The phenomenon of ‘environmental terrorism’, remains anonymous and ambiguous in Pakistan. Yet it is leaving equally devastating effects not only on the local populace but also on the overall ecosystem of the area. To be honest, majority in Pakistan still remain confused while differentiating between environmental terrorism and ecological terrorism. If we try explain the simple difference, environmental terrorism is act against the environment and resources while depriving populations of their benefits while ecological terrorism is to use of force in the interest of saving the environment. Thus the later is act of force against human encroachment and destruction caused by human intervention. In some way both are connected as well.
The label of an environmental terrorist is not necessarily reserved for an enemy state which bomb a forest or destroys a clump of trees or a terrorist group that poisons a stream, but the label also suits to the seemingly benign, peace-loving yet insensitive citizens of the country who may commit callous acts against the environment.
Between end of April and mid of May, snow starts to melt on Babusar Pass. Local tourists frustrated with heat and stressed with work in mega-cities start to climb towards the mountain valleys in the north with an aim to find peace and tranquility. Convoy after convoy crawls on the roads towards Hunza and Nagar Valley through Naran which by this time of the year becomes a shanty town. Many detour towards Baltistan from Gilgit to explore beauty of Shangri-La. However, I feel that sensing these convoys bustling with frenzied tourists, mother earth would shudder with the fear since people in these trains of vehicles smear, pollute and destroy the places they visit every time they venture deep into beautiful valleys.
Virgin lands such as valleys around Babusar Pass on Naran-Gilgit road, Khunjerab Pass in upper Hunza and Burzil Pass in Astore no longer remain unexplored and are no longer distant. As local tourists proceed out of these valleys, the serene grass slopes is seen devastated with camp fires, area left littered with garbage and heaps of emptied plastic bottles; and shopping bags seen floating atop fresh water streams. River banks where once a family stopped for a quick meal is left destroyed and littered. Thus a wave of environmental terrorism is unleashed in these beautiful valleys every year before the autumn chill and snow once again claim the valleys.
As per careful estimates Pakistan received 0.5 Million foreign tourists annually which rose to 1.9 million tourists in the year 2018. Thanks to the improved law and order situation in the country particularly in northern Pakistan, domestic tourists were encouraged in great numbers. The countries domestic tourism industry is estimated around 50 million tourists who travel in the country on short trips. Tourism in northern areas was further encouraged in 2019 when the government ended the requirement of a no-objection certificate for foreign tourists seeking to visit certain parts of Pakistan. With the number of increase in tourist flow, other issues related to facilitation of tourists could not be introduced or established.
Few of the many possible things the local administration could achieve, was to introduce fixed rates for hotels, guestrooms and camping sites so that prices remain affordable for tourists. Ban on plastic shopping bags was introduced in Hunza while tourists were persuaded to bring their garbage back with them so that it could be disposed at a central place. House to house collection of garbage was also introduced in the valley.
However, it is observed by locals a small number of tourists comply with these instructions. As usual the aware local community in the valley mobilizes off and on during tourist season and particularly in Hunza valley these days’ boy scouts, volunteers and girls guides can be seen picking up litter from road sides and shoveling the discarded garbage from water channels. While these volunteers work, one could feel that local populace is not happy with the local tourists. Local populace remembers that they never faced any issue with foreign tourists even in the days when more foreigners were seen in Hunza bazar than the locals themselves. Thus one can sense aversion towards local tourists. Locals believe that the tourists are most welcomed but this feeling of antipathy can only be addressed if the local tourists behave in a civilized way and as deserved by the environment.
Having blamed the tourists for most of the partial crimes against the environment, most of the blame also falls on the government which seems out of both, the capacity and the capability, to address this issue. It is an irony that government could not ensure simple facilities such as installation of garbage bins, urinals and toilets even in the places frequented by tourists accompanied with families. The result is evident by ugly photos of pollution and garbage dumps shared by locals on social media which further increase aversion against local tourists.
Thanks to community that feels the need to do its bid while government couldn’t do much in this regard. Much is needed to be done by the government but the very first step would be to wake up from the deep slumber of indifference and insensitivity. People of these beautiful valleys will continue to do their insufficient bid but it’s high time for government in Gilgit Baltistan to feel the responsibility and discharge it with honesty which unfortunately it lacks.
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