ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s already embattled tourism industry is struggling to deal with worried customers and cancellations after Islamic militants attacked foreign climbers preparing to challenge one of the world’s tallest mountains, killing 11 people.
For years, intrepid climbers and mountaineers, lured by a collection of awe-inspiring peaks, were some of the only international tourists willing to come to Pakistan. The region has also attracted Pakistanis looking for a respite from the summer heat in the southern part of the country.
Now hotel owners, tour operators and tourism officials worry that may be in danger after the vicious attack by militants Saturday on the climbing group at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, the second highest peak in Pakistan and the ninth highest in the world.
“The impact is huge,” said Ghulam Nabi Raikoti, one of two brothers who run Raikot Serai, a resort in an area of northern Pakistan called Fairy Meadows. From the hotel’s cottages and tents, visitors can look up at the face of Nanga Parbat, which has been nicknamed the “killer mountain” for the number of people who’ve died trying to climb its 8,126-meter (26,660-foot) peak.
Raikoti said a tour group of 50 Pakistani students already cancelled a stay at the resort.
Pakistan has been beset by militancy for years, but this attack will likely be especially disruptive to tourism because it struck foreign tourists in what is usually one of the most peaceful regions of the country.
The attack also demonstrated a high degree of planning. Just getting to the base camp takes roughly two days of hiking.
The militants, disguised in paramilitary uniforms, first abducted two local Pakistanis to take them to the remote camp in Gilgit-Baltistan. Late Saturday night, a group of about 15 gunmen attacked the camp, beat the mountaineers and took away mobile and satellite phones and money. Some climbers and guides were able to run away, but those that weren’t were shot dead.
By the end, 10 foreign tourists and a Pakistani cook employed by a tour company were killed.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the shootings.
The remaining mountaineers who were at camps higher up on Nanga Parbat when the shooting happened have been evacuated to allow the authorities to freely comb the area for the suspects, said the president of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, Manzoor Hussain.
“In that area it is difficult for someone to hide,” said Hussain, who added that there will be no more expeditions to Nanga Parbat this summer.
The Pakistani military evacuated 34 tourists Monday on a C-130 aircraft that flew them to Islamabad, said Muhammed Ajmal Bhatti, deputy commissioner of Diamer District near where the shootings happened; about a dozen left on Sunday. They were also evacuating the porters, guides and other Pakistanis from the area.
About 30 to 40 of the foreign climbers are stuck in Islamabad, waiting for their equipment to be returned to them before they can go home.
At a memorial service Tuesday in Islamabad for the slain tourists and cook, Polish climber Aleksandra Dzik said the mountaineers were evacuated from base camp by helicopter and allowed to take only one backpack with them because of weight restrictions.