Attack on foreign tourists

Tourist economy under threat as federal govt priorities lie elsewhere

Ten foreign tourists and one native guide were shot dead in an attack in a resort in Gilgit-Baltistan late on Saturday night. The five Ukrainians, three Chinese and one Russian were hoping to scale the Nanga Parbat peak, one of the key attractions to foreign mountaineers in Pakistan’s troubled north, where the tourism industry was on its way to revival after the Taliban takeover of Swat in 2009. While the federal Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan told the National Assembly that “it was an attack on Pakistan”, he again refused to name the group responsible for this act. While confusion hovered for a while as to who the perpetrator was, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chose to lift the veil over who had done it.

The TTP spokesman told AFP that the killings were “by its new wing, Junood ul-Hifsa, set up to attack foreigners to avenge US drone strikes”. This attack was intended specifically “to avenge the drone strike that killed the TTP’s second-in-command Waliur Rehman” on May 29. The drone strike on Rehman had come at a time when the Pakistan government had declared its priority for talks, and Rehman was considered amongst the few TTP leaders that favoured talking over militancy. The attack has recreated a sense of fear and raised calls for the government to identify and target those who were behind it. The fact that the gunmen were dressed as paramilitary forces points to a serious security lapse and the infiltration of militants in an area not known to sympathize with the TTP militancy. But it must be remembered that no one was held responsible for the attacks on Shias in the area too.

The interior minister’s response has been to suspend the Gilgit-Baltistan chief secretary and inspector general police, but this only appears like a kneejerk response. The real questions the interior minister needs to be asked are: where is the much-promised National Security Policy that he spoke of again and why is he still speaking of “security agencies and intelligence agencies not coordinating”? Do they not fall under his and the federal government’s purview? With incidents of terrorism on the rise, the apparent aloofness of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is raising questions. Why indeed was the prime minister with the Punjab chief minister to announce that that the Punjab police would be re-organised like the Turkish police, instead of dealing with the security threat? Surely, the prime minister and interior minister are also aware that 377 people have been killed over the last 42 days in Karachi, including Saturday’s attack on a jail in Karachi. The interior ministry has a central role to play in weeding out the issue of terrorism. Quetta, Bannu, Bajaur, Peshawar and now Gilgit-Baltistan have seen major terrorist attacks. Now that the budget is set to be passed, the cabinet must turn to the issue of the rising terrorism. Resolutions in the National Assembly are going to do nothing, unless a unified response is articulated. The much-touted National Security Policy is needed – and soon.