Hon Pass in the Hunza Valley. Pakistan Image Credit: British Backpacker Society

Dubai: Following announcement of its liberal visa policy, Pakistan has urged the foreign countries to revise their travel advisories as the country is now safe for tourists to visit.

Most big countries in the world including the US, Canada, UK and Australia still keep Pakistan on ‘reconsider travel’ category, meaning to avoid unnecessary travel to the country.

The call for easing travel restrictions and revising travel advisories came from Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the Gandahara Civilisation and Heritage Forum held in Islamabad.

He urged the foreign diplomats, including ambassadors who attended the event, to ask their countries to ‘revise the travel’ advisory to Pakistan. “The security situation stood much improved in the country as a result of massive operations by the armed forces against terrorists across the country,” he said.

Panoramic view of Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. Image Credit: Supplied

Foreign diplomats’ role

Qureshi asked the foreign diplomats to play their part in reviewing their countries’ travel advisories for Pakistan.

He apprised them on how counter-terror operations had facilitated the return of normalcy to Swat and the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Saiful Maluk lake Image Credit: Supplied

The foreign minister said Pakistan had played its part by liberalising its visa regime. “You’ll have to do your bit and your bit is to revise travel advisories.” Pakistan is rolling out plans to ride on tourism to improve its economy.

“Many countries have travel advisories adverse to Pakistan. Please revisit them so that we can engage...You can play a significant role in turning around relations,” Qureshi told diplomats.

New visa policy

Pakistan has announced a new visa policy to encourage tourism in the country, in order to make it a foundation for change in the country.

“By introducing a new relaxed visa policy, we want to open up our country to tourists from around the world as Pakistan has been a ‘closed’ country for the last 70 years,” Chaudhry told Gulf News in Dubai recently. “Tourists can now go anywhere in Pakistan, they don’t need no-objection certificates (NOCs) anymore,” Chaudhry said.

He said 175 countries will get the e-visa facility while 98 countries are included in the business visa category and some 50 countries will get visas on arrival. “This is a massive policy shift in the country as we want to develop tourism,” he said.

List of the countries will be announced in February. The government has also allowed approved tour operators to bring tourist groups to the country under new policy.

Mirza Siafullah Muhgal from eAviations.com Travels and Tours in Pakistan said that the interntional tourism has already increased a lot during the last one year. “With the relaxed visa policy, we expect influx of foreign tourists as the country is safe to visit. And this is evident from the massive increase in internal tourism,” said Mughal, who arranges package tours and tailor-made tours across the country.

Travel advisories by some major countries:

US

The US travel advisory keeps Pakistan at level three, one step short of ‘Do Not Travel’ category. It advises its citizens to ‘Reconsider Travel to Pakistan’ due to terrorism as some areas have increased risk factors.

It also advises its citizens ‘Do not Travel’ to certain areas including: Balochistan province and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, and the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), due to terrorism.

Canada

On its travel advisory, Canada put Pakistan on high risk, advising its citizens to ‘Avoid Non-Essential Travel’ to the country saying the security situation is unpredictable. There is a threat of terrorist attacks, kidnapping and sectarian violence.

The United Kingdom

The UK has also rated Pakistan at medium-high risk level.

In its travel advisory, it has warned travelers of risk of street crime urging them to take sensible measures to protect yourself and your belongings. Take particular care of your passport, bankcards, bags, jewellery, laptop and mobile, especially on public transport, when travelling to and from the airport and in crowded areas, including markets.

Much of Balochistan, rural Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Agencies, have a high level of lawlessness.

UK based ‘Intelligent Protection International Limited’, which provides Close Protection and Specialist Security Services worldwide, has also put travel to Pakistan at Medium-High level.

“Those looking to travel to Pakistan are advised to be cautious, remain vigilant and report anything of a suspicious nature to the local authorities. There are numerous travel advisories in place, all non-essential travel is advised against,” it says on its website.

Australia

Australia also puts Pakistan on ‘Reconsider Travel’ category citing volatile and unpredictable security situation.

It also advises its citizens not to travel to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Northern Pakistan (FATA), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (excluding Chitral district) and Balochistan due to the extremely dangerous security environment and the ongoing counter-insurgency operation in FATA.