Pakistan trains high-altitude cops to protect climbers from militants

GILGIT, Pakistan (AFP) - Police in Pakistan's far north have set up a special high-altitude unit in a bid to entice back climbers after a group of foreign mountaineers were massacred by militants in the region in 2013.

The new 50-strong unit will be trained by professional climbers and equipped with special gear to help them work in the harsh terrain of the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

Northern Pakistan is home to some of the world's tallest mountains, including K2, the world's second-highest peak.

Mountaineers have long been drawn to the area by the challenging climbs, but tourism was badly hit by the June 2013 killings at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, Pakistan's no. 2 peak.

Mubarak Jan, a spokesman for Gilgit-Baltistan police, told AFP the new unit would focus on security for trekkers and climbers around Nanga Parbat.

"The high altitude police unit has been established with 50 policemen initially, which will later be expanded," Jan said.

In the 2013 massacre, gunmen shot dead nine foreign climbers and their Pakistani guide at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, already long known as the "killer mountain" for the number of people who had perished trying to scale it.

Jan said the police unit would be trained by elite commandos as well as mountaineers.

"Because of the ongoing military offensive in the country, there is a high risk of reprisal attacks and we can't afford to repeat any incident like Nanga Parbat," he said.

"They will be trained by professional mountaineers so that they can be helpful for rescue operations on the high mountains."

The Pakistani military has been waging a major offensive against homegrown Taleban and other militants since June last year.

Jan said foreign visitors were still reluctant to come to the region because of the fear of militant attacks.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.