Pakistan plans to relax visa policy in bid to revive tourism

Potentially restarting tourism has been one of the most talked about parts of new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s push to create an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 December 2018
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Pakistan plans to relax visa policy in bid to revive tourism

  • “We are reviewing our visa policies. We are trying to bring 55 countries into a visa-free region, which includes most of the European countries,” a government official said
  • British Airways on Tuesday announced it would resume flights to Pakistan next year after a 10-year absence that followed a major hotel bombing

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is planning to ease visa restrictions for visitors from 55 countries, including most European nations, in a bid to revive tourism that was devastated by Islamist violence in the fallout from the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
“We are reviewing our visa policies. We are trying to bring 55 countries into a visa-free region, which includes most of the European countries,” Pakistan’s information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, told Reuters.
That comes after Portugal this month declared Pakistan safe for travel, while France has also relaxed its advisory on travel to the South Asian nation
“I’m happy our (travel) adviseries are changing,” said Chaudhry.
Potentially restarting tourism has been one of the most talked about parts of new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s push to create an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan, but visitors to the country often complain of an arduous visa process. Former Real Madrid soccer stars Kaka of Brazil and Portuguese playmaker Luis Figo were recently denied visas to the country for a promotional visit, Chaudhry said, highlighting the nation’s laborious visa process.
“We refused a visa to Kaka and Figo. Can you believe that? I called the section officer and he never heard of ... Kaka,” Chaudhry said, laughing.
“I spoke to the interior secretary yesterday and gave him a piece of my mind.”
Pakistan was last a prominent tourist destination in the 1970s when the “hippie trail” brought Western travelers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.
Since then, a deteriorating security situation and the imposition of a harsh interpretation of Islamic laws has chipped away at the number of visitors.
Following Pakistan’s participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the country was rocked by a decade of regular large-scale militant attacks.
Security has since improved dramatically, with militant attacks down sharply in the mainly Muslim country of 208 million people.
British Airways on Tuesday announced it would resume flights to Pakistan next year after a 10-year absence that followed a major hotel bombing, becoming the first Western airline to restart such flights.


UK PM Theresa May to ask lawmakers to vote on a second Brexit referendum

Updated 29 min 28 sec ago
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UK PM Theresa May to ask lawmakers to vote on a second Brexit referendum

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government will include in her Withdrawal Agreement Bill a requirement for lawmakers to vote on whether to hold another Brexit referendum.

“I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue,” May said. "The government will therefore include in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum."

“So to those MPs who want a second referendum to confirm the deal - you need a deal and therefore Withdrawal Agreement Bill to make it happen,” May said.

May is offering concessions in what she says is a “last chance” to secure an orderly British departure from the bloc.

The deal that she struck with the EU has been rejected by UK lawmakers three times already.

Since then, she has tried to secure backing from lawmakers with promises to maintain high standards on workers' rights and environmental protections — issues that are priorities for the left-of-center opposition Labour Party.

She also said UK lawmakers would get to decide how close a trade relationship to seek with the EU after Brexit, in a concession to Labour's demands for a customs union.

May said she was “making a new offer to find common ground in Parliament.”

“I have compromised. Now I ask you to compromise too,” she said.

May has said that after Parliament votes on the bill she will set out a timetable for her departure as Conservative leader and prime minister. Pro-Brexit Conservatives blame May for the country's political deadlock and want to replace her with a staunch Brexit supporter such as Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary.

(With agencies)