Were the Taliban really behind the Gilgit-Baltistan tourist attack?

If the Taliban wanted avenge a drone attack, why would they target those with no connection to it?

Farooq Yousaf June 27, 2013
Pakistan suspends expeditions after tourist massacre” read the latest news headlines in Pakistan after one of the worst incidents in the country’s tourism history where nine foreign tourists, and their Pakistani tour guide, were shot at point blank range by militants on the base camp of Nanga Parbat, in Gilgit-Baltistan region.

The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were also quick enough to claim responsibility for this high profile attack, stating that their faction, Junud-e-Hafsa, was the main perpetrator of the attack. According to them, the attack was in response to the drone strike that killed Waliur Rehman, an influential TTP leader.

The moment TTP’s statement came out, there remained no doubt in everyone’s mind as to who the major culprits behind the attack were. Be it the world media, the local media, social media, Facebook or Twitter, all the mediums had one thing in common, ‘the Pakistani Taliban killed the foreign tourists.’

In terms of current trends and theories, when it comes to such incidents, allegations are laid either on the TTP or the Pakistan Army, involved in any incident, without leaving room for others. And even if you raise a debate hinting towards other possibilities, it is rejected as a conspiracy theory.

This is where it goes wrong.

Taking into account the Nanga Parbat incident, one has to think, ‘why did the Taliban go all the way to Nanga Parbat, kill some random tourists and then vanish into thin air?’

This may lead to several questions as well.

The Taliban attacked to avenge drones?

According to the TTP, this attack was carried out to avenge Waliur Rehman’s death in a drone attack to send a strong message to the international community. One wonders that if indeed the TTP wanted to avenge the drone strikes, why of all the places would they target Gilgit Baltistan, when they could have tracked down easy targets considering their past record? Even if they decided to conduct this attack on a mountain, why did they choose foreign nationals belonging to countries that had no connection with the war on terror or drone attacks? When, in the past, they attacked the Americans in Peshawar, it made sense, but attacking Ukrainians and Chinese, is somehow baffling.

And then they were gone with the wind...

I could not help but inspect the region via Google maps after I heard of the attack. This presented a clear picture of the tough terrain of the Nanaga Parbat peak. According to a story published by a foreign news outlet, the president of the tour operators in the region said that the spot where the incident took place was more than 4,000 meters high, with no population or hiding spots in the vicinity. The track demands expert trekking and acclimatisation to reach the base camp, and that also in more than 15 hours.

Even if the TTP was equipped enough to carry out this operation, how can they vanish within just a few hours of the incident, unscathed?

The region has witnessed cross border infiltrations from the Afghan side of the border, which thus brings in the possibility of the involvement of the Afghan Taliban in this incident.

But the media cried wolf and then came moral panic

Looking at the role of the modern day media, the moral panic theory precisely explains how the media functions in situations of fear and terror.

The media is feeding upon a common ‘Folk Devil’ for their headlines; the Taliban. As the Taliban are also operating with the most active ‘Open Account’ (as in bank account), any event taking place in Pakistan, or around, automatically registers itself into their account.

But during this whole process, some of the news mediums, rather than acting as reporting agents, consider themselves as analysts with the divine responsibility to shape public opinion. Thus, if any famous media anchor or journalist tweets that the Taliban called them to accept the event’s responsibility - and hence are the real culprits - their listeners, followers and viewers, without thinking themselves, believe what the analysts have to say.

If claiming responsibility has to be the sole criteria for pinning an event to an entity, then the assailant in 2009’s Binghatom’s shooting in New York was sent by Baituallah Mehsud, from Pakistan, as claimed by him, which sounds nothing less than a joke.

What concerns me the most is that on one side the militants are damaging Pakistan, both nationally and internationally, whereas on the other hand, just to follow clichés and get aboard the global bandwagon to present better headlines, the media is also not doing any good to the country or in shaping opinions of the masses on basis of incomplete information. Just as we saw in the case of Ajmal Kasab, the Mumbai attacks mastermind, when no one knew about his origin, a Pakistani media outlet took no time in proving that he was from Pakistan.

Yes, the Taliban may be involved, but one must conclude only after answering the aforementioned questions, and who they feel would benefit from ruining the tourism industry of Gilgit-Baltistan; a region whose major source of income depends on tourism.

I would not like to bring any foreign-hand conspiracy theories into play, but such high profile incidents, specifically those involving the Chinese who share broader cooperation ties with Pakistan, may also carry many other dimensions as well, and thus we need to analyse them thoroughly before reaching a solid conclusion.

Read more by Farooq here or follow him on Twitter @faruqyusaf
Farooq Yousaf The writer is based in Australia and holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Newcastle, New South Wales. He has previously completed his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He also occasionally consults Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and writes for various news, academic and media sources. His areas of interest and research Indigenous conflict resolution, South Asian history, postcolonialism, and counter insurgency. He tweets @drfarooqyousaf (https://twitter.com/drfarooqyousaf)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


michael brookfield | 11 years ago | Reply I was hoping to visit Balistan, via Sust, and go on to Giligit, Skardu and Khapalu this August, after a gap of 15 years. I visited Baltistan many times in the 1980's and 90's and have many friends there. I may still visit, as I think you should not be cowed by terrorists (and it is probably more likely you get killed in a bus/jeep/lorry than by terrorists anyway). But I feel very sad, not only for the innocent dead but for the lovely people of Baltistan - it will take many years before tourists and climbers start coming back in numbers, even if this is a one-off event. I visit Kashmir frequently and did even during the troubles, but it took 10 years for any significant numbert of tourists to return (and it is Indian Kashmir - get over it you - are not going to get it back). It is time the crazies (I won't call them Muslims or Christians) got put down for good and all - everywhere.
Talha Rizvi | 11 years ago | Reply If according to the author the Taliban are not involved in this than who is? Bugs bunny, Easter rabbit, the cast of Game of thrones, Amma aka Shakooran aka Qudussi sahib Ki bewah. Really it's people like him who give the Pakistan the impression of being a land of conspiracy theorists.
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