x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Tourists' killing won't help the Pakistan Taliban

The Taliban's rationale for attacking tourists in a normally peaceful part of Pakistan is as fatuous as it is despicable.

On Monday, Taliban militants disguised as paramilitary police opened fire on a score of tourists in a remote and hitherto peaceful area of Pakistan. Ten people died.

This terrorist act was essentially an attack on the livelihood of the area's people. The killings occurred near Nanga Parbat, Pakistan's second highest peak and the world's ninth highest - known to locals as "the killer mountain" due to the colossal difficulty of climbing it. As that phrase takes on a new meaning tourism, almost the only local industry, is bound to suffer.

The area, known as Gilgit-Baltistan, has long attracted foreign tourists eager to see its beautiful valleys, plains, peaks and heritage sites - and because it has for many years been peaceful. The area has largely escaped the violence that seems endemic to Pakistan's tribal areas, to the south-west of Nanga Parbat.

Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. But the group's statement is as fatuous as it is despicable: "By killing foreigners, we wanted to give a message to the world to play their role in bringing an end to the drone attacks".

To be sure, the US campaign of drone attacks in the tribal areas and elsewhere infuriates many Pakistanis and is a prime recruiting tool for extremists. But the victims in Monday's attack were from a range of countries - including China, Nepal, Ukraine, Slovakia and Lithuania - that have nothing to do with US drone policy. Only one of those slain was a US citizen. And the idea that Nepal or even China can influence US policy in this matter is simply ludicrous.

The real target here seems to be the economy of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The militants' calculation is evidently that poverty will create radicalism. But this tactic is not likely to win Tehrik-i-Taliban many friends. And if the objection to drones is that they arbitrarily kill civilians, then what is the justification for killing civilians as a response?

The world will hope that the Taliban has miscalculated badly, so that Pakistan's newly-elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will not only object to American drones but will also summon the resolve to challenge militant groups in their strongholds before they can commit any more cowardly and nihilistic acts like this one.