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Pakistan: Taliban attack on Nanga Parbat Climbers - reports and commentary

24 June 2013

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The Independent, 23 June 2013

Nine tourists killed as gunmen storm mountain base camp in Pakistan

Police confirmed that at least nine tourists had been killed and said that the area had been sealed off

Andrew Buncombe

A massive military and police operation is underway in the remote north of Pakistan to find and rescue dozens of climbers scaling the world’s ninth highest peak after militants stormed the mountain’s base camp and killed nine foreign tourists.

A local guide was also killed in one of the deadliest attacks on foreigners for a number of years and officials say the shootings will be a devastating blow to the nation’s already fragile tourist industry.

As soldiers and police hunt the gunmen, an equally pressing operation is continuing to locate up almost 50 other climbers who may still be on Nanga Parbat and to take them to safety.

Around 15 gunmen wearing police uniforms launched the attack in the Diamir base camp of Nanga Parbat in the Gilgit district late on Saturday night. The dead climbers are said to be three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two Chinese, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and one Chinese-American. One Chinese climber survived the attack. The US embassy in Islamabad confirmed that a US national was among the dead.

As police attempted to seal off the area in a hunt for the attackers, a Taliban spokesman said the assault had been carried out by its Jundul Hafsa affiliate group in vengeance for US drone attacks. A recent drone attack had killed the Taliban’s deputy leader, Waliur Rehman.

“By killing foreigners, we wanted to give a message to the world to play their role in bringing an end to the drone attacks,” he told the Associated Press.

Pakistan’s once-thriving tourist industry has been devastated as a result of the violence that has rocked the country in recent years.

But tourists and climbers have continued to make their way to Gilgit-Baltistan, which borders China and Kashmir and is famed for its natural beauty and for being home to some of the world’s most celebrated mountains. It has been considered one of the safer areas of the country, even though it has more recently witnessed a series of attacks by militants targeting members of Pakistan’s Shia minority.

At 26,000ft, Nanga Parbat, first summited in 1953, is a notoriously difficult challenging mountain. It understood at least six foreign and one Pakistani expedition were on Nanga Parbat when the attack happened.

Ghulam Mohammad, owner of Blue Sky Tours and Trek, told The Independent that he had been told five members of the ten-strong Ukraine International Nanga Parbat Expedition 2013 group that he he had organised were among the dead.

“They set off from Chilas on June 11 and they were planning to ascend the mountain,” said Mr Mohammed, whose climbing operation is based in the town of Skardu.

Raheel Adnan, who runs the Altitude blog and monitors climbing expeditions to Pakistan, said more than 50 climbers were on the mountain when the gunmen struck. He said a change in the weather may have meant there were fewer causalities than there might have been.

“There was bad weather last week but on Wednesday and Thursday it improved and people started climbing,” he said. “It meant that most of them were above the base camp when this happened.”

He added: “I know that a number of the teams are now coming back to Islamabad.”

Mr Adnan said in addition to the team from the Ukraine, there were expeditions from Poland, Romania, China and several mixed teams. Among the expedition members were Turkish, American, Russian and Italian climbers.

Sultan Khan, operations manager of Nazir Sabir Expeditions, which had organised the climb for the Seven Summit Treks Nanga Parbat Expedition 2013, made up of Chinese climbers, an American-Chinese climber and Nepali sherpas, said four members of the ten-strong team were among the dead. Efforts were continuing to reach the climbers who had been at other camps.

“I have been organising expeditions for more than two decades. This is the first time in our history [there has been such an incident],” he said. “We cannot believe such things. It’s beyond our imagination.”

A posting on the social media page of the 19-strong Polish-led International Nanga Parbat Expedition said that all but one of the team had been at camp II when the attack happened. They were still trying to make contact with the other climber.

Amin Mohammed, a spokesman for the Pakistani My Dream 8000er team, said its three members were safe as they had also been above base camp.

He said the team had decided to try and continue its ascent. “They have been trying to get to camp II for several weeks so they have decided to stay in place,” he said. “But if they receive instructions from the army they might have to cancel their plans.”

Turkish climber Tunc Findik was at camp II at the time of the attack and now is said to be making his way to base camp.

Mohammed Ali of Karakurum Magic Mountains, which had organised the climb of a five-strong team of Romanians, said he believed all were safe as they were ascending the Rupal face, on the other side of the mountain from the Diamir base camp.

Pakistan’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, confirmed the gunmen had dressed in the uniforms of Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police force that patrols the area. He said the attackers abducted two local guides to find their way to the remote camp and that one of the guides was subsequently killed. The other is being questioned.

“The government will take all measures to ensure the safety of foreign tourists,” he told the national parliament.

The attackers beat up the Pakistanis who were accompanying the tourists, took their money and tied them up. They checked the identities of the Pakistanis and shot one of them.

“Those who have committed this heinous crime seem to be attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries.” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said a statement

Syed Mehdi Shah, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, condemned the attack and said it would seriously damage the region’s tourism industry.

“A lot of tourists come to this area in the summer, and our local people work to earn money from these people,” he said. “This will not only affect our area, but will adversely affect all of Pakistan.”

THREE EDITORIALS FROM THE PAKISTAN PRESS

Blood-soaked reality: Killing of foreigners
Editorial, Dawn, 24 June 2013

Dawn, 24 June 2013

EVENTUALLY, the illogic of conspiracy will have to give way to reality. Waliur Rehman, a TTP leader mind-bogglingly referred to by Imran Khan as ‘pro-peace’, was killed by an American drone, so now the TTP has killed nine foreigners in remote Gilgit-Baltistan in revenge. And instead of the focus being on how to prevent Pakistan from slipping further towards international isolation and internal instability, the question that will likely be asked most frequently, in the media, by the political class, by large chunks of civil society, is what can be done to stop drones strikes. The problem with the drone debate is not that it is unimportant but that it tends to obscure a more fundamental and important question: what to do about the TTP? And that more important and fundamental question is itself wrapped up in another set of distractions, namely whether or not to negotiate over what is not negotiable.

Unhappily, the newly elected government appears to already be falling into the trap of rhetoric as a substitute for action. Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan has set an admirable new tone by speaking plainly and bluntly about all that ails Pakistan on the security front. That is good. But all the straight talk in the world will not substitute for a meaningful policy against militancy — and the necessary corollary of wresting national security policy from the army leadership. It is here that the PML-N already seems to be falling into the old trap of inaction through summits and all-party conferences and the like. Already, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears aloof and disconnected, allowing his ministers to speak for his government instead of leading from the front himself.

For the army’s part, a pattern now seems obvious: everything but North Waziristan can be tackled. The reasons for that can only be guessed at, but could it have something to do with the impending transition in Afghanistan, after which the much-loved Haqqani network may be encouraged to move its operations to the other side of the Durand line and then the TTP will be taken on? If Pakistan’s internal security is in fact linked to an external agenda, then perhaps the TTP is only a symptom of the disease. Bringing about change, particularly in powerful, entrenched institutions, is always a difficult undertaking. But if the Pakistani state doesn’t change its approach, the TTP will change Pakistan for all of us.

o o o

Tourists’ killing
Editorial, The News

The News, June 24, 2013

In an incident that appears to be unique in the history of Pakistan, nine foreign tourists and their Pakistani guide have been murdered in an attack that by mid-afternoon on Sunday was being claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. There have been rare instances of foreign tourists being attacked or robbed, and two or three reported murders over decades, but never a mass slaying such as this. The area the trekkers were killed is extremely remote, about 18 hours’ walk from the road. One Chinese man is reported to have survived but this is unconfirmed as yet. Their killers, according to the TTP, were the Junud-e-Hafsa faction and were acting in revenge for the killing of TTP chief Waliur Rehman Mehsud and as a protest against American drone attacks. Ehsanullah Ehsan speaking for the TTP said that ‘This will tell the international community about our feelings and sentiments against the killing of our fighters’. Such are the bald facts, and more details will eventually emerge.

Reaction has been swift; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan immediately suspended the IG Police and the chief secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan. The National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution on Sunday afternoon condemning the attacks. Suspensions and condemnations aside, this incident is going to echo around the world. It is said that the tourism industry in Gilgit-Baltistan was in ‘recovery mode’ and that, while not exactly booming, there was a sharp rise in domestic tourism and foreign tourists were also beginning to reappear. Pakistan has the potential – and the infrastructure – to be a world-class destination for adventure tourism, but the attack in Bunar Nullah is going to seriously knock back the much-needed recovery. Reports from local people say that there were no threats against tourists and security for tourists was either very light or wholly absent. This has changed in the blink of an eye as the TTP has brought foreign tourists into its sights, and foreign missions are going to be reviewing the travel advisories for their nationals. The interior minister is reported to have told the Chinese ambassador that Pakistan, rather than the Chinese people, were the target of the attack – which was designed to give the impression that Pakistan was an ‘insecure country’. On the evidence of the past fortnight with mass slaughters countrywide this is a difficult perception to gainsay. Whoever did the killing will have been local to the area, familiar with the mountains and moving around in them. Sealing roads or putting extra guards on tracks and trails will be meaningless as they can be easily circumvented. The jobs of hundreds of people in the tourist industry are now on the line and the image of Pakistan worldwide has just taken another kick in the face. The message from the TTP: all foreigners anywhere in Pakistan are considered targets.

o o o

Barbarous attack at Nanga Parbat
Editorial, The Express Tribune
The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2013

That the scenic mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), thus far known for their snow-capped peaks and as a haven for mountaineers, will now become known for the gruesome tragedy that panned out there on June 23, is yet another reminder of the vortex of perpetual violence that has engulfed our country. According to reports, gunmen dressed as paramilitary troops killed nine foreign tourists, including Ukrainian and Chinese climbers, as well as a Pakistani, who were staying at the base camp area of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-highest mountain at a height of over 4,000 metres in the Diamer district of G-B. The responsibility for the attack was initially claimed by the militant group Jundallah, which has in the past also claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on the Shia community, including one in February 2012 when gunmen shot dead 18 bus passengers. Later, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also accepted responsibility, saying that the attack was a retaliation to the killing of their leader Waliur Rehman, who was killed in a US drone strike recently.

Condemnations have come thick and fast, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif being in the forefront of these. However, the fact remains that whoever the actual perpetrator of the attack may be — the TTP or Jundallah — our security apparatus has completely failed to apprehend these groups despite the people of our country being repeatedly targeted by them. It is quite clear that those responsible for gathering intelligence to detect the possible attacks these groups may be planning to carry out, and then taking every measure possible to prevent them, have failed in their duties.

It remains to be seen how the new government will deal with the fallout of this incident. The PML-N government has so far laid emphasis on dealing with the security situation through holding talking with the TTP. However, the violence and terrorism that continues to afflict Pakistan clearly shows that talking to those who only believe in violence is not going to solve the huge crisis at hand. The government needs to come down hard on the various militant groups that have killed thousands of our people, and have no qualms about attacking foreign tourists either. It is time that the whole country unites on the issue of terrorism before Pakistan becomes further isolated in the international community.

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