(By Angela Benavides) Over the past few years, the number of trekking groups and expeditions visiting Pakistan have been in steady decline. Last year only 234 foreign climbers in 26 mountaineering expeditions visited; this season it looks like small teams on the 7000ers will outnumber the few expeditions heading for the five 8000+ meters peaks.
In addition to the effects of the global economic crisis, earthquakes and floods have devastated the country. Political unrest has linked Pakistan to bombings and terrorist attacks in the world news. Things went from bad to worse when US troops killed Osaba Bin Laden in Abbottabad, a residential area just miles away from Islamabad.
Pakistan took a diplomatic blow when it became clear that the most wanted terrorist on earth was living a fairly cushy life in virtually full sight. Then extremists in and out of Pakistan called for revenge, involving just about anything sounding western.
So what does that really mean to western and American security when climbing in the country?
Pakistan and US Govs: no further travel warnings
US Department of States last travel warning for Pakistan is dated on February 02: No further updates have been posted after Bin Ladens killing.
The warning note includes reports of US citizens attacked or kidnapped while in the country, but there are actually no restrictions to visit the place besides the usual recommended measures of safety including maintaining good situational awareness, avoiding crowds, and keeping a low profile.
Outfitters: Foreigners need not be afraid
As for local tourism-related companies and public entities, they do their best to ensure their guests safety by all means.
Being a responsible member of this sensitive industry, I should say that the current situation of Pakistan should not concern tourists at all, ExWebs correspondent Karrar Haidri stated.
Foreigners dont need to be afraid, as unrest is limited to certain areas. We (tour operators) take every possible safety measure beforehand and there is no question of compromising it. Ed. note: ExplorersWeb correspondent in Pakistan Karrar Haidri is also manager of Saltoro Summits and Executive Council member of the Alpine Club of Pakistan.
FTA: old news to veterans
Western climbing outfits share a similar view. Based in Australia and US, Field Touring Alpine offer climbs on K2 and Broad Peak, plus a number of trekking and BC managing services through the country.
We havent had any signed on members cancel their trip in light of the recent news, but I think it has added to the reservations of those who were planning to come to Pakistan with us this year but have yet to book their trip," FTAs director Dave Hancock told ExplorersWeb.
Anybody who has been to Pakistan in the past half dozen years knows from experience that its a non event as far as the Taliban and security go when travelling around the Northern Areas; its the new crew who read the media and form adverse opinions, and thats not surprising with the bad press Pakistan gets nowadays.
I have a common response to the often asked questions about security and political stability: In 15 years only two climbers/trekkers/tourists have been harmed in the Karakoram region, Dave noted. Moreover, both were the result of botched robberies in very remote areas, and while the victims were travelling without any local support or guides, he added.
I would suggest all those ExWeb readers who are contemplating a visit to the Karakoram this year to go, Hancock remarked. Not only will they find it safer than walking around your average regional US city at night, but you will be bringing to the local porters and people of the Hunza and Baltistan regions a great benefit during a time of significantly decreased tourism in the region.
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