Pakistan Halts Mountaineering Expeditions Following Base Camp Murders

Pakistani mountaineering expeditions to Nanga Parbat asre suspended
Daniel Martin via WikiMedia

In the wake of the brutal killing of 10 climbers in Base Camp on a remote peak in Pakistan this past weekend, the country has suspended all mountaineering expeditions to the region. This unprecedented move has forced dozens of alpinists to abandon their climb as the Pakistani government scrambles to ensure they can keep visitors safe following the tragedy.

Early Sunday morning a team of armed gunmen dressed as local police stormed Base Camp on Nanga Parbat, the ninth tallest mountain in the world at 8126 meters (26,660 feet). The attackers reportedly pulled 10 climbers from their tents, bound their hands and shot them execution style. A Pakistani guide was also killed in the massacre while another Chinese climber was shot and wounded, but survived. Afterward, a militant group known as Junood ul-Hifsa, a relatively new splinter group from the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the killings, which they say were in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike back in May.

News of the attack sent a shockwave through the closely-knit mountaineering community, which has been coming to Pakistan to climb in the summer months for decades. The Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, which is where Nanga Parbat can be found, is normally considered to be very peaceful and welcoming of foreigners, which has only added to the sadness and confusion that has come with this massacre.Immediately following the attack, the Pakistani military moved onto the mountain and secured a safe exit for the other climbers, most of whom were further up the slopes at the time. At the moment, only one team remains on Nanga Parbat – a Romanian squad that is attempting an ascent along a different route. Their camp is located far from the scene of the attack and they are awaiting word to see if they will be allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, back in Islambad, other climbers are stranded in the city while they wait for an opportunity to travel to their targeted peaks. A number of teams hoping to make an attempt on K2 – the second highest mountain in the world – are now left wondering if they’ll even get a chance to climb at all. The Pakistani government want to make sure it can guarantee their safety before letting them depart for the mountains and as a result it is erring on the side of caution. While there have been no other attacks on mountaineers elsewhere in the country, an armed presence now exists on the trekking routes that lead to those peaks.

Summer is typically the busy climbing and trekking season in Pakistan and the economy there depends on visitors feeling safe. This attack is likely to make adventure travelers and mountaineers think twice before they travel to the region in the future, which could have a big impact on the poor people that live in these remote areas.

National Museum Of Afghanistan Struggles To Rebuild


Afghanistan
has a rich heritage. As a crossroads of trade it spawned numerous civilizations that were influenced by cultures as far away as Macedonia. There was even a thriving Buddhist culture in Afghanistan that created art inspired by Classical Greek models.

It’s also been rocked by decades of war that saw the destruction of many of its ancient sites and museums. The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul was especially hard hit. During the 1990s it was shelled and caught fire. When the Taliban took over, they destroyed about 2,500 of the museum’s statues for being un-Islamic. Gold and silver artifacts were stolen and melted down or sold on the international antiquities market.

Now the museum is slowly rebuilding, Art Daily reports. An international network of police forces and museums has been tracking down the museum’s stolen artifacts, as well as those illegally excavated in lawless parts of the country, and returning them to Kabul.

The museum staff surprised the world in 2003 by producing a wealth of artifacts they had hidden during the years of Taliban rule. These included thousands of pieces of gold jewelry and coins from the Bactrian era, more than 2,000 years ago. Those pieces are now on tour around the world as part of the exhibition “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul.” The exhibition just closed in Norway and is now headed to Australia.

There are still problems for Kabul’s museum. Power cuts are a regular occurrence, and the Taliban still threaten countryside. They and other Islamic extremists would love to smash a few thousand more statues. Moderate Muslims, like the staff at the museum and the locals who come to visit, see the Buddhist statues and other pre-Islamic artifacts as the heritage of their nation, not threats to their religion. One hopes that moderate Islam wins out in a country flattened by warfare, and that Kabul’s archaeology museum, once the finest in the region, can keep its doors open without fear.

Check out the photo gallery for a sample of Afghanistan’s magnificent ancient heritage.

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Skiing in a former Taliban stronghold: Malam Jabba, Pakistan

Pakistan, pakistan, skiing, ski resorts
Thumbing your nose at the Taliban has never been so fun.

The Malam Jabba ski resort in the Swat Valley of Pakistan has been a battleground between the Pakistani army and the Taliban for years. When the Taliban seized the area in 2006 they blew up the resort. They decided that skiing is unislamic, probably because it’s fun. Well, the Muslims in the Pakistani army didn’t agree with this interpretation of Islam and when they retook the region in 2009, they rebuilt the resort. Now they’re hosting a skiing competition to show off the new facilities, the BBC reports. Six Pakistani teams are competing. No news on the winners yet, but the only losers are those grumpy nutcases in the Taliban.

The army, which runs the resort, is hoping to attract tourists to the region. It used to draw intrepid foreign skiers but the fighting, which continued into last year, scared them away. Judging from the above photo, the skiing looks pretty good. Unfortunately it’s hard to tell what the facilities are like now because this picture was taken in 2005 by M. Sajid Ishaq, before the Taliban got their hands on it.

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Afghan archaeologists race to study Buddhist site before destruction

We all remember the Bamiyan statues, those giant stone Buddhas the Taliban blew up in 2001. One of the 1,500 year-old statues is pictured here. Pictures are all we have left of them.

Now another Buddhist site in Afghanistan is under threat of destruction. This time the danger isn’t the Taliban, but a Chinese mining company. The site of Mes Aynak in eastern Afghanistan was home to a thriving Buddhist monastery in the seventh century. It’s also right next to an abandoned Soviet mine that may have the world’s second-largest reserve of copper. A Chinese mining company has invested $3.5 billion to exploit the mine and Afghan officials are eager for work to get underway.

A team of Afghani archaeologists is busy excavating the site and has found an entire monastery complex with more than 150 statues. They were originally given three years, a woefully inadequate length of time for a team of barely forty people, and now they’re being pressured to finish by the end of this year. The archaeologists fear that once the miners move in, the monastery will get wrecked.

The mine will bring much-needed jobs and wealth to Afghanistan, which is also courting adventure tours, so the in the rush to yank copper out of their land they might want to think about preserving some of their past.

[Photo courtesy Marco Bonavoglia via Wikimedia Commons]

Flight attendant pleads guilty to bomb hoax

It was a bad week for Australians, it seems. A naval officer was physically restrained on a flight to London. Not too long after, Matt Carney, a flight attendant from Melbourne, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in England. It was his own fault: he left not one but two(!) notes on a plane to London, “warning” of a bomb. Of course, he was working the flight.

The 23-year-old soon-to-be-former flight attendant is from Melbourne, but he’ll have a new home for a while. As soon as his Emirates Boeing 777 landed at Gatwick Airport, Carney was arrested. No explosives were discovered. One note was found in the lav, the other in the flight attendant’s luggage.

The note was “discovered” when Carney found wires in the lav. Though they weren’t connected to anything, the crew monitored this smallest of spaces. A passenger later found the note, which included: “We have the Taliban to thank for this.”

In pleading guilty to making a hoax threat (he denied endangering the safety of an aircraft), Carney said through his lawyer that he was stressed and tired. If Dubai to London wore him out, let’s see how he handles 18 months in the slammer.