By Aziz Ali Dad
The land of Gilgit-Baltistan is bestowed with the highest mountain ranges in the world. Among the famed mountains, Nanga Parbat is nicknamed ‘killer mountain’ because of the large number of casualties among those who try to climb these peaks.
Ironically, this killer mountain witnessed the cold-blooded killing of nine foreign and two Pakistani adventurers by militants who stormed the base camp of Nanga Parbat in the Bunar Das valley on June 24, 2013.
Although Gilgit-Baltistan has experienced intermittent sectarian violence for the last two decades, foreign tourists were never targeted. The scenic beauty and welcoming nature of the region are what made this a famous tourist destination in Pakistan.
Despite a post-9/11 slump, the tourism industry managed to recover, and was in this recovery mode when this incident – unprecedented in the history of tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan – took place. It will have far-reaching consequences on the economy of the region because 300,000 people are directly or indirectly affiliated with the tourist industry. By this one act, the terrorists have tried to block the lifeblood of people’s livelihood.
It was only last year that militants killed innocent passengers in Diamer and its surrounding areas. Despite the loss of precious lives, the government did not take any drastic action against the terrorists and relied on issuing diversionary statements.
This lukewarm response has emboldened militant outfits and provided them more space to penetrate further into the region. As a result we have now witnessed the murder of tourists in an area deep in the mountains. This geographical penetration of the militants betokens the extent of the ideological and operational outreach of terror outfits in the remote valleys of the Diamer district.
Nanga Parbat’s Diamer face is located in the inner valley of Goharabad in district Diamer. The base camp can be accessed from the Karakoram Highway via jeep. After that, it is a five-hour trek. In the villages of Gilgit-Baltistan any ‘outsider’ becomes prominent and is easily noticed, but the terrorists evaded people’s attention and reached their target. This shows the serious lack of security arrangements and the disconnect between law-enforcement agencies and the local community.
In order to avert any untoward event in the future, the local administration ought to take local communities into confidence so that movement of outsiders can be monitored. In addition, there are more than a dozen security and intelligence agencies working in the scattered valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, but because of lack of coordination intelligence reports are not shared and analysed on time.
This results in the skewed reading of the situation by each agency and formulation of counterterrorism strategies in isolation. For effective intelligence and action joint analysis of data and coordinated actions are imperative.
To ward off the spreading tentacles of extremism, it is essential to invest in the social sector and in peace initiatives in the Diamer district. Goharabad is the only area there that has opened its doors to tourists. Initially, those who introduced motels, camping, trekking, climbing, adventure and tours in and around Nanga Parbat faced resistance, but gradually the benefits of tourism convinced the populace of the potential the tourism industry offered in the uplift of their economic condition.
Over the years, Nanga Parbat and Fairy Meadows have become favourite destinations of national and international tourists. The selection of Nanga Parbat for killing tourists is an attempt to deprive people of their livelihood and reverse the process of development initiated through local endeavours.
The murder of tourists in Nanga Parbat is not an isolated event, rather it is a part of the bigger violent agenda of forces that want to mould Pakistan in their parochial ways. In order to tackle terrorism, it is important to devise a strategy that can take the local dynamics as well as the regional geo-politics of the great game into consideration.
Unfortunately, every terrorist act in Pakistan provides cogent reason for foreign powers to meddle in the affairs of Pakistan. The murder of Chinese, Russian and Ukrainian tourists will force vested interests to embroil in the great game that is being played on the turf of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The war in Afghanistan is a prologue of a greater game in which people will become victims of power politics. The terrorists want to push northward by dividing society along sectarian lines and fomenting indiscriminate violence in Gilgit-Baltistan. A divided and radicalised society will provide them an opportunity to establish a foothold within the communities.
Therefore, it is important to tackle this militancy and terrorism right away. If that doesn’t happen, regional powers will step in. China will not remain silent as terrorism and militancy make their way to the gates of its restive Xinjiang province.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org