ISLAMABAD: Forty-three foreigners gearing up to participate in the fourth edition of Kaghan Memorial Trust (KMT) Tour of Himalayas were rushed back to Islamabad by an armed convoy following fears and threats amid country-wide riots against anti-Islamic film.
Majority of the foreigners belonging to European countries were in
Kaghan Valley in connection with this year’s KMT Tour of Himalayas when fears of their safety amid the threats forced KP government to escort them to safe environment.
A well-placed source confirmed to ‘The News’ that some religious extremists in Balakot had threatened to engage foreigners during the Friday protest. Fearing the worst, the KP government in coordination with Kaghan Memorial Trust and the law enforcing agencies escorted the participants to safe havens of Islamabad.
“We have already announced the cancellation of tour this year. The participants, however, were still in Kaghan Valley. Under the instruction of KP chief minister, we evacuated all the foreigners from the valley,” Aqil Shah, KP Minister for Tourism, when contacted, said.
Tension mounted in the area when some unknown extremists threatened to besiege the 41 Europeans, one Australian and a Brazilian during procession against the film.
“Our first priority was to take the riders to safe environment that we did by escorting them to Islamabad in the wee hours on Friday. We could not have left anything to chance,” Aqil Shah said.
Kaghan Memorial Trust (KMT), a local non-profit trust to benefit the survivors of the 2005 earthquake, has held the race three times previously and attracts teams of riders from across the world.
Riders take on a challenging route that takes them across some stunning and harsh terrains at the altitudes of up to 4,200m competing in teams of five riders.
Chief organiser Khurram Khan appreciated the KP government’s swift action. “These foreigners mostly from Europe have long association with the tour. A good number of these riders were here last year and played their part in making the tour a success,” he said.
He said that the tour was meant to project the soft image of the country.
“Our organisation works to improve locals’ plight in the field of education. The foreigners’ participation in the annual meet helps the cause. They are our guests and as such their safety and security is our top priority,” Khurram said.
He maintained that majority of the participants had already promised to be back here next year. “Though these riders are unhappy to miss the fourth edition of the tour, they are confident to be back next year to start where they had left off this time. Meanwhile, Aamir Atlas lived up to his seeding by winning the $12,000Chief of Air Staff Squash title here at the Musahaf Ali Mir Complex on Saturday.
Aamir beat his compatriot Farhan Mehboob in four games 11-8, 11-2, 2-11, 11-2 to win the top prize.
The former international circuit top 20 player Aamir saw going easy against Farhan once he won the first set. Though he did not offer any real resistance in the third that he lost, he went on to win the title easily.
“I think I played my best of the game in the final. Slowly, I regained my top form and in the final I had everything to offer,” Aamir said.
Farhan, who only returned to the competitive circuit with the tournament, believed he needed some more international circuit events before getting into top gear. “I was out of action for three to four months. I only returned to competitive squash with this tournament. Hopefully, I will be in top form after playing a couple of more international events,” Farhan said.
Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, Chief of the Air Staff, who is also the President of Pakistan Squash Federation, was the guest of honour and distributed trophies and prizes among the winners. A large number of squash lovers from all walks of life witnessed the match.