Minorities Lawmaker Offers To Clear Up KP's Confusion On Gandhara Bill

In a letter, lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Vankwani says the bill ensures that every stakeholder will remain within its defined constitutional framework

Minorities Lawmaker Offers To Clear Up KP's Confusion On Gandhara Bill

The government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been assured that a bill in the National Assembly to set 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. 

This was assured in a letter by the Gandhara Corridor Bill's sponsor, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur.

Vankwani's letter came after Gandapur and his government expressed reservations against the bill, terming it as the centre's overreach over provincial affairs. 

Vankwani, a member of Pakistan's minority communities and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) — a national body representing Hindus in Pakistan, explained the purpose of his bill.

He explained to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) backed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) led provincial government that the corridor would include 50 potential Gandhara sites in all four provinces. These include but are not limited to Mohenjodaro remains and stupas in Sindh.

"Out of 50 sites, 38 are related to Buddhism, ten are of Hinduism, and two belong to Jainism," he explained.

Vankwani said the confusion seems to have stemmed from the bill's name "Gandhara", and the fact that a large portion of the ancient Gandhara civilisation's remains are located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

"That's why ongoing tension and unrest on the subject matter among KP stakeholders are quite understandable," he said, adding that the Gandhara Culture Authority Act 2023 introduced earlier could have been misunderstood for similar reasons.

"The Gandhara Corridor bill is not at all a part of any conspiracy to snatch or take over the Gandhara Civilization remains in KP," he said, adding, "It (Gandhara Corridor bill) 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."

"It is very clearly stated in the bill that the revenues generated through the Gandhara Corridor Bill will help to strengthen our national economy, including KP, and the opening of sub-offices in other places within the country would ensure cordial cooperation among all branches of government in the best interest of Pakistan."

Vankwani explained that, in his view, the Gandhara civilisation comprises several historical archaeological sites spread across Pakistan and has the potential to attract the followers of Dharmic religions of the subcontinent, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

"Gandhara should not only be limited to the remains or archeological sites as Gandhara civilisation is actually based on tolerance, harmony and brotherhood among different faiths, communities and segments of human society," he said.

Vankwani offered to address the concerns of stakeholders about the bill. 

"Let me assure you once again that there would be no interference in the affairs of the provincial government," he said.

Vankwani said the bill was his attempt at exploring opportunities for strengthening Pakistan's economy as well as projecting a positive image of the country.

"The proposed Gandhara Corridor would also demonstrate that the state of Pakistan supports Non-Muslims to enjoy religious freedom, as guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan and international laws."

Vankwani explained that the need for the corridor arose during his interactions with foreign diplomats and members of the international community who pointed out there were thousands of foreign nationals, mostly from Pakistan-friendly, Buddhist-majority countries, who were interested in visiting Pakistan for pilgrimage to Gandhara. These include China, Koreas, Japan, Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc.

The proposed bill would set up a high-level statuary body to ensure that due facilitation support at the federal level is provided to the provinces and administrative units for pursuing a common national cause of promoting international pilgrimage/faith tourism through the systematic promotion of the Gandhara region, encompassing Pakistan.

"This act aims to encourage uniformity of approach among all branches of government and stakeholders for transforming Pakistan into a most favourite pilgrimage destination and an international hub of Gandhara tourism, as well as to conduct research and analysis, enhance capacity, develop policy, and strategies, advise various branches of the government, foreign missions, academia, and professionals, facilitate the private sector, mobilise media, cultivate awareness, responsibility and help build capacity as individuals, establish partnerships with stakeholders and collaborations with national and international organisations for promoting and marketing Gandhara historical sites to attract international pilgrims, including Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, belonging to various countries in the best interest of Pakistan."