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Terrorism

Taliban mountain attack could hurt tourism

Taliban fighters shot and killed 11 mountain climbers in northern Pakistan on the weekend. This attack was the first of its kind and will have repercussions on the country's tourism.

The attack on Nanga Parbat has bewildered people. "We did not expect this at all," said Eberhard Andres, who works for the German company "Hauser Exkursionen," which organizes trekking tours in Pakistan. "This is the first time something like this has happened."

Taliban extremists attacked the base camp on the west flank of Nanga Parbat and shot 11 mountain climbers - three Chinese, three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and one Pakistani. The assault was "of a whole new caliber," according to Dominik Müller, head of the "Amical Alpin" agency. Kari Kobler, a Swiss expedition organizer, is also shocked over the news: "It has not been a secret that Pakistan's security situation is precarious. But not in the north of the country."

People now expect to see a drop in tourism in the region, which has been in the process of recovering from the hit taken due to the volatile security situation there.

Expedition cancelled

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. (Photo: REUTERS/Sohail Shahzad)

The bodies of the victims arrive in Islamabad

"This has changed the entire situation," Kobler said. "This was bad for Pakistan." He said he had heard that the army would deploy a further 70,000 soldiers to the region. "But that is like a drop of water in the sea." Kobler is now considering cancelling an expedition to the mountain planned for the year 2014.

The company "Hauser Exkursionen" felt the need to respond to the shootings right away. It had planned a trip for July 8. "But that doesn't make any sense now," says Eberhard Andres. "We can't afford to go there now … but it would also be wrong to 'close down' Pakistan for the next few years."

He said there had already been a number of tours planned for the year 2013. Pakistan's fascinating mountain regions had been considered exclusive among trekkers and a good alternative to established routes in Nepal. "Word got round that people did not feel threatened there."

Less expensive alternative

Five of the world's 14 eight-thousanders are in Pakistan and one of them is the K2, the second-highest peak on earth. "Pakistan's mountainous region is beautiful," Amical head Dominik Müller said. "Nowhere else on earth can you find so many six, seven and eight-thousanders so close to each other."

In recent years, tourism has started to grow in Pakistan - not only because of the breathtaking scenery, but also for cost reasons. "The dream of climbing an eight-thousander is easiest to realize in Pakistan in terms of money," according to Müller, who added that China and Nepal had drastically increased their prices in the past few years.

An aerial view of Karakoram mountains range, Pakistan, Saturday 07 May 2005. (Photo: Olivier Matthys +++(c) dpa - Report+++)

Pakistan's mountain region has been gaining in popularity among mountain climbers

An eight-thousander expedition in Pakistan costs from 1,500 to 2,000 euros less than in China and Nepal. There is also less paperwork than before. Whereas mountaineers and trekkers could only apply for visas in long processes in Islamabad, they can now get permission in Skardu and Chilas, two towns close to Nanga Parbat in the north of the country.

Long-term trouble?

What will happen now after the attack? "We will have to see what the government does," said Müller. He was at Nanga Parbat three years ago and said the situation in the Diamir Valley was questionable. "Even back then, the clans were fighting each other."

There are no military posts there. "We were assigned an officer, but he did not end up accompanying us up the mountain."

Because of that, Müller decided to take Pakistan off his list for expeditions in 2013. "It is just too violent." This year, he says, all expedition groups taking the Karakorum Highway north received police escorts around Chilas.

Commercial organizers operating in the north of Pakistan say the area is safe. Now they have started organizing their trips by bringing travelers from Islamabad straight to Skardu by plane instead of by bus. After the attack, the German Foreign Office issued a partial travel warning for the region. The ministry in Berlin has advised travelers to Gilgit-Baltistan to inform themselves about the current security situation before going there.