By K.N. Pandita
Who would believe that there will be a day when the white snow of mighty Himalayas would be crimsoned with the blood of those who wanted to bring its unique grandeur, magnificence, and its stunning beauty and splendour to the eyes of the world? The eternal mountain, around which many stories of myth and mystique are woven and which enfolds within its bosom life giving gift to humanity — glacial waters—- is besmeared with human blood.
It happened on 23 June when Islamic jihadis attacked and killed in cold blood a group of 10 foreign mountaineers (climbers and trekkers) drawn from different countries, the USA, China, Ukraine, Slovakia, Lithuania and Nepal, besides one from Pakistan, at a mountaineering camp 4,200 meters up on the mountain.
Pakistan-based terrorists disguised in the uniform of policemen stealthily landed at the hikers’ camp and murdered ten of them in a naked dance of barbarism. What was their sin?
A militant outfit calling itself Jundu’l Hafsa, claimed to have carried out the carnage. Its spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan said that the killing was conducted to seek revenge of the murder of their leader Waliu’l-Rahman Mahsud. Is revenge to be sought from the one who targets or those who have not even the remotest concern with that killing? The killers also meant to express their resentment to the US drone attacks in Af-Pak War. If so what had the Chinese or the Ukrainian or the Slovak or the Nepalese to do with drone attacks on Taliban?
But interestingly, after the nascent terrorist group Jundu’l Hafsa took the credit of bloodshed, Tehreek-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP), the most active terrorist outfit in Pakistan today also made a loud claim of conducting the operation on the Himalayas. In all probability, Jundu’l Hafsa seems to be the steel muscle of TTP that is now dominating Punjab chapter. Whether this group has anything to do with Jundu’llah or not is not clear.
It will be reminded that Jundu’llah is the militant wing of Sunni extremist organization called Lashkar-e Jhangvi of Pakistan whose central agenda is the decimation of the Shia population of Pakistan. Jund is Arabic meaning group. It was this group that had sneaked into Iranian Baluchistan a few years ago, launched a blitzkrieg and killed more than a dozen of Iranian Shia border guards. The Ayatullah regime in Teheran just pocketed the insult and shame.
On February 28, 2012, eighteen Shia people traveling from Islamabad to Gilgit Baltistan were dragged out of a bus and shot dead at Harban area of Kohistan district.
TTP has spread out its fangs in Gilgit Baltistan region much to the resentment and anger of local Shia population. It seems to have opened a new front in Gilgit Baltistan. TTP is enlisting terrorists and criminals to its rank and file. Dependable reports confirm that violent sectarian tendencies found groundswell in the region during the days when Pervez Musharraf, the former President and C-in-C of Pakistan, and now under house arrest awaiting prosecution by the Pakistani Supreme Court was the Corps Commander of Northern Areas..
Under his persuasions, Sunni tribesmen from northern and north-western parts of NWFP were prompted to move to Gilgit Baltistan in large numbers for permanent settlement there. They became the beneficiaries of the largesse of Pakistani government, and gradually, but under a well-calculated plan, the change of demographic complexion of the region began to be brought about. This had led to anger and resentment among the Shia population of Gilgit Baltistan. Pakistan’s ruling chapter suppressed them and charged some of them with seditious designs against the State.
It was not without significance that during his bid to jump into Pakistan’s recent election fray, Pervez Musharraf’s nomination papers were rejected from all other constituencies except that of Gilgit and Baltistan Terrorists, who attacked and killed foreign tourists / trekkers on the Himalayas on June 23, had disguised themselves as Pakistani policemen. It takes 2-3 days normally to reach the site where the carnage took place. How come that the assailants were not detected given the fact that Pakistani intelligence agencies keep a strict watch on foreigners/visitors traveling to the strategic area.
The pattern of radicals conducting Islamic jihad in the entire region including Kashmir is almost identical. Ordering closure of cinema halls, beauty parlours, wine shops, throwing acid on women going without veil and issuing decrees in support of violence are labeled as Islamic injunctions.
It is generally believed among inquisitive elements in PoK that ISI is not in favour of encouraging tourists, local or foreign, to come to Gilgit Baltistan. The agency is not interested in promoting any activity that would subscribe to economic prosperity of Gilgit. On an average a climber spends 3000 US dollars on his Himalayan adventure and a trekker spends around 10,000 US dollars. People of Gilgit Baltistan complain that discouraging tourism is indirect loss to them. They say that tourists are harassed at innumerable check posts enroute Gilgit, and most part of this checking is senseless.
Additionally, ever since thousands of Chinese army personnel (PLA) in the garb of technicians have been deployed in Gilgit Baltistan region for purposes best known to them, ISI wants to keep their activities hidden from the eyes of people. One can surmise any reason for this hush hush affair.
Frightened by world wide condemnation of this gruesome killing, Pakistan Government suspended expeditions to Nanga Parbat, the country’s second highest peak, and climbers have been evacuated from the area. The incident casts a gloom on the prospect of foreign mountaineering and trekking expeditions in Pakistan.
“The killing of foreigner tourists will hurt the tourism industry of Pakistan, which has already been on the decline in the last decade due to rising extremism,” said an official of the Gilgit Baltistan Tour Operators Association. He said around 15,000 tourists and mountaineers came to Pakistan each year, mostly during summer, and there should be a tourist security force, like the one in Nepal, to protect them.