The Pakistani government has halted mountaineering expeditions on Nanga Parbat, a day after armed militants attacked and killed 10 foreign climbers and a local guide.
A Pakistani mountaineering expert told Agence France-Presse that some 40 climbers on the mountain, the second-tallest in Pakistan and ninth-tallest in the world, have been evacuated and that no further climbs would be allowed this summer.
“Local authorities have evacuated them. They have all been informed of this incident,” Manzoor Hussain, president of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told AFP. “We are reviewing the overall security situation. The fallout apparently will be serious.”
“This [mountaineering] season is over for them,” Mr. Hussain added.
AFP reports that the 10 foreign climbers 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."
The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday that the attack took place in the middle of the night, as several militants, dressed as members of the local paramilitary police, ambushed the base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat. A spokesman for the banned terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told the Monitor and other media outlets that his group claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We will continue to target the foreigners until the drone strikes stop. This attack was particularly in revenge for the killing of our commander Wali-ur-Rehman. Our local Taliban faction in the area carried it out under our instructions,” TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said.
The Los Angeles Times reports that another militant group that operates in the area, Jundullah, also claimed responsibility for the attack in separate calls to the media. The Times writes that it isn't yet clear which group – if either – is responsible, and notes the claims could be a smokescreen by a third group, trying to deflect attention.
The BBC notes that because of the mountain's remoteness, the ambush – launched by up to 20 attackers – likely required a great deal of planning and preparation, not just tactically but physically as well. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan writes:
Officials in the Diamir district of Gilgit-Baltistan say the area where the gunmen struck is extremely remote and there are no roads and no means of transportation other than mules.
They say the attackers must have been well trained and well acclimatised. A lot of planning must have gone into conducting this operation. The area is a vast mountain desert, having approaches from three sides, each requiring 20 hours of walking; in practice two days of trekking.
The BBC adds that officials say the mountain's isolation should aid in the search for the gunmen, as they ought to be easy to spot from the air. Unconfirmed reports from local media claim that 37 people have been arrested so far in the investigation.
The attack is of particular concern to Pakistan's struggling tourism industry. The country's mountains were among the few regions regarded as safe from its ongoing struggle with Islamist militants. Experts told the Monitor that the attack could shatter that confidence, costing the country "billions of rupees."
“Around fifteen to twenty thousand tourists including mountaineers came to Pakistan each year during the summer season. Each one of them spends over five to six thousand dollars. The loss to Pakistan because of this attack will be in billions of rupees,” says Ghulam Nabi, a representative of Pakistan Tour Operators’ Association. “And it’s not just tourists that run away then, it also affects the foreign investor confidence."