ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s security forces have scrambled to find the terrorists responsible for the weekend murder of nine foreign tourists and a local guide in the remote mountain wilderness of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir.
The Army has sent a number of helicopters to help local forces cover more ground.
A spokesman for the Army said its operations were in support of the Ministry of the Interior, but could give no further details.
No spokesperson was available to give further details at Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior, and no calls were returned.
The victims have been identified as American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Nepali, Slovakian, Ukrainian, and a Pakistani guide. They were murdered Sunday night at the base camp of the Nanga Parbat mountain, situated in a remote part of Diamer district.
Their attackers, who numbered perhaps 20 individuals, were disguised in the uniform of the Gilgit Scouts, a local paramilitary force that is part of the Northern Light Infantry regiment of the Pakistan Army.
They escaped into the mountainous wilderness, with the military scrambling resources to the area to hunt them down.
A new faction of the Pakistani Taliban set up to target foreigners, thought to be called Junoodul Hifsa (Soldiers of Heaven), claimed responsibility for the attack, which was in response to the death the Pakistani Taliban’s deputy leader, Waliur Rehman, in a drone strike last month.
They promised more attacks.
Given the remote location, it is uncertain whether the culprits can be apprehended.
Prior to becoming Australia’s defense attaché to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley in 1980-’82 was posted to the region as a deputy head of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a UN military mission in Kashmir that reported on the “quantum of forces” in Kashmir to try to stop exchanges of fire between the two countries.
He is familiar with the region and not optimistic the attackers will be caught.
“No doubt they have escaped into the mountains, but the Northern Light Infantry are a very hardy bunch of soldiers, for whom I have the utmost admiration, and I have no doubt they are searching for them,” he said. “But it’s a very large area, with some of the most difficult terrain on Earth.”
Though no confirmation from any source has been forthcoming, it does appear that Pakistan’s rotary-wing high-altitude counterinsurgency capability could be receiving a boost.
A tender was launched in May for 2.75-inch unguided rockets carried by the armed variant of the Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec lightweight multirole helicopter, which has good high-altitude capabilities.
To this point, it has been confirmed only that Pakistan operated the unarmed variant in service, but a deal for an armed variant has been in varying stages of negotiation since at least 2008.
The Fennec is equipped with stub wings for disposable stores and a rooftop infrared sensor, which Pakistan had initially asked to be moved to the chin of the helicopter. It is uncertain whether this modification has been carried out.
Even without new assets to ensure security in the region, the government is taking the attack seriously.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan criticized some senior security officials posted to Gilgit-Baltistan for spending more time here in the capital than at their postings.
The chief secretary and police inspector general of Gilgit-Baltistan have been suspended as a result of the attack.
Khan also called for the country’s security institutions to become more proactive rather than reactive. However, it is uncertain what lasting change the government will make.
Regular sectarian attacks in the region have cost the lives of numerous minority Shiite Muslims at the hands of Sunni extremists allied with or sympathetic to the Taliban. These attacks have drawn many government promises of a response, but to date, there has been no discernible action taken against these groups by the government.
Khan also announced an increase in compensation from approximately US $10,000 to just over US $30,000 for any member of the federal security services killed in the line of duty, as well as an improved welfare package for their dependents.
With no end in sight to Pakistan’s security problems, a steady stream of such payments is likely to be made.