Gilgit Baltistan: You have taken away our livelihood

Published: June 24, 2013
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A tourism rescue system should be established and intelligence agencies should do their job rather than poking their nose into the minute internal matters of the region. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Yesterday was a sad day for Pakistan. 10 foreigners, who were in Nanga Parbat to witness first hand the country’s beauty, were murdered in cold blood, allegedly to avenge a death caused by drone strikes. How these innocent travelers are related to drone strikes is beyond me. 

You know what is even sadder? Reportedly, local tour guides have started to receive emails from tourists who were to visit the area in July and August. They do not wish to visit Pakistan anymore; they have requested for the cancellation of their reservations.

If you thought this lone incident would bear no affect on the country, think again.

Essar Karim, who works as a local tour guide stated that he received the following email from a European traveller:

Oh my God! Such friendly people; such a peaceful place. How did it happen?

Exactly my sentiment. How did the Government of Pakistan let this happen?

My attachment to Gilgit:

Among the tallest mountains in the world lies one of the most beautiful lands one can ever behold: Gilgit-Baltistan. It is famous for its influx of foreign tourists during the spring and summer seasons. Unfortunately, however, this influx has steadily declined over the past decade, terrorism in Pakistan being the main reason.

After spending two years in the US to complete my Master’s degrees, it was a wonder and a relief to be back home. I was welcomed with the views of beautiful valleys, sparkling fountains, massive mountains, and beautiful scenery. What made me rejoice even more was the fact that G-B not only had these many gifts of nature, the region was enjoying peace after a long time. People were hopeful about tourism prospects this summer and its potential to generate sustainable wealth for the region.

I landed in Islamabad and bought a ticket to go home; to my surprise, I could not get my ticket confirmed due to the high flow of tourists to the region! Despite the setback, I was happy to learn that G-B has restored its tourist flow again. Many tour guides were also happy about the inflow, as a significant number of these people earn their livelihood through tourism in the region.

While I was in Gilgit, I saw many foreigners shopping and adding life, and varied richness to the city – even the G-B tourism ministry report declared a higher flow of tourists to the region.

However, tourism has been severely hindered because of the way our government treats tourists.

My observations of how tourism has been hindered:

An activity I observed that struck me as very unusual was that security personnel were interrogating the tourists in the city, even though it does not fall under their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, tourists were even barred from entering most of the glaciers in the Baltistan region as well; this region is famous for its hospitality and pacifism.

The fall in tourism in GB has many reasons and one of the main problems is the No Objection Certificate (NOC) policy of the federal government; as tourists have trouble acquiring an NOC to visit G-B, the flow is artificially decreased from the federation directly.

The extremely tragic incident at Nanga Parbat is one of the worst blows to impact tourism in the Diamer District (which borders KPK and Kohistan). It is certain that G-B will be thrown ten steps back and will have to work doubly hard to regain the trust of tourists. This one incident has taken away the hopes of the tourist friendly people of the rest of G-B.

I was talking to a local and his words struck me because they depict the depth of sorrow that people feel after the murder of the tourists,

“Mar mar ke humaray pass tourists aye aur aaj is incident ke baad humaray bachon ka mustaqbal bhi tareekh ho gia hai.”

(We have had tourists in our area after such a long time and today, after this incident, our children’s future has become dark.)

A year ago, many Shiites were slaughtered, butchered and stoned to death in same region. The murderers were dressed in military outfits and were highly trained. Unfortunately, the killers got away with the heinous crime; had they been hung publicly, no one would have ever dared to commit such a heinous crime again.

The lack of appropriate punishment has ruined the social fabric of Pakistan. Likewise, it is engulfing the peace of G-B, particularly in the Diamer district.

My solution: 

We, the residents of G-B, demand stringent action against terrorists carrying out such atrocious crimes; these are not reflective of the people we are. If this incident is ignored like the incidents in the past (e.g; Lulusar, Kohistan and Chilas), then the locals have every reason to doubt the sincerity of the security agencies within the region. It is nearly impossible for the miscreants to get away easily due to the tough terrain of the area. The mountains of the district should be searched thoroughly and operations should be carried out to take them head on. Furthermore, to tighten the security of this district, it should be handed over to the Gilgit-Baltistan scouts for search operations and particularly for the security of the foreigners, as they know the area better than anyone else.

To ensure the security of tourists, the provincial government should be empowered, and they should be given the authority to brief and debrief those in Gilgit-Baltistan and those who visit as well. A tourism rescue system should be established and intelligence agencies should make it their priority to do their job, ensuring security, rather than poking their nose into the minute internal matters of the region.

G-B is already under-served. If tourism is affected – as it indeed will be because of the Fairy Meadows incident – then it will descend into absolute desertion such as that of beautiful Balochistan.

My plea:

I reiterate that the people of G-B are tourist-friendly and hospitable; we are peace loving and culturally rich. We have numerous tourist spots that are safe havens for foreign tourists: Baltistan, Hunza Nagar, Astore, Ghanche, Ghizer, and Gilgit.

This incident of terrorism has greatly grieved everyone in G-B; we are stunned as we mourn for the victims and their families.

Needless to say, this is a serious blow to an already under-resourced economy. It is the high time the government prioritises education in the district of Diamer and take serious action against institutions that give birth to this mindset which ruins the appeal of regions like Diamer.

If the government is unable to meet the perfectly reasonable demands of security for the people of G-B, then it won’t be too long before they seek help from those who will! We have waited long enough.

Follow Dr Zaeem on Twitter @ZaeemZia

Dr Zaeem Zia

Dr Zaeem Zia

A human rights activist from Gilgit-Baltistan, and a Fulbright Scholar on Health Policy and Administration from Johns Hopkins University and University of Oklahoma. He tweets @ZaeemZia

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Syed

    Eliminate Salafi Takfiris and we can live peacefully. Who is protecting these people anyway??? How long before we finally make our mind??????? Enough already.Recommend

  • Khurram Awan

    @Syed: So basically you are stating that violence must be met with violence. ??. Pakistani liberals are a bunch of joke that they propagate wars for peace and i dont know how it happens. The people of Karachi and Punjab love wars and talk about elimination because war is in the backyard of KP and North West rather than in those provinces. But i must say that See the situation in Lebanon and Syria and kindly stop this rhetoric of Elimination once in and for all.
    It needs a Very Complicated and Bifurcated strategy to eliminate Terrorism and all out war should be the last option because of Collateral damage. Recommend

  • Abdul Qadir

    @Khurram Awan:
    The only way to deal with terrorists is to give them answer in their tone.
    Search them, Catch them and Execute them. Simple solution to this Terror stuff.Recommend

  • Esha

    What a wonderful emphasise description of the feeling of the people. Gilgit Baltistan sure is beautiful as the hearts of the people of Gilgit Baltistan are. We need to root out the terrorist who are carrying out such atrocities despite the fact that this incident has happen, Gilgit Baltistan is the most peaceful region.
    Long live Gilgit Baltistan!Recommend

  • A

    @Khurram Awan: I agree that all out war should be the last option but all of us have to think rationally.
    First off, the comment that this war is only being fought in KPK and not in Karachi or Punjab is totally false with so many of the TTP attacks on common citizens and security forces in Punjab and Karachi in the last several years. Why would you just box KPK and say that the war is just in that part of the country?
    Secondly, we have to be rational in deciding who we talk to and who we fight. The people who keep on killing innocent citizens, tourists and security forces on our soil, don’t recognize the constitution or will of the people of Pakistan, cannot be trusted with talks. PERIOD.
    If someone kills 10 tourists who were in Pakistan to enjoy the splendid natural beauty that this country has to offer and then go on to say that they were killed because of drone strikes or any other reason DO NOT deserve to roam around freely.
    We can only talk with the Taliban factions or people who agree not to attack anyone on our soil and we have to be very clear about it. The rest need an operation like the Swat operation to capture or kill them. *Syria etc are not good examples since there is no public support for the acts of the terrorists in the general population of Pakistan while the resistance movements in the Arab countries had popular support and were against the dictators that had ruled with brutality. Pakistan does not compare since we have an elected government and there is no popular demand to change the current government or form any other system of governance. * Recommend

  • Izhar Khan

    Why the terrorist be not punished? will it be justice if they are not punished? If your family is killed by them will you not demand justice? No negotiation worked in 2008. There is only one solution… fulfill all their demands are eliminate them.Recommend

  • http://,.. Tanveer

    Just got back from Fairy Meadows on Thursday while the incident took place on Saturday/sunday. It is very sad that no place is safe anymore in Pakistan. It is amazingly beautiful place and accounts for lot of foreign tourists as well as locals. Government seems to be well aware of the places and the situation. There are many check posts before going towards meadows. This seems like a deliberate plan to destroy Pakistan Tourism sector by sector. I heard (not confirm) that all local Uniforms are being sold in Chilas Market. I have seen locals over there, so many people get their daily wages because of the TOURISM only which is not possible this year may be.Recommend

  • http://,.. Tanveer

    According to my point of view which is purely surmise, I would say TTP is a sole organization (agency) not working for Pakistan and based solely on the agenda of destroying Pakistan and its image in the whole world so that it becomes easy for OUTSIDE forces to attack and capture it.Recommend

  • Insaan

    @Esha:
    We need to root out the terrorist who are carrying out such atrocities despite the fact that this incident has happen

    Terrorism is a big business in Pakistan. Pakistan government may just kill few innocent people to make it look like they killed terrorists. Pakistan Army/ISI and politicians control most of these terrorist organizations in Pakistan.

    In 26/11 attack on Bombay, Pakistani terrorists trained by ISI, pretended to be Hindus and killed 40 Indian Muslims and killed 124 non-Muslims from 12 different countries.

    Attack was done to start rioting between Hindu and Muslims, destroy tourism by killing foreigners.Recommend

  • moeed

    i had a friend coming over from australia … he is a polish national. and now after this incident. he just mailed me that he cudnt think of coming here in pakistan anymore, at all.
    the reason that i mentioned him here because he was bringing a tourist business to pakistan and he turned away. what a loss to bear …Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Syed:

    I don’t know how people want to negotiate with TTP. Don’t they have any shame. These scumbags have destroyed the credibility of a major religion called Islam. Worlds 7th largest army need to come out of their slumber and willful hibernation and confront this menace with full force. It is matter of survival for pakistani state.Recommend

  • Hussain Alam

    Good depiction of the local sentiments Dr. Zaeem. We hope that both the federal and provincial governments will take your wise suggestions.

    down with junood e hafsa and TalibanRecommend

  • Khurram Awan

    @Abdul Qadir: Well i was referring to the comment of Syed where he used the Word Elimination for one school of thought. Even tough i dont belong from Salafi school of thought but i know that You cannot eliminate any School of thought by forceful attitude and also Terrorism is multi dimensional and it needs a dynamic and complex strategy.
    There is a difference in Full Scale War and Surgical operations and Government must allow Surgical Operation but no group or any person must talk about the War within its own country as War have serious repercussions.
    Also Promoting Extra Judicial executions is not a solution as already we know that Balochistan is in a mess because our security agencies use to execute the people without getting them to courts and it is the reason of increase in Resentment in those regions. Recommend

  • Greek Tragedy

    Terrible tragedy, but tourism merely degrades the environment and degrades the people. The people must find other more dignified vocations.Recommend

  • Akmal

    The article is good, but some silly sentences have ruined its balance, I mean how can you call for action against “Area”, you can call for action against culprits or terrorists but how on earth can you justify action against “Area”. Silly!Recommend

  • Haji Beek

    I salute your audacity for saying the right thing on behalf of all of us here in G-B, “If the government is unable to meet the perfectly reasonable demands of security for the people of G-B, then it won’t be too long before they seek help from those who will! We have waited long enough.” Recommend

  • maryam khan

    Again an unfortunate incident.It would be so naive of us if we still dare to think that the bunch of Govt Officials would even bother to investigate this incident.I am really stucked with the fact that when the ignorant people will start learning the tactics of this dirty politics.This is all happening because the plotters have already planned to turn Gb into another Kashmir and Swat..Recommend

  • http://EU Genius

    Do you want security? Yes? True? Organize yourself. Start telling local people you come across that if they want to secure their tourist industry, then they must stop relying on others for their security or anything and everything else.
    You will do yourself and your people the greatest favour by pleading with them to come together to organize their own systems. Systems to make the tourist industry for your region on very sound footing giving security of the people and the tourists top most priority.
    You left security in the hands of others. Did you not? Did you get it? So do it yourself. Self help is the best help. Do not believe in it. Then try it and see if you ever failRecommend

  • Bhatti

    I was just wondering, what those Chinese & Ukrainians had to do with Drones? They probably had spent their whole life savings just to have a vacation and climb the Nanga parbat. What did they get in return? These Talibans are not just dumb they are illiterate as well! No sense of Judgement (Revenge). Just for their retarded intentions they ruined the lives of so many innocents and the living (Source of earning) of so many, in the tourism business! Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Greek Tragedy:

    Can you suggest alternative live hood in GB area. Please think before you pen your opinion.Recommend

  • Ali Madad

    You nailed it, thank you sir to have expressed the sentiment of oppressed nation of Gilgit-Baltistan.

    Shame on Pakistani Govt to have kept them as second class citizens.Recommend

  • Nemat

    Right Zaeem.. locals have every reason to doubt the sincerity of the security agencies within the region. They are just parasitizing on the resources of GBians.
    They push us towards insurgency.Recommend

  • Sarfraz Khan

    Dr Zaeem, everyone blames the security personal for terror and wants them out of their region. Case in point is Baluchistan. Then when the terrorists strike, they blame the security personal for not being there. What is the army to do?Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    @Khurram Awan:

    This is where I think its such a huge ideological crisis within Pakistan’s majority where naive moderate folks consider Salafist Takfiris, who have no issue of calling other Muslims, regardless of sect, ‘kafirs’ and worthy of death, and you calmly consider these radical extremists as a legitimate ‘school of thought’.

    I would absolutely consider the 90’s Algerian solution of having zero tolerance of religious extremist militants. Unfortunately the difference between the Algerian army and ours, is that ours considers religious nationalist extremists as ‘assets’. Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    If this incident is ignored like the incidents in the past (e.g; Lulusar, Kohistan and Chilas), then the locals have every reason to doubt the sincerity of the security agencies within the region.

    I’ve pretty much concluded that the Pakistani security agencies one way or another either sympathize or abet these Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/Sunni militant extremists, as history has shown us since the 80’s. Recommend

  • arif

    wonderful Dr.Zaeem zia for depicting the feelings of Innocent GBIANS ,.these areas Diammer district chillas n DArel are hubs of terrorists ,.i wonder why the government is silent ??? they want to make another sawat i guess.,Recommend

  • Mas

    @Izhar Khan:
    Because, the system or society that is supposed to punish the terrorists are themselves terrorists. So how can they punish the fellow brothers? Now those ‘heroes’ coming back to us. Recommend

  • gp65

    Any killing of a non-combatant civilian – be it a foreign tourist or a PAkistani civilian needs to be condemned and of course one has condolences for the family of those impacted.

    Having said that, I very much doubt that this incident could impact tourism to the extent indicated in this blog. The reason is that in most cases, foreign tourists are a very small fraction of the overall tourism in any area. Of course I do not know the ratio of domestic to foreign tourists in G-B , so what I stated is a guess but in Indian Kashmir, out of 2 million tourists around 50,000 are foreigners. IF similar ratios are true for G-B, even if foreign tourists drop significantly, the overall reduction in tourism should not be very high.

    This is not to undermine the need for the broader issue of dealing effectively with terrorists who kill innocent Pakistanis daily in school buses, mosques, markets, hospitals and madrassahs.Recommend

  • Hassan Baltee

    There is no hope left for to live there. I worked as a tourist guide for several years and finally putting my life in risk while I traveled on KKH. Being a shia, I got several threats and interogated by ISI for accompanying the foreigners. On top of that terrorism got destroyed and I ended up being in the US. I feel safe and there is no threat to my life, but in my own country I did not have that peace of mind. My heart pains when I see how my people suffer there. Being a father of 3 young kids is not easy to be way from home, but at the same time I feel better as I can support them economically and there is no threat of my life.Recommend

  • True Indian

    “Oh my God! Such friendly people; such a peaceful place. How did it happen?”

    hahahahahah…..the above statement was meant to be taken sarcastically …..hahhahahahahaRecommend

  • farah.S

    @Greek Tragedy:
    Really! You must think before you you say something.Recommend

  • Asim Shah

    People need to accept the fact that they are the creation of India and back to that country is where they need to go where they will have plenty of more targets. We should not negotiate with them at all. Recommend

  • Raja

    No doubt if any one had taken strong actions against the previous Shia massacre in the same region then no would have dared to touch our tourist guest.Recommend

  • ss

    IMO border with KPK should be sealed and local ppl should be hired to guard the border, it’s the only solution until federal govt. devise a nationwide policy to combat terrorism.Recommend

  • HS

    our security forces are not doing what they are hired to do. they get good salaries, their accomodation is free, their travel expenses are subsidized, i mean these people join the forces to feed their families and have a good living, the day this mind set changes NO! im not saying it is going to be easy eradicating terrorism, but im nt even saying that it is difficult. all they have to do is get off their slumber and catch the bady guys before they commit a crime and not reach there after all damage has been done. they really need to wake up! i mean how big is your country, where can these people possibly hide, everyday u hear after some bmbs goes off that TTP claims responsibilty from an unkown loaction. what is an unkkown location? u are living in the 21st century with all the technology u can possibly think off and still unable to penetrate in their hideouts!Recommend

  • saghir

    I am speechless….So sad incident.

    a huge hit on our values.

    Pakistan was know for hospitality and welcoming guests…..

    I wish this be changed in my life time…. I wish..

    I wish we changeRecommend

  • Mehdi

    @Hassan Baltee:

    Be safe or seek asylum abroad.Recommend

  • http://nah imtiazBalti

    It is absolutely ridiculous :( , and i personally condemn these kinds of inhuman activities done by some ridicule people. If anyone of you send me a petition i would take that letter to the U.N in New York while i am in WASHINGTON D.C.

    Imti Balti Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    @Hassan Baltee:

    That is very unfortunate. Its amazing how they seem to target and question every other vulnerable citizen, but for the religious extremist terrorists themselves. It is the same case with the Hazaras, who instead of being seen as minority victims, were treated as a ‘foreign threat’, instead of the Sunni extremist militant LeJ, who the ISI apparently had links with and thought were ‘patriotic assets’. When such insane bigoted sectarian religious nationalist violent ideological delusion is prevalent in Pak’s institutions and society, there’s not going to be much peace and protection. Even G-B, that lacks proper representation is said to be under a Sunni-Deoband hegemony despite having a majority Shia population.

    You will find in the West you’re freer being a Muslim minority than one would in Pakistan. Recommend

  • Munizeh

    Very moving piecw Zaeem, and your finishing sentence touched our hearts

    “If the government is unable to meet the perfectly reasonable demands of security for the people of G-B, then it won’t be too long before they seek help from those who will! We have waited long enough”.

    High time for ISI and cronies to learn now. They should do their rather taping phones and calls. Recommend

  • Angelica

    Lovely piece Dr. Z! This is a terrible tragedy that will have an unfortunate impact on good people. Justice needs to be had against these ruthless terrorists! I hope Dr. Z’s suggestions are set into motion asap. People should be able to experience the beauty, peace and tranquility GB has to offer without fearing for their lives!Recommend

  • Insaan

    @imtiazBalti:
    It is absolutely ridiculous :( , and i personally condemn these kinds of inhuman activities done by some ridicule people. If anyone of you send me a petition i would take that letter to the U.N in New York while i am in WASHINGTON D.C.

    Take your friends and family and protest outside Embassy of Pakistan in Washington D.C. United Nations can’t do anything, unless Pakistan is declared a terrorist country.

    You may need a permit from District of Columbia government to protest outside the Embassy. Recommend

  • Jessica Green

    Thanks Zaeem, this was very informative. We will love to visit GB and to meet you as well. Miss you.

    Lots of love.Recommend

  • http://www.dawn.com DB

    @Syed:

    I don’t know how people want to negotiate with TTP. Don’t they have any shame. These scumbags have destroyed the credibility of a major religion called Islam
    .Please read your history only because of these great mujahid your religion is able to spread.Please read islamic history .Recommend