June 21 - 27, 20

Tourism is an effective way to build up soft image of the country while it significantly contributes towards economic development of any country, said Syed Sultan Hasan, Chief spokesman of Pakistan International Airline in an interview.

Discussing the idea of promoting tourism in Pakistan, Sultan said the national airline is currently engaged in developing innovative offers and attractive packages specifically for tourists within the country as well as abroad to introduce Pakistan's attractive tourist spots at all foreign stations around the world.

Sultan talked about the overwhelming natural beauty of Gilgit and Baltistan and breath-taking scenes there fascinating the visitors. More important thing is the conduct and friendly and accommodating behavior of the native people with the tourists which make one easy with a sense of security and freedom.

In the backdrop of war on terror related violence besides law and order situation in different parts of the country, Gilgit & Baltistan can be described as an island of peace offering a pleasant sight to the souring eyes.

Sultan said that under the dynamic leadership of Capt Ejaz Haroon, MD PIA, the national airline is working for a cultural change within the organisation with a focus to improve consumer services, flight safety, and improved traffic flow to generate revenues. He said that financial constraints are major challenge for the national airline and in order to lend a strong helping hand for financial viability the backlog left by the previous managements in PIA should be shared by the government to support new and innovative ideas and initiatives taken by the present leadership of the airline.

Regarding promotion of tourism with an objective to develop a soft image of the country, the national airline has selected the Gilgit Baltistan as the most attractive tourist spot which enjoys the unique distinction of being the converging point of three of the mightiest mountain ranges of the world including the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. These ranges have many of the world's highest peaks and the world's largest concentration of glaciers outside the Polar Regions. Karakoram's 30 peaks soar over 24,000 feet (7,500 m) and culminate in the 28,350 feet (8,612 m) high K2, second only to Mt. Everest in elevation. Sheer rock walls and ravines, plunging thousands of vertical feet down to the rivers flowing below, mark the scenery.

This astounding landscape is the result of the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian plate in this region about 40 million years ago. The youth of the Gilgit - Baltistan Mountains is reflected in their jagged peaks and continually rising elevations. Nanga Parbat is rising at a geologically dizzying rate of 7 mm per year, which is one of the highest in the world.

These lofty mountains and valleys boast a spectrum of wildlife such as the snow leopard, brown bear, Marco Polo sheep, Himalayan ibex, Astor markhor, golden marmot, woolly flying squirrel and other species, some of which are rare or endangered. Substantial deposits of various minerals and semi-precious stones add to the natural wealth of the region.

The remoteness and limited accessibility of the Gilgit - Baltistan until now have meant that people here have had a high dependence on the natural environment, without access to many modern facilities. Traditional modes of living ensure harmony between the natural environment and human beings. But growing population, greater communication links and infrastructure and developmental interventions are changing traditional lifestyles and increasing the pressure on natural resources.

Amazingly, one of the wonders of modern infrastructure is found precisely in this very tough terrain. The 800 km long Karakoram Highway (KKH) or Shahrah-e-Resham, completed in 1980, starts in the federal capital Islamabad and runs through Kohistan and the Gilgit - Baltistan, past all the way north to the Chinese border at the Khunjerab Top. Most of the way it follows the ancient Silk Route to China and Central Asia. This highway has dramatically opened up the Gilgit - Baltistan, not only facilitating trade and commerce with both down-country Pakistan and China, but also bringing in a greater number of outsiders. The uniqueness of the region still remains, but its inaccessibility is no more.

In addition to the trading importance of Gilgit and its environs, its location at the doorstep of china and central Asia, with Afghanistan and India also close by, makes it a very strategic area culturally and geopolitically. The people of this area not only share the mountainous terrain with their neighbors to the north and west, but also ethnicity, history, religion, culture and languages. Faces in Gilgit reflect the kaleidoscope of ethnic groups that make up the population of the entire Gilgit -Baltistan. Its geopolitical importance was evident during the British ear when the Gilgit Agency was a vital arena in the Great Game politics between Britain and Russia. Today it is still an important strategic link between Pakistan and China and the Muslim countries of Central Asia.

The Valleys and mountains of the Gilgit - Baltistan present exceptional challenges and opportunities. And KIU offers the exciting prospect to explore the opportunities and to find solutions to the challenges of this region.

The Karakaram International University (KIU) located in Gilgit playing a significant role of producing future leaders for all spheres of life yet the young graduates have to build up image of their newly created province as a tourist paradise for the entire world.