Islamabad: Pakistan on Monday suspended expeditions on its second-highest peak and evacuated climbers after Islamist gunmen shot dead 10 foreign trekkers, braced for the collapse of its tiny tourist industry.
Attackers dressed in police uniforms stormed a base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat late Saturday, shooting dead the climbers and a Pakistani guide at point-blank range, officials said.
The victims have been identified as an American with dual Chinese citizenship, three Ukrainians, and two Slovakians, two others from China, a Lithuanian and a climber from Nepal.
Pakistan`s umbrella Taliban movement claimed responsibility, saying it had set up a new faction, Junood ul-Hifsa, to kill foreigners to avenge US drone strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.
It was the worst attack on foreigners for a decade in Pakistan and an unprecedented attack on mountaineers drawn to the intrepid climbing of the north, which until Saturday`s shootings was considered immune from militancy plaguing other areas.
It is a major blow to foreign trekking expeditions, which provide the last vestige of international tourism in a country where Islamist militants have killed thousands of people in recent years.
Naiknam Karim, general secretary of the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators, said the killings were a "disaster" for Gilgit-Baltistan, where tourism is the main source of income.
"It will destroy tourism in our area," he said, saying that he had already received a slew of cancellations by email and telephone.
Before the 9/11 attacks, more than 20,000 foreign tourists, climbers and trekkers used to visit Gilgit-Baltistan each year, but the number has since fallen to around 5,000, he said.
The al Qaeda attacks on the United States were followed by in war in neighbouring Afghanistan, a series of backlash attacks in Pakistan and since 2007, Pakistan`s own domestic Taliban insurgency.
An average non-trekking tourist spends USD 3,000 in the area of stunning natural beauty, but trekkers sink USD 8-10,000 into the local economy, staying for longer as well as hiring guides and porters, Karim said.
"We used to be able to convince foreign tourists that there was peace in Gilgit-Baltistan but this incident has ruined everything," he said.
"It will also badly affect domestic tourism. The Pakistani government has to take steps to re-build the trust otherwise this last industry will be ruined," he added.