The Canadian Government has issued a travel advisory concerning the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) due to recent protests sparked by the arrest of a Shia cleric by Pakistani security forces. In their updated advisory, Canada strongly recommends avoiding all travel to this Pakistan-administered area due to the ongoing violent protests that commenced on August 31, 2023, in Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan. These protests were triggered by the arrest of a local religious leader under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and have resulted in clashes between demonstrators and security forces, causing disruptions in traffic and public transport.
The reference in this advisory pertains to the detention of Shia cleric Agha Baqir al-Hussaini, who had voiced opposition to the tightening of blasphemy laws in the region. Overall, Canada urges travellers to exercise a high level of caution while in Pakistan due to the unpredictable security situation, with threats of terrorism, civil unrest, sectarian violence, and kidnapping.
Furthermore, several areas in Pakistan are highlighted as risky for travel, including regions near the Afghanistan border, India, China, and Iran, as well as the Line of Control (LoC), PoK, sections of the Karakoram Highway, Balochistan province, and much of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Specific cities like Karachi are advised for non-essential travel due to the prevalent threat of terrorism throughout Pakistan. The advisory underscores the fragility and unpredictability of the security situation in Pakistan, with various terrorist groups operating across the country.
Additionally, the advisory mentions potential challenges for women travellers, warning that women travelling alone may encounter harassment and verbal abuse. Pakistan faces issues of gender-based violence, with reports of honour killings and forced marriages being frequent.
Furthermore, the advisory touches on the ongoing demonstrations across Pakistan, particularly in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi, following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. It also cautions that in certain areas with serious security concerns, Ottawa may not be able to provide consular assistance to Canadians.