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Tour operators assail security agencies

June 24, 2013
A traffic warden guides ambulances carrying the bodies of foreign tourists killed by unidentified gunmen near the Nanga Parbat peak, after they are brought to a military base in Rawalpindi June 23, 2013.—Photo by Reuters
A traffic warden guides ambulances carrying the bodies of foreign tourists killed by unidentified gunmen near the Nanga Parbat peak, after they are brought to a military base in Rawalpindi June 23, 2013.—Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Tour operators criticised the law-enforcement agencies on Sunday after the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp attack and said they did nothing except checking buses on the Karakoram Highway.

They accused security personnel of not making efforts to apprehend the attackers who could not have reached the road in less than 18 hours because of the difficult terrain.

Talking to Dawn, Ghulam Nabi, owner of the Fairy Meadow Tours, said there were three zones in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan.

“Siachen and mountains along the border of Afghanistan are a ‘prohibited’ area. Mountains over 6,500 metre high are in the ‘restricted’ area and mountaineers cannot go there without obtaining permits from the Gilgit-Baltistan Council after security clearance. However, the areas lower than 6,500 metres are open and anyone is allowed to go there,” he said.

“There are around 150 tour operators working in Gilgit-Baltistan but their mandate is to provide guides, cooks and logistics. The law-enforcement agencies get all information about the mountaineers at the time a permit is issued but don’t take any interest in providing security to them.”

Addressing a press conference, the president of the Pakistan Tour Operators’ Association, Amjad Ayub, said the mountaineers killed on Sunday had been staying at the base camp for 10 days for acclimatising.

“That place is at a (walking) distance of over 18 hours from the Karakoram Highway but the law-enforcement agencies did not try to arrest the attackers.

A team sent there cannot do anything except collecting evidence,” he said.

“We tried all day to meet the interior minister but could not get an appointment because of his engagements. We wanted to request him to ensure the arrest of the culprits because that is the only way to restore the confidence of mountaineers and the international community,” he said.

Mr Ayub said attacks on foreigners had also taken place in Indonesia and Egypt but there the attackers had been arrested.

“They can be apprehended by blocking exit points towards Kel, Neelum valley and Karakoram Highway. It is not a thickly populated area like Karachi and Lahore so they can be located through an aerial search.

“They cannot travel during the night so they will definitely try to escape on Monday morning,” he said.

He said 250,000 people of the region depended on tourism.

According to a spokesman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr Waseem Khawaja, the post-mortems of eight bodies had been completed and autopsy of the remaining two would be done on Monday morning. He said all the bodies were of men.

“According to initial reports all have been shot dead and most of them have injuries on their heads and chest.”