Jason Burke reveals how the murder of climbers in Pakistan exposes a fresh front in the battle against extremists
© MD Nadeem/EPA
Pakistani air force officers carry a coffin of one of the climbers killed by a Taliban faction on Nanga Parbat in June.
The sun had long gone down. Sher Khan, a Pakistani climber on his first major expedition, had been dozing in his sleeping bag for an hour. Above the camp, the snowy flanks of Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest mountain, were pale in the deepening night. Suddenly, Khan heard shouts of "Surrender! We are Al-Qaida! Taliban!" then, in Urdu "Where are the Americans?"
Awake now and very frightened, Khan looked out of his tent. Men in camouflage fatigues and carrying AK47s were moving though the camp, pitched at around 3,500m below the famous Diamer Face of what is known among mountaineers as "the Killer Mountain".
Good weather meant most of the 40 mountaineers who had been camping on the lush meadow amid pine trees were high up on the 8,125m peak. But the sick and the tired were not. Nor were the support staff. They were dragged out, tied, lined up and shot. Khan, from a village a few hours drive away, was spared. A Shia cook died. A Chinese climber managed to flee.
"It was so bad, so bad. I was so lucky to get out alive. I still cannot sleep," Khan told the Guardian.
The attack, a month ago, was the first to directly target foreigners in the area.
The dead included three Ukrainians, two Slovaks, a Nepali, a Lithuanian, two Chinese and a Chinese-US dual national. It shocked many locally, and made headlines around the world.
A candlelit vigil was held in Gilgit, the local administrative centre 150kms from the site of the attack.
"We wanted to send a message that we are against this killing of innocent tourists. We have such beautiful mountains, beautiful valleys. We want to share them with the world," said Mohammed Zaeem Zia, the local doctor who organised the demonstration.