The Prime Minister of Pakistan made a startling statement recently, as reported in the media by Dawn. His comment was met with disbelief by many due to the dramatic increase in COVID cases and deaths. I reached out to my contacts in the Pakistani mountaineering community for their reactions. The bottom line, summer climbing looks bleak but perhaps in autumn. Here are the details.
The most significant issues that have emerged since Pakistan locked its borders and implemented internal quarantine and lockdown became: loss of overseas remittances and lack of tourism.
On 2 June 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the reopening of the tourism industry and allowed all overseas Pakistanis to return home and self-quarantine. With the tax revenue down by 30% and a drastic shortfall in foreign remittances, the economy was his top priority. He was quoted,
“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.
Since day one, I have been insisting that we cannot impose such a strict lockdown that had been enforced in Wuhan (China), the US and some European countries. There are 25 million labourers whose families will starve if they don’t work. So I, personally, have always believed that the lockdown was going to affect these workers,”
Many doubted his hunger claim. Focusing on the mountaineering part of tourism, the Northern Terrorties attract hundreds of climbers and trekkers each year, bringing valued hard-cash to the region and country. An expedition to K2 can hire several hundred porters and scores of High-Altitude Pakastani Guides. Last year, in the summer of 2019, 97 permits were issued to foreigners for K2, and for Broad Peak stand-alone had 38. Gasherbrum I &II had 84 permits. So it’s big money in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region.
But not everyone agrees with the Prime Minister (PM) on reopening. Hafeez ur Rehman, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan is quoted as saying “I won’t allow this on my watch,” and 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. Our health system is just not good enough to take the load if things go out of control.” He was quoted in the media The Third Pole.
And then there was this from Lahore-based Maria Umar, a social entrepreneur working for financial empowerment of women and who visits the mountainous regions of Pakistan religiously every year. “He [the prime minister] will be responsible for mass homicide,”
But the Government is banding together to defend opening up the economy and borders. Aftab Rana, chairman of the National Tourism Recovery Action Committee, said the decision was neither sudden nor out of the blue, but a “well-thought-out” one. He is quoted:
“We have been meticulously working on developing a strategy to open up tourism now for the last three months,” adding that the idea is not to open the floodgates for tourists, but allow “controlled tourism” with strict health measures.
Foreign Cancel, Locals Keep Hope
So with the political divides firmly in place, I reached out to several Pakastani operators for their views. I’ve already been told by many foreign operators, including Minga Gala Sherpa of Imagine Nepal, Lukas Furtenbach of Furtenbach Adventures, and Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering that they have canceled their plans to go to Pakistan this year. Also, it’s reported that German expedition operator Amical alpin, the Swiss provider Höhenbergsteigen, and the US/British operator, Summit Climb have canceled 2020 in Pakistan.
The reactions from the local operators are varied from “We have 20 Expeditions and 30 trekking groups applied for permits.” to “many people canceled their holidays …we are hoping for winter expedition for 8000 meters peaks.” And, “Our all summer expedition and trekking groups have revoked, and I am looking to have autumn Expeditions for Nanga Parbat.”
But this may sum up everyone’s fears based on Pakistan’s health care system: “…opening the north for domestic tourism now would be extremely disastrous.“
Pakistani Operators Weigh In
I asked several operators for thoughts on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement to reopen tourism and Hafeez ur Rehman response of “I won’t allow this on my watch,” and that “controlled tourism,” as the Government wants, was unrealistic.” Also, I asked them if they specifically planned on running any climbs to the 8000ers in 2020?
Karrar Haidri, head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, was the first to respond.
… first of all please remember that there is two different parties are ruling in Central and GB. As you know that the main tourist attraction is Baltistan specially for foreign tourists and in the other part of GB and Kpk locals are visiting every year. You are right that our health system is not good but the Tour Operators Of GB interested to open only for foreigners with SOP’s by Government Of Pakistan.
The hoteliers, transporters are demanding to open for all. We are also in the favour that in this season to open GB only for mountaineers and trekkers from abroad. Many groups are cancelled but more then 20 Expeditions and 30 trekking groups are applied Gilgit Baltistan Council for the Permit. As you know that season is going to start now. My few groups are cancelled but I have also trekking groups waiting for opening of flights.
While commenting on Hafeez plan I would like to inform you that Hafeez is going out on 24 June and new interim Government will be to hold new elections for GB by announcing a 14 days lockdownlockdown until 22 June he is gaining political support. Yesterday Hafeez met with tourism industry people in gilgit who are going for strike if Government didn’t allow federal government decision to open the tourism industry to those people he assured to open tourism on 16th About 8000 m peaks there are still people interested to visit Pakistan if it open by first week of July but many people cancelled their holidays Now we are hoping for winter expedition for 8000 meters peaks.
There are still chances for July first week onwards if a team comes for individuals it’s hard to Combine them into groups as we have very little queries.
Manzoor Ahmad of Karakorum Tours Pakistan responded with:
Exacly PM imran Khan has said to reopen tourim industry with SOP, however Chief Minister GB Hafiz Hafeez Rehman opposed to open the doors because of ongoing outbreaks, All hotels and Major events still closed till further order, probably you knows that Hafiz Rehman and GB member of Asembly tenure almost finishing touch, also the Party leader associated with Muslim League N. ( ex Nawaz shareef group) so it quite difficult to stream line the things on right time. Our all summer expedition and trekking groups has revoked and I am looking to have autumn Expeditions for Nanga Parbat.
Nazir Sabir, of Nazir Sabir Expeditions, weighed in with:
Lots of people even from the tourism sector people think as always Imran Khan went for a decision on tourism without much thinking and planning.
He lost the confidence of the masses on Corona as he terribly failed to provide proper leadership on this one and on many other national issues. He never makes sense when he argues lockdownlockdown to avoid Corona would take lives of the poor people.
Most Pakistanis believe that not a single person lost life due hunger in whatever so called lockdownlockdown we observed half heartedly! He came out as a total confused idiot on Corona and that’s so strange while the entire world was there to take lessons from….,
Thus he provided that bloody mullah Hafiz to speak against him and take a totally opposite direction with his policy on tourism. Pity. Please note mullah Hafiz is from the opposition party of the country’s most corrupt politician N Sherif. So he is always out there to oppose Imran’s decisions. Imran is screwing his own image through his stupid decisions all along.
If you ask me on this I take sides with the mullah Hafiz as opening the north for domestic tourism now would be extremely disastrous as our illiterate nation is not taking Corona seriously at all even we have crossed the figures 105,000 two days back. If Imran had any senses I’d expect him to only open adventure tourism with strict SOPs
I am saying this because most people in adventure are educated and more careful in terms of health and in case of Pakistan they would be only in limited numbers plus adventure travel provides employment to the most deserving n rather poor communities in the country
Now I am afraid in the same way mullah Hafiz would treat every tourist even the adventure tourism with the same policy that he adopted opposing Imran. The SOPs that have been issued by the Government for tourists are far too strict and very difficult to cater for n that puts the entire policy in question. So all this is confusing as regards foreign tourism
That’s all I can say looking at the current scenario here, Alan
Latest COVID Stats
Pakistan now ranks number 16 in the world when it comes to new daily deaths and cases.
As of this post, 9 June 2020, Pakistan had 108,317 confirmed cases, with 2,172 deaths. The mortality ratio per 100,000 population is now at 2.0% up from 0.73% on June 2 and 6 times from the 0.31% on 11 May. The number of total cases over 1.5X from 72,460 on just 2 June and 3.5X from the 30,941 on 11 May 2011.
Optimism remains for the region. In the Third Pole interview, Hafeez ur Rehman, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan gave a ray of hope, “We survived a decade without tourism when terrorists stalked our land; a year without tourism will not be a problem,”
I appreciate his optimism, but personally believe the only foreign tourist climbing in Pakistan might be a few professionals or those who have a high-risk tolerance.
Memories are Everything
**All COVD-19 stats from Johns Hopkins University