Secure KKH, Save Gilgit – Baltistan


The heinous killing of 16 innocent citizens on the Karakuram Highway (KKH) has underlined the security threats posed to thousands of local travelers and tourists. Although severer in barbarity, the February 28 carnage was not the first of its kind incident in the Kohistan region.

In the past, passengers have been harassed, looted and, in many cases, killed. Not very long ago, a bus belonging to a private company was set on fire by unscrupulous elements, of whom nothing is known. On many occasions unknown people have opened indiscriminate firing on vehicles, injuring and killing passengers.

These incidents have always created panic, distress and chaos in the GB region. After a major incident, the number of local and international tourists decreases significantly, according to past experience. The reduced number of passengers and tourists has adverse impact on the region’s already fragile economy.

In view of the international exposure, Ban Ki Mon’s statement and the comprehensive media coverage being two factors, this particular tragedy is likely to cause far more damages to the region’s economy than any past incident.

The increased sense of insecurity, aided by uncertainty and threats of future protests and violence in GB in the coming months, has created fear among the international tour operators.  Already, operators are reporting cancellation of expeditions and tours, due to fear of the unknown.

In this scenario, a marked drop in the number of international and national tourists this year is likely to render thousands of people jobless, pushing the region’s tourism industry to the edge, yet again.

One would expect the federal and GB government to take concrete measures to rebuild the travelers’ confidence, by making elaborate security arrangements. What we are seeing in reality, however, is a disgusting repetition of the traditional laxity and non-seriousness. Instead of enhancing security along the KKH, the GB government has restricted vehicles’ mobility at  night. Owners of transport companies have been asked to change the schedules of their vehicles to ensure that no vehicle passes through Kohistan during the night.

This flawed decision seems to be based on the ridiculous assumption that the passengers would be safer during the day. The decision makers need to understand that if security along the KKH is not enhanced the terrorists will strike at the time of their choice, as they did on February 28, 2012.

The Federal and Provincial Governments need to get serious and review the security measures. Ensuring effective security along the strategic international route, KKH, may require the establishment of a dedicated Highway force, on the lines of the Motorway Police, with additional training in counter-terrorism and combat.

Also, the networking, coordination and communication between the existing forces needs to be strengthened, through provision of better communication, transportation and surveillance equipment. Such long-term measures will help improve safety of the passengers on one hand and restore confidence of national and international tourists, on the other.

Taking measures to improve the Rawalpindi – Skardu and Rawalpindi – Gilgit flight service will also help the tourists and domestic travelers. However, it is clear that not many local people will be able to afford the air-fare, which has doubled in a single year.

A robust marketing strategy by the GB Ministry of Culture and Tourism is also a need of the time, to contain and gradually reduce the fear and uncertainty. The marketing strategy shall focus on the post-carnage situation, and clarify to willing travelers that they can visit GB without necessarily traveling through the Kohistan region. The potential visitors need to be told about the air service (if it is improved), the Babusar Valley route and, also, the Shandur Valley passage.

The people of GB need to be told in open terms that all is not unwell, despite of the disaster that fell on all of us. Resilient as we have always  been, life shall move on and our region shall return to normalcy, sooner than later.

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  1. Noor has truly reflected some of the vital issues of GB. I wonder if the government has the willingness to revisit their past practices and belief in managing security issues and people friendly travel means to GB!

  2. very well articulated article covering key related issues..creating disturbance in GB is like hitting the head of Pakistan…which Pakistan can rarely afford….However the lack of seriousness from the govt in Islamabad is really surprising…equally ridiculous statements of govt. representatives in GB

  3. I thank you Noor on behalf of Tour Operators fraternity for highlighting the issues faced by the tourist and tour operators due to this unfortunate incident in Kohistan… we are expecting more than 50% cancellations for this year of international arrivals. Some of our groups faced worst travelling experience on Karakorum Highway quite recently in the name of security, police literally harassed tourist by entering into vehicles and checking their personal belongings, making unrelated questions and staring at women… It took them twenty hours to reach Chilas from Islamabad, which is usually covered in ten to twelve hours, as each twenty to thirty kilometers they were stopped and checked… if the practice remains it is obvious that no tourist will ever dare to come back and travel on the eighth wonder of the world. I hope government of GB and authorities in Kohistan will take notice and make arrangements for the smooth and safe passage of tourist on KKH in coming months.
    Amjad Ayub
    Pakistan Association of Tour Operators (PATO)

  4. It is indeed a very good article. By the way, Pakistan has remained a launching paid in the past decades to fight the Russian Communism, thus most of these private militant groups sprang. Subsequently this country is going through a number big challenges to day. We hope that, eventually the young generation may understands the ground realities and abstains from any such activities. Unless people of Pakistan may not respect and care each other regardless of sects or tribes, our problems won’t be solved. Once again many thanks for a nice article, and I extend my deepest sympathies and condolence to the families of all those who were shot dead in Kohistan.

  5. one cannot feel the agony and pain unless one’s own loved one is lost for no obvious reasons. Certain people of kohistan and chilas might not have ever felt that pain of seeing their loved ones killed.therefore,they have been demonstrating their animosity against the people of specific sect,and against the backdrop of this animosity,many shia Muslims travelling through KKH have been brutally killed. Now while i am writing these lines,nine innocent travelers from shia school of thought were taken off the buses and were gunned downed while six buses were set ablaze.the terrorists escaped the scene very easily.every human being who has regard for humanity,regardless of sect,language or color, thinks and asks:why is it that these culprits carry out their heinous activities with that ease? the answer seems obvious: because the law enforcement agencies have their covert support to these culprits. there is a long and painful history of how,when and why the country’s security apparatus has developed collusion with these terrorist outfits.if the law enforcement agencies are sincere with the region and with the country,why don’t they take across the board action and bring the culprits to the justice?as long as one sided polices are pursued,against the real spirit and ideal of Pakistan,such incidents are bound to happen.it is time for every patriotic Pakistani to speak bold without being diplomatic.this nonsense, hypocritical diplomacy has brought the country to this situation. the day is not far that the oppressed community would be left with no option but the tit for tat if the just and rational decisions by the government are not taken.God forbid that day comes and if it does the government and the state will be sorry!!

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