Authorities in Pakistan say gunmen have shot dead nine foreign climbers and one of their local guides at a base camp of one of the world’s highest mountains in the country’s north.
The pre-dawn shooting in the relatively peaceful northern Gilgit-Baltistan region took place at the base camp of Nanga Parbat (8,125 meters), which is the ninth highest mountain in the world.
Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told an ongoing session of the national parliament in Islamabad Sunday afternoon that six Ukrainians, three Chinese and their Pakistani guide are among the victims.
He said that "militants disguised as security forces raided the base camp of the foreign climbers and unfortunately nine of them along with a local guide lost their lives."
The minister added that a Chinese climber managed to escape the shooting and was later rescued by a military helicopter. Khan said that a second Pakistani guide in the group has also survived and he is currently being questioned.
Pakistani troops, assisted by the local civilian administration, have cordoned off the area, and a massive manhunt is under way to capture the attackers.
Authorities and locals believe the killings are not the work of ordinary criminals, and the gunmen must have trained and planned the attack for months because the area is accessible to only climbers, local guides and Pakistani troops.
Regional expert Amjad Ayub is the president of Private Tour Operators Association.
“The incident took place at the western base camp of the Nanga Parbat. The elevation where this happened is about 4,000 meters. It is a quite high area and a wild area. There is no population around [and] no villages. Obviously, they [attackers] are trained people. They have been doing this planning for months, for years may be,” he said.
Ayub said that this was the first-ever incident in the region in which foreign climbers were attacked, and he feared it was likely to damage tourism, causing millions of dollars in losses to Pakistan. He demanded authorities take immediate steps to bring the culprits to justice to protect the only industry providing livelihood to the underdeveloped region.
“The economy of Gilgit-Baltistan is totally based on the tourism. And such incidents mean that you are going to kill economically the whole area,” said the expert.
Pakistan has witnessed an unusual rise in militant and sectarian attacks across the country in recent weeks. Officials blame local Taliban extremists for being behind most of the deadly violence.
The country has been fighting extremist forces on its territory for more than a decade but former diplomat and columnist Maleeha Lodhi said the threat has intensified in recent years because Pakistan “lacks consistency” in the counter-militancy approach.
“It is responding and reacting when a certain crisis takes place in a certain part of Pakistan rather than having a coherent consistent approach. We have seen a very erratic inconsistent and a firefighting approach. This must change if Pakistan is to overcome this challenge,” said Lodhi.
Since taking charge after last month’s national elections, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government says it is working on “war-footing” to devise a national counter-militancy strategy, blaming the former ruling coalition for not addressing the issue during its five-year term.