A politically motivated attack on the Diamir Base Camp of Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat (8125m) on Sunday left 11 dead and the global climbing community in shock. While details of the murders continue to emerge from the aftermath–the names of the victims and 16 of their attackers–questions remain about the immediate safety of climbers still in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, the status of expeditions planned for the coming months and the future of tourism in the region–an industry still fragile from post-9/11 setbacks.
The names of 16 alleged attackers were released by Gilgit-Baltistan police chief Usman Zakaria yesterday, Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported. They are identified as Azizullah, Mahfoozul Haq, Mujeed, Malik Nijad, Hazrat Oman, Qari Rafaqat, Shafi, Shafiqullah, Hidayat Ullah and Sana Ullah.
“Ten of them are residents of Diamir Valley, three belong to Mansehra and another three are from Kohistan,” Zakaria said at a press conference in the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister’s office.
The group of armed men, wearing the uniform of Gilgit local police, abducted two Pakistanis to guide them to the Diamir Base Camp, where they arrived at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday. The gunmen restrained the local camp staff and shot 10 foreign climbers and one Pakistani man before leaving the area past midnight.
With the Diamir Base Camp a multiday trek from the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the Pakistan Army flew in by helicopter to protect the remaining climbers and to begin a search for the attackers.
“By killing foreigners, we wanted to give a message to the world to play their role in bringing an end to the drone attacks,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told The Associated Press. (Some, like “The War Nerd” columnist Gary Brecher, believe that the TTP is not responsible, rather the Lashkar e Jhangvi from southern Pakistan and Kashmir.)
Earlier this week, Explorersweb.com reported the names of 10 of the victims: Igor Svergun, Kashaev Magomedovich Badawi and Konyaev Sergeyevich of Ukraine; Rao Jianfeng and Yang Chufeng of China; Honglu Chen with Chinese and American dual citizenship; Ernestas Marksaitis of Lithuania; Sona Sherpa of Nepal; Anton Dobes and Peter Sperka of Slovakia; the BBC identified the eleventh victim as a cook from the Hushe Valley of Pakistan, Ali Hussain.
Expedition teams on the Diamir side of Nanga Parbat and in the wider Karakoram Range are returning home, while others have chosen to continue with their trips, which represent a large commitment of time and money. Before flights are even booked, a team must hire an agency to represent them. That agency will submit your permit application to the Gilgit-Baltistan Council (GBC), the defacto tourism agency that grants all trekking and climbing permits in the region. The GBC then submits your application to the Pakistan Intelligence Service (ISI).
“This process has gotten more onerous over the years,” says Greater Ranges veteran Doug Chabot. “The Pakistan government is scrutinizing people with more vigor…. [T]he process, which took a month last year, has taken three to four months for some expeditions this season.”
Only after the climbing permit is secured can you apply for a travel visa from the Pakistani consulate. That process can take an additional month. For a trip planned in the summer, climbers must start the application processes in mid-winter, says Chabot, whose own climbing permit for a new route on Shispare Sar was denied earlier this week.
Pat Goodman, Matt McCormick and Jean-Pierre Ouellet, who have Karakoram plans this season, are now reconsidering. The trio have all the requisite permits, paid a deposit for their porter and food costs and expected to secure travel visas within the week. Their travel agency has assured the climbers that the attacked was a localized incident and they should expect a “smooth expedition,” but they have their doubts.
They worry about their own safety, but also worry about the impact on their families and friends. “None of them seem to want us to go,” Goodman writes. “But none of them really wanted us to go before the tragedy at Nanga either.”
Inseparable from discussion of the Nanga Parbat tragedy is the impact such a widely publicized attack will have on Pakistan’s economy. After 9/11, the number of permits issues for climbs in the northern region plunged from 120 to 150 per year in the 1990s to fewer than 30, Tayyab Mir of Pakistan Tourism Development told The Associated Press. More recently, tourism was on the rise. A 2010 report by the Gilgit-Baltistan government estimated 150,000 tourists would visit in 2012, a 142% increase from 62,000 visitors in 2010. Just halfway through 2013, fifty teams have already applied for permits–each one representing thousands of dollars in revenue toward the local and national economies.
Goodman, McCormick and Ouellet’s expedition alone expected to spend around $15,000 while travelling in Pakistan, not including flights on foreign airlines. Even alpine-style climbs in the Karakoram include trekking agency fees, wages for low-altitude porters and cooks and money for food, transportation and lodging.
“Forget tourism for another 10 years,” Additional Inspector General of Police Sarmad Saeed Khan said, according to the International Business Times. “Hundreds of sectarian killings could not do the damage that the killing of 10 foreign tourists has done. Thousands of families will have to seek some alternate means of livelihood.”
Others are more hopeful for the future. Local Pakistani climbers and members of the tourism industry have participated in protests demanding the government take action against terrorism. “This killing has snatched food and education from the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, since tourism is [one of the only sources] of income for the people,” says Mirza Ali, part owner of the nonprofit Karakoram Expeditions, an outdoor education program for Pakistani youth. “We…hope to provide extreme security for the tourists who travel to Pakistan, [and] assure our fellow climbers that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are very friendly and hospitable. [We] hope they will continue coming to Pakistan!”