Bringing Pakistan to Thailand
Pakistani ambassador Asim Iftikhar Ahmad's mission is almost over
Pakistan's ambassador to Thailand is bringing Gandhara, in north-west Pakistan, to the Thailand National Museum, in a manner of speaking, to commemorate the Thai–Pakistani 70th diplomatic relationship.
Ambassador Asim Iftikhar Ahmad completes his four-year diplomatic mission in Thailand at the end of this month.
To cement his diplomatic legacy, with help from the Thailand Fine Arts department, he has organised the "Grand Gandhara Buddhist Exhibition" to be staged later this year.
"This is one of the parts of our 70 years celebration," he said.
"It will be held at the Thailand National Museum Bangkok. We are working with the Department of Fine Arts, museum authority and Ministry of Culture.
"During the exhibition, original Buddhist artefacts from Gandhara will be exhibited here."
The ambassador expects the exhibition would be run for two to three months, from October to December.
"This will be the prominent event in our celebrations," he said.
"We will also do joint commemorative stamps; we are working with the Thailand Post office on this. They will be issued to celebrate this occasion. Furthermore, the stamps will be in the theme of Buddhist world heritage."
Interestingly, the linkages between Pakistan and Thailand and their people are traced back, in ancient times, to the Buddhist Gandhara heritage of Pakistan with Taxila at its heart.
These ties have been strengthened in recent history by generations of Thais of Pakistan origin who have integrated and thrived in Thailand and made important contributions to Thailand's development.
"Pakistan, as you might be aware, is a home of some of the most prominent and well-known Buddhist heritage sites in the world. This includes Taxila. I think Thai people called it as Takkasila.
"We have a Unesco world heritage site located there and it is a one-hour drive from Islamabad. Also, we have another Buddhist world heritage site located in a vast area called Gandhara, such as Takht-i-Bahi Monastery," he added.
Pakistan is promoting Buddhist tourism in Pakistan among Thai tourists, as the green crescent land is well known for Buddhist world heritage items among Buddhist tourists, the ambassador said.
Mr Ahmad said the area is important as the centre of Buddhism, as Gandhara culture has spread throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Many Buddha images that people have seen today were influenced by Gandhara culture.
"So, this is an important historical engagement between Thailand and Pakistan that we are trying to promote because we know most Thais are interested in Buddhism," he said.
He said the Pakistani government was working on the Buddhist tourism campaign and tried to improve facilities to serve visitors.
"We have seen the potential of Thai tourism. They are drawn not just to Buddhist tourist areas, but also mountainous areas.
"Many Thais love to travel to enjoy the beautiful scenery. So, we are trying to improve the facilities and promote Buddhist tourism among these facilities as well," he said.
He said he wanted Thais to know there are various aspects of Buddhism in Pakistan that are well preserved. Precious Buddhist relics, for example the Fasting Buddha image, is well preserved in Lahore Museum.
Furthermore, there was the discovery of world's oldest "Sleeping Buddha" statue near the Bhamala Stupa in Haripur District, to which Most Venerable Arayawangso paid a visit.
He is currently working on a project to restore the statue. "So, we are working in various sectors in Buddhism," he added.
As for travelling to Pakistan during the pandemic, he said Pakistan had just removed Thailand from its list of Category C countries -- whose citizens need permission to enter.
"We have categorised countries around the world according to risk level," he said. "For category C, it means the country had many cases.
"Two or three weeks ago, Thailand was in this category. Our embassy informed our government that, even though the cases are rising, Thailand is better off than other countries."
He said Thai people can travel to Pakistan with no mandatory quarantine on arrival. They just need to show a negative RT–PCR test.
"Basically, you can travel to our country," he said. "We have vaccinated around 15 million of our population.
"New daily case numbers are low, around less than 1,000 a day. So, we hope Thailand's situation will improve and hope to open the borders again."
He also expressed the concern over Thailand's ban on Pakistanis entering Thailand.
"We are willing to vaccinate, do state quarantine on arrival, but simply imposing a blanket ban on Pakistanis creates many problems such as family separations as many want to travel to rejoin their family in Thailand," he said.
"Some have lost their jobs as they cannot enter the country to work here. Many students were stuck in Pakistan."
He said he had been taking up the issue with the Thai government to try to revise the ban and allow people for whom entry is necessary access to Thailand from Pakistan.