ISLAMABAD: The worst has come true for the Alpine Club, which has conceded that Pakistan is not a popular destination for mountain climbers this summer.
“Security and safety is the biggest deterrent for foreign climbers. Deaths of climbers at Nanga Parbat base camp, last year, are one of the major reasons why foreign mountaineers are staying away from Pakistan,” said President Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) Colonel Manzoor Hussain.
In June 2013, 11 foreign mountaineers and a Pakistani cook were shot in an act of terror. Though it spread fear amongst foreign climbers, many did not abandon their passion to continue climbing.
Col Hussain said that his office did its best to assure foreign athletes at various platforms that Pakistan is as safe as ever to conquer some of the highest peaks in the world.
However, this year only 26 climbing expeditions have applied for permits to climb five of the highest 8,000 metres plus mountains in Pakistan, out of a total of 14 in the world.
In light of terrorist attacks, number of expeditions have halved compared to last year
Last year, more than 50 climbing expeditions applied for climbing permits from Spain, Poland, Ukraine, UK, Italy, Germany as well as Iran, besides the numerous no objection certificates (NOCs) for trekking that were issued by the Pakistani government to foreign adventure seekers.
Member Executive Council ACP Karrar Haidri explained that the recent terror attacks in Islamabad have also jeopardised the expedition and the club is expecting several drop outs from the 26 expeditions. He said that ACP was, however, encouraging the climbers who had to abandon their attempts on Nanga Parbat last June to return.
“These mountaineers had paid for permits last year. ACP will not be charging additional fees from these climbers and will make adjustments accordingly,” said Haidri.
It is not just the climbers who are staying away this season. Trekking expeditions have also lessened, especially after the government made it mandatory for all groups to be accompanied with liaison officers last year.
“With this new condition, the cost of trekking has gone through the roof. Trekkers are not well-off individuals. These backpackers save enough to make the trip and pay the $50 fees for a permit. However, a liaison alone costs more than $2,000. The trekking team is also bound to provide gear and manage ration for an extra team member,” Karrar Haidri said.
Col Manzoor Hussain explained that his office had held meetings with concerned officials in the defence ministry, as well as with military officials, to ease the conditions for trekkers who come in large numbers.
“The locals in the area have been affected the most, as they provide porter and guide services to adventurers. We need more tourists to come in order to give a positive impression of Pakistan to the rest of the world,” said Col Hussain.
To do away with the sense of insecurity after last June, the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) government is taking initiatives to encourage tourism in the region, which is the bread and butter of the local population, said Chief Secretary GB Sikandar Sultan Raja.
“We know that security in the region has improved. GB scouts have been deployed, police have been activated and the intelligence network is quite elaborate. The main culprits in the terror act have been apprehended and those still at large will be caught as well,” said Sikandar Sultan Raja, who has recently toured the region after taking charge of his office.
Nonetheless, the expeditions which have applied for permits to climb this summer season will be climbing all 8,000 metres plus peaks.
However, no climbing expedition has applied for a permit to summit the 8,126 metre-tall Nanga Parbat, also known as the ‘killer mountain’, so far.
Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2014