Foreign climbers will return, but not without security

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Aug 1, 2013.

Militant attacks might not deter foreign mountaineers from visiting Pakistan’s glorious peaks in the future. But for now, the international mountaineering community is looking for some answers.

Colonel (Retired) Manzoor Hussain, President of the Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP), said foreign climbers have been asking two main questions from the ACP authorities ever since June 22, when terrorists killed 10 foreign climbers at a base camp of the 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat Mountain in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).

“They want to know whether the culprits of the Nanga Parbat killings have been caught and punished,” Hussain said. “They also ask about the security measures the Government of Pakistan has adopted in the incident’s aftermath.”

Hussain, who was speaking during a press conference at the Jinnah Stadium on Wednesday, said the ACP has conveyed the questions to its parent ministry, the Ministry of Interprovincial Coordination.

“We have requested the government to inform us so we can convey the information to the international community,” he said.

G-B police believes 16 people took part in the killings. Four of the 16 suspects have been arrested, so far.

The foreign mountaineers are mostly concerned with how they are going to get to G-B or Chitral from Islamabad, Hussain said. “If we can give them the confidence that their security will be ensured, there is no reason why they would not want to come to Pakistan,” he said.

Hussain said the general assembly meeting of the Asian Mountaineering and Climbing Federation on September 29 and the International Alpine Federation’s meeting on October 2 will provide Pakistan opportunities to project its security measures on the world-level.

The press conference was held to welcome back the three Pakistani mountaineers who participated in the successful Pak-China joint expedition to scale the 7,546 metre Muztagh Ata peak in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

Muztagh Ata expedition

The expedition was planned before the Nanga Parbat incident happened but it was revived with urgency after the incident to pay tribute to the two slain Chinese climbers and to express solidarity with the grieving Chinese mountaineering community.

Three Pakistanis and five Chinese climbers took part in the Pak-China joint expedition, which was launched by the ACP in collaboration with the Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA).

The Pakistani team left Islamabad on July 5, reaching the mountain’s base camp on July 10.

The expedition scaled Muztagh Ata on July 24, despite strong winds and bad weather, said Rehmatullah, the mountaineer who led the Pakistani half of the expedition.

Rehmatullah said the Chinese mountaineers considered the Nanga Parbat incident an attempt to sabotage Pak-China friendship.

“But they agreed with us that such militant attacks cannot undermine the friendship between the two countries,” he said.

The expedition’s members observed a two-minute silence at the base camp to pay homage to the two slain Chinese climbers, Yang Chunfeng and Rao Jianfeng — they were experienced climbers who had scaled 19 peaks between the two of them.

A native of Chilas in G-B’s Diamer district, who was at Fairy Meadows when the June 22 killings took place, Rehmatullah seemed concerned about the current state of affairs in the area.

He said initial misreporting in the media about the accurate location of the attack had affected tourism in Fairy Meadows. The meadows are located near the North face of the mountain while the attack occurred near the peak’s western side toward Diamer.

“The G-B government has sealed the entire area,” Rehmatullah said. “Instead of encouraging mountaineers by providing them adequate security, they have barred entry to get rid of their own responsibilities.”

Rescue capabilities and No more K2

Even without the Nanga Parbat killings, the 2013 climbing season has been turbulent and unusually dramatic for foreign climbers. Three Iranians and three Spanish climbers have been presumed dead after they went missing on the Broad Peak and the Gasherbrum I respectively. A Polish mountaineer died after he fell during a descent at Gasherbrum I and a climber father and son from New Zealand died this week during an avalanche on K2.

All summit plans to K2 have been abandoned for this season after a meeting at the K2 base camp of the different teams trying to climb the mountain, Adrian Hayes, a British explorer and adventurer, announced in a July 27 Facebook update. Hayes said he was “devastated” by the “collective and reluctant decision” but said it was due to “deep and dangerous snow conditions on the mountain.”

Hussain said it is a “serious issue” that there are currently no rescue organizations in Pakistan.

“We should have trained rescuers who are acclimatized with high altitudes who are stationed near the mountains permanently,” he said. “We are trying to work with different government agencies to have rescue arrangements at least during the season.”

Usually, Army helicopters and mountaineering expeditions take part in rescue operations.

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