Terrorism and War in the Himalayas

Terrorism is a word that originated around 130 years ago to reference anarchist that committed such deeds as murdering Archduke Ferdinand. In more recent history, it commonly refers to Islamic radical groups that are waging war in the name of Jihad. Terrorism is commonly known for the intent of spreading mass amounts of fear. This is something that most people in the world are familiar with because of such attacks like the recent bombing in Brussels International Airport and the historic 9/11 attacks, which toppled the World Trade Centers. The intention of terrorists is to destroy any sense of safety one feels within their home. In much of the homelands of these terrorist groups, there are vast and tempting mountain ranges that house some of the tallest mountains in the world. Places that a climber or mountaineer could only dreams of, are riddled with gunfire and an urge to kill the infidel or attempting to spread communism through acts of terror. For example, during the Nepalese Civil War, from 1996-2006, over 13,000 Nepalese natives were killed during a quest to reform Nepal into a communist state. This instability within the government could have led to several changes in the politics of mountaineering in Nepal. Another example, which will be elaborated on throughout this essay, is the recent terror attacks and kidnappings in the south and central Asia. Causing uncertainty for the tourists and climbers to visit that provide the area with less popularity. This would have caused a decrease in the tourism desirability. This recent increase in danger could have decreased the mountaineer population in parts of Nepal, which is contradictory to the increase of mountaineering in the Middle East. This leaves some discussion swirling around the reasons climbers pick certain expedition locations; this geographical choice leads to complex reasoning beyond safety. The dangers of climbing in these extreme locations may lend itself to the thrill of climbing. This essay will seek to focus on the effects that religious radicalism and war has on mountaineering in the Himalayas.

Beyond just death as a danger, climbers are being kidnapped for their supplies and funds that can be provided by loved ones. Why kill climbers when they can lend millions of dollars to their cause? Climbers were seen to be people who have thousands of dollars in equipment and food that could be very helpful to the cause. Kidnapping is an all too common tragedy that some fundamentalist groups use to fund or to provide leverage in their quest to accomplish Sharia Law upon the world. This will affect the commercialized mountaineering in the regions that this terrorism is taking place.

In order to understand this essay, there is a need to understand what Islamic fundamentalism is and where it stems from. Islam is a religion focused on bettering one’s life and offering understanding, by the one true purpose of humanity, which is to worship Allah (God). In order to worship God in every aspect of your life, a follower of Islam, or a follower who has chosen to give their life to serving Allah, needs to obey the five pillars of Islam, which include everything from economic structures to a government structure. Additionally, this entails what is called Islamic law, or more commonly known as Sharia Law. Sharia literally means “the path to the watering hole” and it offers a literal moral guideline similar to The Bible. Sharia Law comes from both the Qur’an and from Sunna (customs or practice associated with Muhammad). The focus of Islamic terrorist groups is to implement Sharia Law on to the rest of the world through Jihad. The highest enlightenment of a Jihadist would be the Physical Jihad. The Physical Jihad intends to protect all those serving Allah, prevent Muslims from being removed from their homeland by force, and attempt to let everyone expand their knowledge of Islam. Once a Physical Jihad has done this, they will be rewarded with an eternal paradise. This is where some of the Muslim terrorists get their ideals. The only way to let people understand Islam and protect it is to rid the world of the people who do not follow it. Not all Jihadists fall under Physical Jihad, some fall under the first level, Personal Jihad. Personal Jihad is known as the Jihad which seeks to purify oneself from the forces of evil, this is based on purifying and enhancing the self. It is when Jihadists branch out to enforce Islam on others that can provoke violence. Jihad is the term for religious war, and is a call to Muslims to fight all non believers and convert them. Although, killing is strictly forbidden by the Pillars of Islam, Jihad killing is justified if you are killing the forces of Satan or evil. Jihad refers to fighting those who are enemies of Islam, or those who fight it, and are, thus, allowed to fight against the Western World. This belief or interpretation of Jihad may lend itself to the reasoning behind these terrorist organizations committing such drastic crimes.

The war against the infidel, like any war, is expensive. Which is why groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or the Taliban, are involved in all sorts of lucrative businesses, such as opium (Pike). However, in 1999, there was new revenue source discovered when the IMU kidnapped three Japanese Geologists in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Although the Japanese government, nor the Kyrgyzstani confirmed a formal ransom, it is believed that millions of dollars were exchanged in order to gain their release, a very profitable venture by the IMU. This was soon known to be a great form of quick funding and all the radicals needed was more Westerners. This beautiful area, full of wondrous climbs, is very attractive to many climbers, which is why it is now a hotbed for kidnapping.

In the late summer of 2000, four Californian residents, Ben Rodden, Beth Rodden, Tommy Caldwell, and John Dicky adventured to the far distant country of Kyrgyzstan for a four-week excursion of climbing the Kara-su Valley. This is known for some of the world’s best big wall climbing, such as the Yellow Wall (Child, 2002). About a week into their trip, as they hung hundreds of feet in the air in their portaledges, shots of gunfire awoke them. Going down to meet these gun-toting men, they soon realized that they were dealing with Islamic Fundamentalist and members of the IMU (Child, 2002). Held at gunpoint, they were asked to identify a variety of things in their base camp, but, the obvious language barrier made it difficult. Hoping that this was simply a robbery, the climbers were soon disappointed. Stripped of their gear, the four Americans were kidnapped. In the days to follow, the climbers were stuck in the middle of a fierce battle between the IMU militants and the Kyrgyzstan’s Military (Child, 2002). The hostages were forced at gunpoint to hide during the day, and trek across the country at night, with little to no food or water. Eventually, they were able to escape their Allah crazed captors by pushing one down a cliff and running to the safety of the Kyrgyzstan Military that had been pursuing them. A lucky fate being able to escape, although several other circumstances are not quite as lucky, and this changed everything for mountaineering in these regions of the world (Child, 2002). This allowed the terrorists to have another means of scare tactics that would become profitable for their entire organization.

Kyrgyzstan’s trouble with the Islamic Radicals was some of the first to affect the lives of Americans (Child, 2002). However, the terror attack by the Terrorist group, known as al-Qaeda, on 9/11/2001 changed all of that (Pike). On September 12th, the US brought the country of Pakistan into the newly declared war on terror (Pike). This gave the US a base of operation to work from to attack al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan (Pike). After several air bombardments of al-Qaeda forces, fugitive influx across the border into Pakistan (Mukherjee, 2012), spreading these groups into a country that holds the second tallest mountain in the world, K2.

In 2013 at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, known as the Killer Mountain by the locals, a 8,126 meter peak in the northern region of Pakistan, there was a terrible tragedy. Sixteen Taliban gunmen entered the base camp around 10am on June 22nd, 2013 (Douglas, 2014). Through a series of events, a kidnapping went terribly wrong and eleven climbers ended up dead, with the twelfth wounded. This tragic event killed climbers from multiple nationalities, multiple cultures, and multiple beliefs. The survivor of this incident was a Chinese nationalist, and was amazed by the absolute brutality of the forces. The attack on this band of mountaineers was supposedly a retaliation for both the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the recent drone strike that killed the local Taliban lieutenant in the area. Pakistani military, along with NATO security forces, were quick to respond and the responsible terrorist have since been arrested or killed (Douglas, 2014). However, this event had the opposite effect than intended. Terrorism is intended to promote fear, however, for the American people and many others affected by terrorism, it promotes strength and for people to stand together (Douglas, 2014). This may be why there has been an influx of climbers, after the Nanga Parbat attack, to refute the Taliban’s terror.After the Nanga Parbat attack, there has been an increase in defiant climbing (Douglas, 2014).

This defiance, represented by climbing the mountains despite the dangers, is intended to show the Taliban that the West is not scared of their threats and acts of violence on mountaineers. However, the danger of another massacre is growing because of the increased amount of mountaineers in the region. This influx of climbers, despite the dangerous disclaimers of terrorism, could be because mountaineering already has so many inherent risks.

In the mainly Islamic region of Western China, there is growing Islamic terrorism because of the Chinese government’s laws that are provoking terrorist attacks (Gracie, 2015). The Chinese government has had repeated claims that the Uighur (Xu, Fletcher, Bajoria, 2014), a multinational terrorist organization, is actually acting under religious Jihad because the regulation on Muslim practices restricts certain religious freedoms. These regulations have created more resentment and aided in the growth of terrorism in the region. This is to the contrary of the Chinese government’s interpretation of these regulations. Organizations, such as the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), have inflicted several attacks against Chinese governmental institutions. They have also released footage showing gun training of young children in mountainous areas (Ikram, 2013). This depicts the rising severity for the mountainous areas that the Chinese government seeks to increase the growth of the mountaineering tourism, such as in Tibet (Xu, Fletcher, Bajoria, 2014). These mountainous areas that could be used for climbing or trekking, are becoming great camouflage for attacks that would further decrease the tourism potential(Xu, Fletcher, Bajoria, 2014). However with the threat of being kidnapped or shot by one of these youngsters, such as in the Nanga Parbat attack, could potentially occur in these rocky areas of China.

The same year that Rob Hall died on Everest, a civil war erupted in the nation of Nepal. The civil war boiled up from the Monarchal rule that had been prevalent over the area for decades that did not allow for any political parties to be formed. In 1991, Nepal transitioned to a Democratic Monarch, which allowed for a congress to aid in the ruling of the county (Do,Iyar, 2009), with a shrewd election that burbled up several political interests across the board. In 1994, the Communist Party, known as the United Marxist and Leninist Party (UML), lost power in the congress (Do,Iyar, 2009). In February of 1996, the Communist Party attacked a police station in Western Nepal, which was the starting point for all-out civil war between the Monarch of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). The goal of this CPN-M since 1994, had been to establish a republic and draft a constitution, thus, further limiting the power of the monarch (Do,Iyar, 2009). However, the first few years of the war was relatively stagnant and a law that was already in place allowed for over 1000 arrests by the government police forces, at the end of 1999.

The biggest shift in this time period was, perhaps, in 2001 when Crown Prince Dipendra killed his father, King Birendra, and most of the rest of the royal family including himself (Do,Iyar, 2009). This is the reason the CPN-M broke the unspoken cease-fire that had existed from 1999. The new king, King Gyanendra, sent the full force of the Royal Nepalese military to destroy the rebels. Before the new cease-fire that was signed in January 2003, the military had killed over 3000 Maoist rebel fighters (Do,Iyar, 2009). However, the violence of the war increased drastically in the latter half of 2003. At this point, the Maoist had gained control of most of the western half of the country. They had even gained the western district of Kathmandu for several days in 2004 (Do,Iyar, 2009). The Maoist gained the support of the people by 2005 and the CPN-M, held the majority of the country. The success of the rebels made King Gyanendra dismiss his prime minister and grab even more monarchical power. This was a fatal mistake that was greatly criticized by the United States and India. In September of 2005, the Maoist controlled most of the rural areas that declared a cease-fire. The people in a wide protest wanted King Gyanendra to give up his power, and in April of 2006, the people had won and King Gyanendra gave his power up (Do,Iyar, 2009). Although, the Maoist did not gain control of the country. The brutal civil war created economic and political unrest, which was very concerning for the mountaineering and trekking tourism.

From 1990 to 2000, the GDP of the Kingdom of Nepal grew by 5.9% (Pradhan, 2016). The drastic  escalation of the conflict from 2001 through 2006 caused the GDP to decrease by an estimated 3%(Pradhan, 2016). That is attributed to the military build up, from around 45,000 troops in 2001 to around 90,000 troops by 2005 (Pradhan, 2016). The build up removed funds and put them into infrastructure and other programs that helped grow the economy. The overall Maoist conflict caused a huge gouge in the tourist trekking and the mountaineering industry which caused it to fall an average of 14% per year from 2000 through 2005 (Pradhan, 2016). The threat of being caught in civil war is never an attractive idea to tourists. Mountaineers already had enough life threatening risks associated with their endeavors; being caught in a civil war does not spark up encouragement to visit.

Mountaineers are all about risking their lives in order to summit some great peak and many of them do, indeed, lose their lives on those climbs. So would the threat of running into some terrorist rebel group, not just add to the threat level? With climbing being the most dangerous sport, adding a bit more risk probably does not discourage the same individuals risking their life in the first place. Mountaineers are relatively happy to risk their life on an expedition because they believe the experience is worth the consequences. Without the experience of climbing, that may tamper with some of the mountaineer’s identity. Therefore, the added risk may be worth the experience for these brave individuals. Why should this added difficulty add anything else to it? The obvious best solution is to simply not go into these areas at all, thus, ridding the possibility of being kidnapped or killed. However, this is not the way of the culture that has formed around mountaineers. The odds have always been staked against these climbers; therefore, this new threat would not be anything that would break the camel’s back.

The fact that most mountaineers are fearless while climbing and are willing to risk their life and limb is well-known. However, these are risk factors that are somewhat controllable and inherent to climbing. The added depredation of the possibility of being shot or kidnapped is a whole new ballpark. This could mean several things, including limitation by governments of mountaineers entering the country, or to not having a local government to protect climbers. As mentioned earlier, in Pakistan, the influx of several thousand Islamic terrorists funneled into the country. This caused a war, in which, in 2013 international climbers were affected by.



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Xu Beina, Holly Fletcher, and Jayshree Bajoria Bajoria. “The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).” Council on Foreign Relations. September 14, 2014. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://www.cfr.org/china/east-turkestan-islamic-movement-etim/p9179.

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