya has advocated for a change in Pakistan’s security approach.

“I am a man of peace and talk of peace for all,” he said, “but during my last visit to Pakistan I was photographed with two guns.” He went on to say that the authorities needed to implement “soft security,” in which firearms are kept concealed but are ready to be deployed in an emergency.

One of the major gaps in the country’s efforts to develop and promote tourism was the absence of institutional support for foreign visitors.

High priest and director of Seoul’s Central Buddhist Museum Dr. Mee Deung has voiced worry about the difficulty of acquiring a visa to enter Pakistan.

He advocated for the opening of further Gandhara sites to scholarly investigation.

Mee Deung, M.D.

Dr. Deung, who was visiting Pakistan for the first time, claimed that his initial opinion of the country was the same as everybody else’s, but that his initial view was quickly replaced by overwhelming emotion after he visited the holy sites and saw the original relics.

He remarked, “My heart was pumping out and my mind went back to history as I saw the stones and rocks that host the roots of Buddhism,” and went on to say, “But Pakistan has to map these places properly with historic references and conduct studies with the help of experts belonging to the Buddhist world.”

Only Korea is responsible for the preservation and protection of Gandhara at 31 sites (15 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 16 in Taxila at the moment). Although the project is now set to conclude in 2025, it is expected that GB will be incorporated within the subsequent five-year extension (until 2030) planned by Korean officials.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Dawn, Dr. Ramesh Vankwani, head of the PM’s task force on Gandhara tourism, revealed that a draft of the ‘Gandhara Cultural Authority’ had been produced based on the input and feedback of the participants.

After receiving the prime minister’s initial approval, Dr. Vankwani said, the document would be given to the law division for review.

The proposed authority’s primary responsibility will be to reach out to academic institutions and cultural organizations all over the world in an effort to boost funding for studies of the ancient Gandharan civilization.

“Western universities and archaeology departments are interested in getting knowledge of this ancient civilisation,” he added. “Gandhara is a combination of both, a seat of great ancient culture and religious and pilgrimage sites for the Buddhists.”

The authority will also be in charge of opening and supervising retail outlets selling museum souvenirs in each gallery.

Dr. Vankwani emphasized the need for a governing body to monitor the production of copies in Pakistan and the sale of only authentic reproductions in gift stores.

To promote Gandhara civilisation and aid tourists, the authority would act as the hub for all inter- and intra-provincial coordination.

There are two major obstacles that could prevent the Prime Minister’s task committee and Dr. Vankwani from realizing their lofty aims of promoting Gandhara culture and Buddhist pilgrimage.

After the 18th amendment, the provinces were given control over all religious and historical sites, and future political disagreements between the federal government and, say, the governments in Punjab or KP could threaten the authority’s ability to do its job.

The demands of Buddhist tourists to build a temple for the monks at any site also pose a significant barrier to the spread of Gandharan culture. This could spark outrage among KP and Taxila’s religious fundamentalists.

Our Featured Article:

Read More: Reviving the Past | Gandhara Journey from Antiquity to Modernit

Read More: Setting up of Gandhara Cultural Authority on the Cards

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