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Proposed Gandhara Corridor Bill causes rift between Islamabad and KPK

19 April 2024 08:50 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Minorities Lawmaker Offers To Clear Up KP's Confusion On Gandhara BillPakistan's aspirations to become a focal point of Buddhist culture in the sub-continent have encountered a significant obstacle with the introduction of the proposed Gandhara Corridor Bill. Designed to link Pakistan with the Buddhist world and elevate the nation into a pilgrimage destination and international center for Gandhara tourism, the bill has drawn staunch opposition from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Provincial Government. The rift stems from political disparities, with KPK governed by the PTI while the Federal center is led by PML-N.

For a long time, Pakistan has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to become a hub of Buddhist culture in the sub-continent. This is mainly in the form of monuments and artifacts in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Now, for establishing a Gandhara Corridor to connect Pakistan with the Buddhist world and help transform Pakistan into a pilgrimage destination and international hub of Gandhara tourism, the KPK provincial government has objected to a bill introduced in the National Assembly by Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Member, National Assembly from Sindh. The rejection of the bill by the provincial government is because of political differences; KPK is ruled by a PTI-led government, while the Federal center is PML-N led.

The KPK provincial government has expressed strong reservations about the bill, terming it federal overreach. Adviser to KPK Chief Minister on Tourism, Culture, and Archaeology Zahid Chanzeb has rejected the Gandhara Corridor Bill and termed the move as federal overreach and an attack on provincial autonomy. In a statement, Zahid Chanzeb demanded that MNA Ramesh Kumar immediately withdraw his “controversial, unconstitutional, and unethical” bill. Syed Aqil Shah, former KPK Minister of Archaeology and Awami National Party leader also criticized the proposed Bill, declaring it a violation of the 18th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution that guarantees provincial autonomy.

By way of background, it may be mentioned that when the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan was promulgated, a decision was taken to remove the concurrent list from the constitution within ten years of its promulgation, but this could not be implemented. In the 18th amendment, (passed on 8 April 2010) political parties committed to resolving this issue once and for all. Article 142 was amended to transfer the subjects of the concurrent list to the provinces to achieve this objective. This was expected to reduce the sense of deprivation among the people of small provinces, particularly Balochistan.

This is the reason why Zahid Chanzeb claimed that after the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, affairs of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Museums, and Archaeology fell purely under provincial jurisdiction and the province also had the power to legislate or suggest legislation in that regard. He also regretted that Dr. Vankwani had earlier established the Gandhara Culture Authority through the Gandhara Culture Authority Act 2023 adopted during the caretaker administration just prior to the elections, a move he said is unacceptable as it constitutes a serious blow to provincial autonomy. The adviser said 90% of the Gandhara Civilization’s antiquities are in KPK, which were an important source of income for the province. Therefore, he asked, what revenue sources was the federal government leaving, including hydropower profits and oil and gas royalties? He said the Centre had taken away almost all of KPK’s sources of income.

KPK is already facing severe difficulties in revenue generation and has demanded a hike in hydropower profits and oil and gas royalties to fund its development expenditure. As per data collected by The Express Tribune, the federal government owes KPK around Pakistan Rs 3,000 billion in electricity, gas, and oil royalties. Any ripples would also jeopardize the province’s National Finance Commission award. The current standoff is because the KPK government is headed by the PTI and has had a long-standing feud with the military establishment. This was exacerbated over the jailing of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

One recent sign of this was witnessed when the newly-elected Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited Peshawar. KPK’s newly-elected Chief Minister, Ali Amin Gandapur, was absent at the airport, raising concerns of a rift. This federal-provincial rift is getting worse and evidence of this comes from the remarks of KPK Chief Minister who recently said that for any meaningful conversation to take place between the province and the federation, the government at the center had to release the Pakistan Rs 1,500 billion owed to KPK under the NFC award. “We are only demanding what is rightfully owed to the people of K-P, and the federal government should take our concerns seriously,” the Chief Minister remarked.

Dr. Vankwani is Pakistan People’s Party‘s MNA from Sindh and is also Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Hindu Council. The Sindh MNA has in the past spearheaded the establishment of the Gandhara Culture Authority through the Gandhara Culture Authority Act 2023. The promotion of this Authority is part of the larger agenda to boost Pakistan’s cultural diplomacy amongst nations with sizable Buddhist populations like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, etc. Such outreach through the spread of Gandhara cultural heritage also involves collaboration in the tourism sector. Dr. Vankwani introduced “the Gandhara Corridor Bill, 2024,” according to which the Corridor would be headed by a Chairperson to be appointed by the Pakistan Prime Minister with the head office in Islamabad.

Criticism of the proposed bill has led Dr. Vankwani to write a letter to KPK CM Ali Amin Gandapur requesting him to join hands in transforming Gandhara as an international model for tourism with the collaboration of federal and all provincial stakeholders. Vankwani's letter came after CM Gandapur and his government expressed reservations over the bill, terming it as the center's overreach over provincial affairs. The government in KPK has been assured that a bill in the National Assembly for setting up a national Gandhara Corridor in the country would not infringe on its political autonomy and that it would adhere to provisions within the 18th Amendment and facilitate the influx of religious tourism in the country.

Dr. Vankwani clarified that the bill is not at all a part of any conspiracy to snatch or take over the Gandhara civilization remains in KPK, emphasizing that “It is, in fact, to ensure that the provinces receive due facilitation and support from the federal government to promote and market Gandhara for increasing revenue through systematic arrival of international pilgrims via the federal capital Islamabad.” He said the bill provided the opportunity to strengthen Pakistan’s economy as well as to project a positive image. The establishment of a high-level facilitation center to promote Gandhara faith pilgrimage with the collaboration of provinces, he argued, would not violate the 18th Amendment. Dr. Vankwani further stated that the Gandhara civilization comprises several historical archaeological sites spread across Pakistan and has the potential to attract the followers of Dharmic religions of the subcontinent.

While efforts to harness Gandhara's cultural heritage for tourism have the potential to drive economic development and foster international collaboration, achieving consensus among stakeholders remains a formidable challenge. Balancing federal and provincial interests while respecting historical legacies is essential for navigating the complex terrain of cultural diplomacy and heritage preservation in Pakistan.



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