Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Himalayan massacre spells end for Pakistan mountaineering

20130627 UPDATE:

Canadian mountaineer quit expedition hours before attack

Canadian mountaineer Gabriel Filippi quit an eleven-man expedition to Nanga Parbat hours before Taliban terrorists massacred the 10 other climbers and their guide on Saturday. The attack happened at a camp near the summit of Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth-highest peak at more than 8,000 metres. Filippi had left the camp earlier in the day to return to Islamabad, after deciding to focus on his family, according to reports. He had left for Pakistan earlier this month with plans to scale Nanga Parbat and K2. It was only when he returned to Montreal on Sunday that he learned gunmen had shot and killed all of his colleagues. A tour company official present during the attack said gunmen dressed as policemen ordered tourists out of tents late on Saturday night, and shot them. The foreign victims included two Chinese nationals, one person from Lithuania, one from Nepal, two from Slovakia, three from Ukraine, and one person with a joint US-Chinese citizenship. The Pakistani Taliban later took responsibility for the attack, claiming it was in retaliation for the death of its second in command in a US drone strike in May. The Lithuanian victim, Ernestas Marksaitis, was Filippi's climbing partner and the Quebecer paid homage to his companion. "I ... want to especially honour my climbing partner Ernestas and other climbers who died, with whom I shared a cup of tea, chatted or helped on the mountain," Filippi said.

See more at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/06/26/news/national/canadian-mountaineer-quit-expedition-hours-before-attack/#sthash.H0tRT4SE.dpuf

Pakistan’s Taliban rejects peace talks, citing No. 2 leader’s death in U.S. drone strike

By Tim Craig and Haq Nawaz Khan,May 30, 2013
  • A U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban No. 2 Waliur Rehman  on May 29, in Pakistan.
A U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban No. 2 Waliur Rehman on May 29,… (NASEER AZAM/AFP/GETTY…)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s Taliban said Thursday that it will not participate in peace talks with the country’s new government and will exact “revenge in the strongest way” after one of its top leaders was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike.
Confirming the death of Wali ur-Rehman, the second-ranking leader of the militant group, the Taliban’s chief spokesman blamed Pakistan’s government for not doing more to prevent CIA-launched drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
“The government has failed to stop drone strikes, so we decided to end any talks with the government,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesman, said in a phone interview. “Our attacks in Pakistan will continue.”

- - - snip - - -

By Frank Jack Daniel

Hospital staff and rescue workers move the body of one of the nine foreign tourists killed by unidentified gunmen near the Nanga Parbat peak, from an ambulance to a hospital morgue in Islamabad June 23, 2013. REUTERS/Sohail Shahzad
Hospital staff and rescue workers move the body of one of the nine foreign tourists killed by unidentified gunmen near the Nanga Parbat peak, from an ambulance to a hospital morgue in Islamabad June 23, 2013. REUTERS/Sohail Shahzad

A tour company present during the attack said gunmen dressed as police ordered tourists out of tents at the 4,200-meter (13,860-foot) base camp of Nanga Parbat, the country's second highest peak, late on Saturday night, then shot them and a Pakistani guide.
The attack on the last peak over 8,000 meters (26,400 feet) in the western Himalayas has been claimed by both the Pakistani Taliban and a smaller radical Islamist group.
The foreign victims included two citizens from China, one from Lithuania, one from Nepal, two from Slovakia, three Ukrainians, and one person with joint U.S.-Chinese citizenship.
Manzoor Hussain, president of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, said at least 40 foreigners including citizens from Serbia, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and the United States, among several other nationalities, were evacuated from a higher camp.
A group of Romanians is believed to be scaling the mountain from another side. Some other groups booked for climbs this summer have already cancelled, one company said.
Hussain said the attack was a "fatal blow" for his efforts to attract more climbers to the Hindu Khush, Karakoram and western Himalayan ranges, home to many unexplored summits.
"We are still in shock, we've had to apologise to so many mountaineers across the world," said Hussain, who described the attack as appalling and said he was devastated.
Geographically, Pakistan is a climbers paradise. It rivals Nepal for the number of peaks over 7,000 meters and is home to the world's second tallest mountain, K2, and three more that are among the world's 14 summits higher than 8,000 meters.
In more peaceful times, northern Pakistan's unspoilt beauty would be a major tourist draw, bringing sorely needed dollars to a nation that suffers repeated balance of payments crises.
Mountaineers, many from China, Russia and Eastern Europe, are among the last foreigners who regularly visit Pakistan for leisure. Tourism has been devastated since 2007 by militant attacks and fighting between the Taliban and the army in once popular tribal valleys such as Swat in the northwest.
The number of expeditions had also dwindled, but before the attack some 50 groups were expected this year in the remote Gilgit-Baltistan region, a stopover on the historic Silk Road.
That has changed following Sunday's massacre, which sparked protests on Monday in Chilas, the closest town to the base camp, which depends on climbing for income in the summer.
"I haven't slept since yesterday, it's a very sad situation," said Ghulam Muhammed, whose company Blue Sky Treks and Tours guided five of the climbers killed at the base camp.
Blue Sky is based in the town of Skardu, which is heavily reliant on the income brought by outsiders.
"I am very worried, now business is finished, today two or three have cancelled, it is difficult now," said Muhammed, who was in the capital Islamabad to speak to embassies and family members of the victims. "In Gilgit-Baltistan, a lot of the economy is from tourism - the money goes to transporters, hotels, markets, porters guides and cooks."
In reality, the tourist industry last thrived in the 1970s, when the "hippy trail" brought Western travellers through the apricot and walnut orchards of the Swat Valley and Kashmir on their way to India and Nepal.
Years of war in Afghanistan helped end the overland route to Asia, and Pakistan's tourism never really recovered.
While the attack on foreign climbers was a first, it did not come entirely out of the blue. Gilgit-Baltistan's Shi'ite Muslim population has suffered a number of sectarian killings by radical Sunni groups over the past year, including one that claimed responsibility for killing the climbers.
"We have been warning the government," Hussain said. "Security was beefed up, and there were checks on the road, but we wanted security parties for the mountaineers as well."
The Pakistan Taliban later said it had carried out the attack, in retaliation for the death of its second in command in a U.S. drone strike in May. Since then, Pakistan's new government has been tested by a succession of major attacks on targets ranging from female students to a funeral procession.
Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the disputed region of Kashmir. It is connected to China by a highway crossing the Karakoram range, home to K2. The attack was acutely embarrassing for Pakistan, which nurtures a close friendship with China in a drawn-out struggle with India over territory.
In 1995, a group of foreign tourists was kidnapped in the part of Kashmir administered by India. One escaped, one was beheaded and four have never been found.

Nanga Parbat massacre: Thousands protest against the ‘unprecedented’ incident

Thousands of people participated in a demonstration in Chilas town on Monday against the vicious massacre of foreign tourists near the base camp of Pakistan’s second highest peak – Nanga Parbat.
“We strongly condemn the brutal act which defamed the entire country especially Diamer valley,” said Taifoor Shah, a local leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, as he addressed the rally.
Tourism is one of the main sources of income for locals. Those committing such crimes want to deprive people of livelihood, pointed out Shah.
Life came to a standstill as traders closed their shops to express solidarity with the affected families. More than 4,000 people gathered at the ‘Siddiq Akbar’ intersection to protest against the incident; one which has been termed unprecedented in the history of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Armed men, dressed in Gilgit Scouts uniforms, stormed a camp at Kutgali near the base camp of Nanga Parbat early Sunday, and shot down 10 foreign mountaineers and a Pakistani guide at point blank range. A Chinese climber managed to escape the assault at the foot of Nanga Parbat, located in Diamer valley.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Haji Waheed termed the act a conspiracy against the public, aimed at derailing projects like the Diamer–Bhasha Dam and railway track project with China. These were announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently.
“Our enemies don’t want us to progress but we as a nation have to counter such plots,” said Waheed.
Among others, the rally was also addressed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal’s Shabbir Ahmad and Maulana Giyas who asked the government to arrest culprits and expose them to the public.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2013.

Nanga Parbat attack: Search operation leads to a 'suspicious car'

DIAMER: The killing of 10 foreign tourists at the foot of Nanga Parbat, Gilgit-Baltistan has led to a massive search operation being conducted in the region, Express News reported.
Initial reports from the law-enforcing agencies suggest that the militants escaped in small groups which has made it difficult to track them down.
A car, which the officials claimed looked suspicious has been taken into custody for investigation.
Meanwhile, rest-houses where senior officials are residing have been put on security alert following the attack.
Well-armed and well-prepared attackers dressed in police uniforms stormed the camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat late Saturday, shooting dead the climbers and a Pakistani guide at point-blank range.

Nanga Parbat assault: Tragedy in Himalayas

GILGIT: Gunmen overran a mountaineering base camp and shot dead foreign trekkers who were resting during a climb up one of the world’s tallest peaks, police and administration officials said on Sunday.
The attackers — who were dressed as paramilitary Gilgit Scouts — killed 10 foreign climbers, including Chinese and Ukrainian nationals, and their Pakistani cook at the foot of Nanga Parbat, the 9th tallest peak in the world, in the early hours of Sunday.
Interestingly, two outlawed militant groups claimed responsibility for the base camp shootings near Kutgali in the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region.
“Eleven people were killed in the attack that took place in Buner Nullah near the base camp,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Ali Sher told The Express Tribune, without disclosing the nationalities of the victims. However, other officials identified the victims as two Chinese, one Chinese-American, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and their Pakistani cook.
Yang Chunfeng (Chinese), Rao Jianfeng (Chinese), Honglu Chen (American of Chinese origin), Sona Sherpa
(Nepalese), Ernestas Marksaitis (Lithuanian),
Matt Boland, acting spokesperson for the US Embassy in Islamabad, confirmed to AFP that an American citizen had been killed in the attack and extended condolences to the families of the “innocent tourists”.
The gunmen shot dead a Pakistani cook with the tourists and held other workers at gunpoint, a senior official of the G-B government told Reuters. A Chinese climber managed to escape.
The federal interior minister said the security forces using military helicopters had retrieved the Chinese national who was later shifted to a safe place. The other guide was also arrested and is currently under investigation.
“The gunmen held the staff hostage and then started killing foreign
tourists before making their escape,” the official added.
The interior minister said the attackers were dressed as Gilgit Scouts and reached the area by abducting two guides. “One guide was killed in the shootout. One is alive. He is now detained and being questioned,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told journalists in Islamabad.
“The area where the incident occurred is unmanned and is at two-day trek from Chilas, the headquarters of Diamer Valley where the peak is located,” said local police official Alif Khan. “We have reports that three of the dead climbers were Chinese,” he added.
There were conflicting claims of responsibility for the attack. Sectarian extremist group Jundullah, with a track record of attacks in the region, was the first to say it was behind the raid.
“These foreigners are our enemies and we proudly claim responsibility for killing them, and will continue such attacks in the future,” Jundullah spokesman Ahmed Marwat told Reuters by telephone.
Later, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said it had shot the trekkers in retaliation for a US drone strike in May that killed the group’s second in command.
“One of our factions, Junood-ul-Hifsa, did it. It is to avenge the killing of our commander Waliur Rehman,” said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. He added that Junood-ul-Hifsa was a new wing set up by the TTP “to attack foreigners and convey a message to the world against drone strikes”.
Contingents of paramilitary G-B Scouts, Rangers and police have mounted a manhunt for the attackers in the areas around Nanga Parbat.
“Security at the Nullahs [around Nanga Parbat] is being increased to avoid a repeat of such incidents in future,” said a statement issued from  the office of G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah. Shah denounced the attack as an “act to disrupting Pakistan’s ties with the friendly countries”.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar called it “an attack on Pakistan”.
“The objective behind this attack appeared to tarnish our image and to discourage tourism in Pakistan,” he told journalists after receiving the bodies of foreign trekkers at the Air Marshal Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi.
The ambassadors of China and Ukraine and senior officials of Nepalese and Russian embassies were present at the airbase to receive the bodies.
Condemning “these inhuman and cruel acts”, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered a thorough investigation and called for the culprits to be brought to justice.
It was the first time foreign tourists had been attacked in the G-B, where the convergence of the Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalayan ranges has created a stunning landscape explored by only a trickle of the most intrepid mountaineers.
The 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat is the second highest peak in Pakistan after K-2 and is the 9th highest mountain in the world. In summer, it attracts foreign mountaineers and trekkers in droves.
The deaths call into question the future of foreign mountaineering and trekking expeditions, which provide the last vestige of international tourism in a country reeling from a bloody Taliban insurgency. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM NEWS WIRES)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2013.