Pakistan’s federal minister for tourism: Right man for the right job – by Irfan Hussain

I became convinced that Asif Zardari had a sense of humour when I first learned of the appointment of Maulana Attaur Rehman as the federal minister for tourism. Who better than this bearded, rotund cleric as the face of Pakistan to attract tourists to our shores?

My conviction that this was truly an inspired choice was confirmed when this newspaper reported on the good maulana`s latest utterances a few days ago. At a recent gathering in Akora Khattak, he said:

“Ulema [clerics] and the Taliban are the true followers of Islamic ideology and America is the biggest terrorist of the world, which is creating hatred against them [the ulema and the Taliban]. US and the world should give equal rights and respect to the Muslims, or terrorism will continue… It is a misconception that ulema and the Taliban are against coexistence of people with different religions. In fact it is America which is against interfaith harmony to maintain its hegemony over the world.”

I`m glad the minister has openly and clearly stated that Pakistan`s religious parties and their supporters are on the same wavelength as the Taliban. No doubt he supports the Taliban`s Stone Age policies while they were in power: executions, floggings and amputations were among the public entertainment Mullah Omar and his gang provided the Afghans.

What they did not provide was education for girls or progress of any kind. Indeed, women were locked up out of sight, and men`s beards were measured for correct length. Having less facial hair than the prescribed length was a serious offence. Pastimes like flying kites or playing chess were naturally banned, as were music and movies.

This, then, is the `Islamic ideology` of the Taliban. So what does that make the millions of Muslims around the world who utterly rejected this barbaric system? Lesser Muslims, or even non-Muslims, in the eyes of the maulana, no doubt. Fortunately for us, Attaur Rehman`s portfolio was split up to accommodate another minister in this bloated cabinet, otherwise he would have been in charge of culture as well. Given his admiration of the Taliban, I can easily imagine him ordering the destruction of the thousands of splendid statues in museums and archaeological sites around the country.

This, of course, would have mimicked the wanton destruction of the famous giant statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2000. When Mullah Omar ordered this act of cultural and religious desecration, the whole world united in condemning it. In fact, this one show of ignorance and insensitivity lost the Taliban regime any residual sympathy, so when they were thrown out of Kabul in the wake of 9/11, no tears were shed for them.

The second part of the minister`s rant referred to the Americans. When he demanded that America and the world should give equal rights to Muslims, he was probably unaware that Muslims living in the West enjoy more rights than they do in their own countries. Which is one reason they migrate, legally or illegally, whenever they get an opportunity.

And when the maulana said that it is a “misconception that the ulema and the Taliban are against coexistence of people with different religions”, he should tell that to Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. Or to her family that has had to go into hiding after being threatened with death by local clerics.

Considering that this government is allied with, and dependent on, the United States, it is slightly odd for a cabinet minister to denounce America as “the biggest terrorist of the world”. While this could be his personal view, the public statements of sitting ministers are subjected to greater scrutiny than the ravings of some lone nut out there. Normally, if the public views of a minister are so far out of sync with government policy, he is asked to resign. But as far as I can detect, Zardari and his prime minister show no embarrassment at all over this outburst. I wonder what the newly arrived American ambassador makes of it.

When I looked up Attaur Rehman on the government website, I discovered that last May, he had attended the regional conference of UNWTO in Hanoi.

At this gathering of tourism ministers, travel agents and tour operators, he complained that the world media gave a wrong impression of Pakistan through its `travel advisories`. Actually, it is foreign governments that issue these warnings to their citizens in respect of countries where they could be at risk.

But does he really think the foreign media gives the wrong impression of Pakistan as one of the most dangerous places in the world for outsiders? Considering the daily mayhem we face, as well as the deadly suicide bombings of embassies and hotels that have killed so many foreigners, surely the advisories are based on a grim reality.I suspect the maulana`s mediaeval figure at the conference must have confirmed everybody`s worst fears about Pakistan. Once again, I must congratulate Zardari for unerringly picking the right man for the right job. Perhaps he should be given the additional portfolio of culture as well.

Seriously, though, why do we need a tourism ministry at all, apart from giving the job to somebody like Attaur Rehman? We are kidding ourselves if we think that this ministry can or does anything to attract foreign tourists to our country.

The only foreigners who write `tourism` as the purpose of their visit on their visa applications these days probably come to Pakistan for a few weeks of training in the terrorist camps in the tribal areas. Or they arrive on one-way tickets to enrol for a short course in suicide bombing. For these tourists, the maulana is an ideal recommendation.

The tourism minister`s recent utterances simply confirm the deeply schizophrenic country Pakistan has become. We send out simultaneous signals of modernity and mediaevalism, but at the end of the day, the latter drowns out the former.

The anti-West, pro-Taliban sentiment is the abiding image the rest of the world has of Pakistan. And as long as people like Attaur Rehman drive the national agenda, politicians like Zardari and Gilani will continue to cave in.

Source: Dawn, 27 Nov 2010



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