Nanga Parbat Massacre Demonstrates New DangersJune 28, 2013 in Pakistan
The murder of 11 individuals at the base camp of Nanga Parbat late last week suggests new dangers may be emerging for foreign climbers and tourists in the remote but previously peaceful regions of northern Pakistan. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8126 metres and a popular destination for Himalayan mountaineers.
On the evening of Saturday, 22nd June, 16 individuals dressed in the uniform of the Gilget Scouts (a police paramilitary unit based in northern Pakistan) arrived at the base camp of Nanga Parbat. After stealing personal belongings and destroying mobile phones, they killed 11 of the people staying at the camp. 10 of these were foreigners – 3 Ukrainians, 2 Slovakians, 2 Chinese, a dual US-Chinese citizen, a Lithuanian, and a Nepalese. Also among the dead was a local guide, reportedly killed because of his Shia religion, while Sunnis at the camp were spared.
While initially the perpetrators of the attack were unknown, it now appears that the Pakistani Taliban (or TTP) were responsible, claiming responsibility in a press release late on Sunday, 23rd June. Despite the common name, the TTP share no direct affiliation (and indeed have an at times problematic relationship with) the Afghan Taliban.
Based largely in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of northwest Pakistan, the TTP targets mainly the organs of the Pakistani state. It has been extremely active in terrorist incidents throughout the country – including being implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Moreover the group has been implicated by US Government officials as being behind the 2010 attempted car bomb in Times Square, New York, and been connected with the 2009 attack on CIA facilities at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan.
The TTP is extremely closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda, with current DCI John Brennan saying in 2010 “They train together, they plan together, they plot together. They are almost indistinguishable.” Nevertheless, for the most part the TTP acts mainly within Pakistan itself, and past attacks on foreigners have been rare. Indeed, despite the terrorism at times endemic to parts of the country, terrorist attacks on foreigners as a whole have remained unusual, with this incident reportedly the worst in over a decade.
However, in this instance foreigners were deliberately targeted. The attack was reportedly in retaliation for the death of Wali-ur Rehman, a senior TTP commander and spokesman killed with six associates by a US drone strike on 29th May. It appears that the TTP has recently established a subsidiary organisation, reportedly named Junood-ul Hifsa, with the goal of targeting foreigners in Pakistan in response to drone strikes. The attack at Nanga Parbat was explicitly connected with this new faction.
Reaching the base camp requires at least an 18 hour trek by foot or mule, suggesting this attack required a level of premeditation and planning as opposed to being an opportunistic or random incident. Despite mass detentions of porters and guides, and the apparent identification of the individuals responsible (local militants reportedly trained in the FATA), the perpetrators of this attack remain at large in the wilderness of northern Pakistan.
The region in which this occurred, Gilget-Baltistan, is a very remote self-governing province under the administrative control of Pakistan since the First Kashmir War in 1947 – 1948. Despite its connections with the on-going Kashmir dispute, and the activities of some militant nationalist groups, Gilget-Baltistan has remained broadly peaceful.
Nanga Parbat is an extremely popular destination for climbers, with upwards of 50 foreign mountaineers either preparing to ascend or on the mountain itself at the time of the attack, who have all now been evacuated. Multiple foreign tour operators have reportedly cancelled expeditions, with some commentators believing this incident could cripple Pakistan’s already weak tourism industry.
If, as claimed, this incident represents the beginning of a new strategy of targeting foreign citizens in Pakistan in response to drone strikes and other military action, it is extremely concerning indeed. With many foreign mountaineers and similar flocking to remote parts of the Himalayas in the summer months, they remain particularly exposed and vulnerable to any militant activity. In light of this incident, the British Foreign and Commonwealth office currently advises against all but essential travel to Gilget-Baltistan.
Asia-Pacific Summary – Piracy Incident (May 2013)June 25, 2013 in Asia
There was a low level of activity throughout the month of May, with only 8 reported incidents compared with 18 in April. This also represents a four year low for occurrences in May throughout the region. However, it is worth noting that monthly trends can and do fluctuate drastically, and that the general trend, particularly in SE Asia, is of increasing numbers of incidents following low levels several years ago.
The most notable incident was certainly the hijacking of a Chinese fishing vessel by North Korean naval forces. A large ransom was demanded by the North Koreans, but it is reported none was paid in this instance and the vessel was safely released.
Continued frequency of attacks on tugs and barges in Indonesian waters likely indicates these vessels are particularly vulnerable, and may need to consider heightened security accordingly.
Incident Occurrences by Country
May 23rd, Bangladesh – GOLDEN ADVENTURE boarded at Chittagong Anchorage, attempted robbery
May 24th, Indonesia – ANNA BARBARA boarded at Cigading Anchorage, successful armed robbery
May 20th, Indonesia – KOH-I-NOOR boarded at Belawan port, attempted armed robbery
May 15th, Malaysia – CREST 289 robbed 30nm northwest of Pulau Tioman
May 12th, Indonesia – CREST 2825, 3nm northwest Pulau Batam, robbed while being towed
May 12th, Indonesia – SAM HAWK boarded at Taboneo Anchorage, robbed
May 7th, Indonesia – fishing vessel PKFB 1532 attacked and hijacked in the Straits of Malacca. Vessel subsequently recovered by Indonesian Marine Police on 25th May.
May 5th, China – fishing vessel, the LIAONING GENERIC 2500, hijacked by suspected North Korean naval forces. Crew and vessel released on May 21st.
Released Chinese Ship Returns to PortJune 4, 2013 in North Korea
A Chinese fishing vessel, the Liaoning Generic Fishing No. 25000, seized by the North Korean navy in the Yellow Sea earlier this month, safely docked in its home port of Dalian on the evening of Saturday, June 1st. While there have been reports that no ransom was paid in this instance, the incident demonstrates significant potential risks for shipping operating near the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) disputed maritime borders.
The craft and its 16 crew were seized at gunpoint on the 5th of May and taken to be held in North Korea. The ship’s owner, Yu Xuejin, was not aboard and reports that he was informed of the incident on May 10th, when unidentified North Koreans contacted him demanding 600’000 Yuan (£64’000) for the safe return of his vessel. Both Yu and official Chinese sources insist the craft was in Chinese waters, though the ransom demand claimed the vessel was captured because it had strayed in North Korean waters. Yu was ordered to pay the money to a company in Dandong, a Chinese city on the border between the PRC and DPRK with a large population of ethnic Koreans, many of whom retain contact with relatives in the secretive North Korean state.
Instead of paying, Yu contacted the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and publicised his case on China’s micro blogging services, leading to marked public outrage within the PRC. The MFA made representations to the North Korean authorities and successfully secured the release of the vessel and crew on the 21st of May. Yao Guozhi, the captain, claims the crew was kept in poor condition with very little food, though they were able to continue with fishing operations for a time after their release.
While China and North Korean are officially allies, the relationship has become increasingly strained since the end of the Cold War. Beijing finds itself frequently at odds with Pyongyang, and there is significant public demand within China for a firmer diplomatic stance regarding its unpredictable neighbour.
In fact, this incident is only the most recent of numerous acts of piracy in the sea between China and the Korean peninsula. In May last year, 3 Chinese fishing vessels and their 29 crew were taken in similar circumstances in the Yellow Sea, with a ransom of 1.2 million Yuan (£130’000) demanded. In this instance, the captives were reportedly starved and severely beaten while in North Korean custody. Commenting on the most recent incident, a Liaoning Maritime and Fisheries official observed:
“Whatever you call North Korea – rogue state or whatever – these kind of cases just keep on happening. We had such cases last year and the year before. There’s very little we can do to prevent them”
Exact figures for the number of incidents remain unknown – in the past, many Chinese would pay the ransoms, which were at the time very small. This helped ensure incidents were kept out of the public eye. Demands for increased payment in recent cases perhaps indicate the North Koreans responsible have found the piracy profitable and may be escalating their activities as a result.
However, it is extremely unlikely last month’s seizure of the Chinese vessel represents official North Korean policy. North Korea cannot claim to have an entirely coherent state or military, and government entities including the armed forces became weak and disorganised when a disastrous famine killed an estimated 5 – 10% of the population in the mid-1990s.
As a result of the famine, a huge black market formed which is now the most significant economic force within the DPRK. While the current situation is nowhere near as extreme as in the 1990s, the state bureaucracy often fails to supply basic necessities. With the North Korean won essentially worthless access to foreign hard cash for use on the black market is crucial for even the most basic standards of living – cross-border criminality such as smuggling has proliferated dramatically as a result.
Piracy in the Yellow Sea is very likely another symptom of this trend. North Korean armed forces personnel are extremely poorly paid and often malnourished, and many become involved in criminal activity to supplement their meagre earnings. As such the most likely culprits in last month’s incidents, and identified as such by the Chinese victims, are North Korean naval forces acting opportunistically.
While broader state involvement is doubtful, some level of co-operation with local officials is likely, though the exact identity of the Koreans involved remains unknown. Additionally, reporting from similar incidents in the past has suggested the possible involvement of Chinese-Koreans, perhaps indicating a connection with ethnic Korean organised criminality based in the aforementioned border city of Dandong.
North Korea does not recognise the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime boundary with South Korea, and has operated beyond it in the past, while its maritime borders with China remain extremely fluid. Disputed territorial claims in the area and lack of strong authority in the DPRK have created a cat and mouse game of border incursions between vessels of both Koreas and Chinese ships. Chinese pirates also operate in the Yellow Sea, and killed a North Korean soldier in 2009. North Korea has a history of capturing South Korean ships, and reportedly continues to hold a total of 427 South Korean sailors and fishermen captive, though this activity has lessened dramatically since a peak in the 1970s.
The North Korean navy is poorly equipped, and for the most part limited to operations in or just beyond it’s territorial waters – the major shipping lanes in the Bohai Strait and similar likely remain outside the reach of most DPRK vessels. Nevertheless, any ships in the Yellow Sea and Korea Bay should be aware of the contentious environment and the potential for DPRK naval forces to engage in opportunistic acts of piracy.
While the political situation on the Korean peninsula has recently begun to calm down again, escalation is almost certain to reoccur in the future. In case of dramatically increased tensions, DPRK violations of South Korean or Chinese waters would be expected, with the North Koreans unlikely to respect the status of any neutral shipping in the area.