April 6th, 2012
01:16 PM GMT
Malam Jabba, Pakistan (CNN) – Pakistan's government is hoping that a former Taliban stronghold can attract tourists and boost business for the country.
Malam Jabba, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, is a seven-hour drive north of the capital Islamabad. It is Pakistan's winter wonderland, where people live on just dollars a day, surrounded by natural beauty.
It’s also the Pakistan that few see, with scenery that rivals anywhere in the world. Many here hope this natural beauty will help get the Swat Valley back on the map as a leading tourist attraction.
Here, the Karakorum mountain range soars into the sky, home to Pakistan's only public ski resort. This year the Pakistani government set up a winter festival to attract tourists back to the region – they called it "Ski and Smile Swat."
That would have been unthinkable four years ago, when the Taliban went on a shockingly effective offensive through this territory. They took land and banned anything they deemed un-Islamic – no more music, no more dancing. No more skiing either.
Mateeullah Khan was the resort's ski instructor. “We thought we weren't going to ski again because of the Taliban,” he told CNN’s Reza Sayeh. Khan says everyone in the area was in danger. “I just migrated, I left,” he added.
Standing in the snow are the ruins of one of the area’s top hotels, destroyed by the Taliban.
“The Taliban threatened us, told us they would slaughter us if we didn't leave,” said Nosherwan Khan, who says he worked at the hotel for two decades. “When our staff saw the building destroyed, we cried.”
In 2009 the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the Taliban. Hundreds were killed and nearly two million displaced. But the army eventually pushed out the Taliban and peace was slowly restored.
Government officials say their marketing campaign is working. Little by little, tourists are coming back to the region. “I can't express my feeling when we have peace in Pakistan and this region especially. It makes us feel easy,” said tourist Muzafar Hussain.
But for many here, the rebuilding of the Swat Valley's top ski resort isn't happening fast enough.
“Holding this (ski) competition - the aim behind it is that peace is restored in this area. People should visit us and they should build this ski facility for us,” said Mateeullah Khan.
Only then, says Khan, will Malam Jabba be able to share its natural beauty with the world and help Pakistan fulfil its untapped tourism potential.
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