Are you kidding? Most travelers would rank Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan as the most dangerous places to visit on earth. The British government advises it's citizens to avoid all travel to parts of Pakistan because "[t]here is a high threat from terrorism and sectarian violence throughout Pakistan. Attacks could be indiscriminate including at places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers." And they get very specific:
• 25 January 2011 marks Arba’een (Chehlum) which commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the battle of Karbala. Shi’a Muslims observe the day by holding large processions to signify the end of the 40 day period of mourning. In the past Sunni Islamic extremist elements have targeted these processions and it is anticipated that there may be an increase in terrorist attacks against minority communities in Pakistan over this period. You should remain vigilant and avoid any processions, public gatherings and crowded areas.
• We advise against all travel to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and much of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including the areas of Peshawar, Kohat, Tank, Bannu, Lakki and Dera Ismail Khan. We advise against travel to the city of Peshawar and districts south of the city. The Pakistani military is conducting ongoing operations against militants across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas (FATA) .
• We advise against all travel to Northern and Western Balochistan and advise against all but essential travel to Quetta and parts of Interior Sindh to the north of Nawabshah.
• We advise against all travel to Swat, Buner, and Lower Dir, including travel on the Peshawar to Chitral road via the Lowari Pass. In these areas there are ongoing reports of military or militant activity. Localised curfews may be imposed at short notice.
• We advise against all but essential travel to the Kalesh Valley, the Bamoboret Valley and Arandu District to the south and west of Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. These areas have seen an increase in militant activity recently which has included abductions, violent armed robbery and murder.
• We advise against all but essential travel to Lahore, due to the recent increase in terrorist attacks in the city. Staff at the British High Commission in Islamabad and the British Deputy High Commission in Karachi are not allowed to travel to Lahore for recreational purposes.
• There is a high threat from terrorism and sectarian violence throughout Pakistan. See Safety and Security - Terrorism & Sectarian Violence.
• The Pakistani authorities are also concerned about the threat to foreigners of kidnapping.
• If you are intending to travel to Pakistan, even if you are a regular visitor with family links, you should follow the developing situation in the news media and consult FCO Travel Advice regularly. You should also register with the British High Commission and take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.
The U.S. State Department put Pakistan on it's list of countries to avoid in July and emphasizes the presence of Al-Qaida, Taliban elements, and indigenous militant sectarian groups that pose a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan, especially in the western border regions of the country.
Terrorists and their sympathizers regularly attack civilian, government, and foreign targets, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPk) province. The Government of Pakistan has heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities. Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit, such as shopping areas, hotels, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, schools, or outdoor recreation events. In recent incidents, terrorists have disguised themselves as Pakistani security forces personnel to gain access to targeted areas. Some media reports have recently falsely identified U.S. diplomats-- and to a lesser extent U.S. journalists and NGO workers-- as being intelligence operatives or private security personnel.
I drove through the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan into Pakistan in 1969 and back the other way two years later. I didn't like the vibe and I couldn't wait to get to India so I drove through as fast as I could and saw very little of the country. Pakistan has been, for as long as I can remember, tourism's "next big thing." But I never really gave it a chance and I now consider that as a missed opportunity. Because I'm sure as hell not thinking about going back any time in this lifetime. Lonely Planet tries to paint an alluring picture without actually misleading anyone:
It’s a destination that has so much to offer visitors; drive the Karakoram Highway through the endless peaks of the Karakoram Mountains, or wander through the architectural glories of the former Mughal capital Lahore, the ancient bazaars of Quetta or the cosmopolitan streets of Karachi. But every time the country seems to be gearing up to refresh the palates of travellers jaded with last year’s hip destination, world media headlines send things off the rails – again. No matter the attractions, tourism in Pakistan has always been something of a hard sell. A glance at the map shows the country living in a pretty difficult region: always-unruly Afghanistan to one side, Iran to another, and a border with India running through the 60-year-old fault line of Kashmir. But since the events of 9/11, Western pundits have increasingly been wondering if Pakistan isn’t just living in a tough neighbourhood, it is the tough neighbourhood.
Yesterday I wrote at length about the similarities between the murder of Punjab Governor Salaam Taseer and the tragic massacre in Tucson around the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords within days of each other. Both inspired by violent, primitive, extremist factional leaders, Qari Hanif Qureshi in Pakistan and Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin in the U.S.
The Global Peace Index ranks 149 countries in terms of safety from New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Austria and Norway as the top 5 and Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq as the bottom five. Although Arizona isn't ranked, the U.S. overall is considered far safer than Pakistan at this point. The U.S. comes in at #85, less safe than Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Greece, Sierra Leone, Morocco, for example, but safer than Bangladesh, Uganda, Mexico, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Armenia, North Korea, Haiti or Serbia.
UPDATE: Now Isn't The Time To Visit Pakistan
Right after the U.S. operation in Abbottabad, the State Department put Pakistan on their Travel Advisory List, where it had already been anyway since February. There's likely to be a tremendous backlash against any American unfortunate enough to fall in fall into the hands of Islamist extremists. In fact, I'd just skip that whole part of the world entirely for a while.
Time For The Two Year Update
Short version: less safe than ever... if you're unlucky. And Saturday night 10 foreign tourists ran out of luck completely. The ten tourists-- three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two Chinese, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese and an American-- plus their Pakistani guide were climbing Nanga Parbat, the world's 9th highest peak, in remote Gilgit-Baltistan when they were captured, robbed, beaten and eventually gunned down by 15 Taliban militants disguised as policemen.
The Taliban was looking for revenge for a dead comrade who died in a drone attack last month and their spokesperson said that "by killing foreigners, we wanted to give a message to the world to play their role in bringing an end to the drone attacks."
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who wants to pursue peace talks with militants threatening his country, has insisted the U.S. stop the drone strikes, saying they violate Pakistan's sovereignty and are counterproductive because they often kill innocent civilians and stoke anti-U.S. sentiment in this nation of 180 million people.
Sharif responded to the attack on the camp by vowing "such acts of cruelty and inhumanity would not be tolerated and every effort would be made to make Pakistan a safe place for tourists."
Officials expressed fear the attack would deal a serious blow to Pakistan's tourism industry, already struggling because of the high level of violence in the country.
The interior minister promised to take all measures to ensure the safety of tourists as he addressed the National Assembly, which passed a resolution condemning the attack.
"A lot of tourists come to this area in the summer, and our local people work to earn money from these people," said Syed Mehdi Shah, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan. "This will not only affect our area, but will adversely affect all of Pakistan."