Dangerous game with mountain tourism in Pakistan

The 8611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan

“We are opening tourism, because these three to four months are important for the people associated with tourism. Otherwise more joblessness will occur at these places,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan surprisingly announced earlier this week. The former country’s cricket superstar, who has been head of government since August 2018, specifically mentioned the northern provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There the highest mountains in Pakistan are located, including the five eight-thousanders K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat.

According to Khan, the provincial governments would jointly make regulations under which the tourism industry could be reopened. It almost sounded as if the summer climbing season in the Karakoram could be saved against all odds – despite the coronavirus pandemic. But resistance is stirring in the regions mentioned.

Infection curve rising

The eight-thousander Broad Peak

“I won’t allow this on my watch,” said Hafeez ur Rehman, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, to the Internet portal “The Third Pole”, adding that “controlled tourism”, as the government wants, was unrealistic. “It is one thing to have these on paper, but quite another to implement them on the ground,” Rehman railed. “Our health system is just not good enough to take the load if things go out of control.”

Prime Minister Khan’s announcement came as a surprise as the infection curve in Pakistan continues to rise. So far, there have been recorded about 90,000 cases – more than in China, where the pandemic broke out. More than 1800 people so far have died in Pakistan from COVID-19. Nobody can say how high the number of unreported cases is.

75,000 jobs at risk

Against this background, it cannot be assumed that the release of tourism will lead to foreign mountaineers immediately pouring into the country again. Their concerns are too great. It is not for nothing that almost all foreign operators have canceled their expeditions to Pakistan for this summer or postponed them until next year.

Porters in the Karakoram

Perhaps a few professional climbers will show up in the Karakoram to implement their projects. However, this will not change the fact that – as on the mountains in Nepal this spring – it will remain quiet on the mountains in Pakistan this summer. According to Karrar Haidri, head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, more than 75,000 jobs in the country’s mountain regions are at risk because of the Corona crisis.

“A year without tourism is no problem”

Nevertheless, according to Hafeez ur Rehman, 90 percent of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan are against people from outside visiting the region during the coronavirus pandemic. “We survived a decade without tourism when terrorists stalked our land. A year without tourism will not be a problem,” Rehman said. But his words no longer carry too much political weight. His time as head of the provincial government expires on 24 June.