x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pakistan faces blow to tourism after trekkers gunned down

The victims have been identified as an American with dual Chinese citizenship, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two others from China, a Lithuanian and a climber from Nepal.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan today suspended expeditions on its second-highest peak and evacuated climbers after gunmen shot dead 10 foreign trekkers, braced for the collapse of its tiny tourist industry.

Attackers dressed in police uniforms stormed a base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat late on Saturday, shooting dead the climbers and a Pakistani guide at point-blank range, officials said.

The victims have been identified as an American with dual Chinese citizenship, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two others from China, a Lithuanian and a climber from Nepal.

Pakistan's umbrella Taliban movement claimed responsibility, saying it had set up a new faction, Junood Ul Hifsa, to kill foreigners to avenge US drone strikes on Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives.

It was the worst attack on foreigners for a decade in Pakistan and an unprecedented attack on mountaineers drawn to the climbing of the north, which until Saturday's shootings was considered immune from militancy plaguing other areas.

It is a major blow to foreign trekking expeditions, which provide the last vestige of international tourism in a country where Islamist militants have killed thousand of people in recent years.

Naiknam Karim, general secretary of the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators, said the killings were a "disaster" for Gilgit-Baltistan, where tourism is the main source of income.

"It will destroy tourism in our area," he said, adding that he had already received a slew of cancellations by email and telephone.

Before the 9/11 attacks, more than 20,000 foreign tourists, climbers and trekkers used to visit Gilgit-Baltistan each year, but the number has since fallen to around 5,000, he said.

Trekkers spend about Dh35,000 in the local economy, staying for longer as well as hiring guides and porters, Mr Karim said.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan said around 40 remaining climbers on Nanga Parbat have been airlifted to the city of Gilgit.

"We are really shocked, traumatised and full of anger. Pakistan is known among the mountaineering community. It was a brutal massacre. These people were killed for no reason," said club president Manzoor Hussain.

He said there would be no further expeditions on Nanga Parbat this summer and that requests for winter climbs would be subject to a security review.

Although expeditions on other peaks higher than 8,000 metres, including K2 - the world's second highest mountain - had not been suspended as the army was in those areas, he said.