Another 21 people lost their lives in a road accident involving a passenger coach on Monday; the bus fell into River Sindh in Skardu. With tragedies like this, it is always difficult to pinpoint the major cause, but human error and the treacherous routes both have a part to play in the frequency of such accidents.

The skill level required to drive on such challenging roads in northern areas such as Gilgit-Baltistan is clearly a reason for many incidents, not to mention that landslides and other natural occurrences make it an even more dangerous prospect. The fitness of vehicles that travel in these areas is also often circumspect. In many other countries, there are levels to a driver’s license – perhaps stricter testing for drivers on mountain roads is needed to improve the capacities of drivers in the area.

The federal government has been pushing tourism as an important component of our economic policy going forward, and naturally, the northern areas will be instrumental in enticing foreign tourists into visiting Pakistan. Mountain tourism might even be a bigger sell than the many other avenues of tourism we currently possess. Disasters such as the one on Monday are far too regular and not only cause the tragic loss of life, but is also damaging for our reputation as a country that is safe for visitors in all respects.

The government must take the lead on formalising road rules and implementing them in order to make the northern areas safer for travel. Drivers licenses and fitness certificates of vehicles must be thoroughly vetted before being allowed to travel using dangerous routes. Given that both licenses and transport registration have been more or less digitised, implementing this rule in the north will involve some initial legwork, but has to be done at some point anyway.

The Gilgit-Baltistan and federal administrations need to treat road travel in and out of Swat, GB, Hunza and Azad Kashmir no differently than a tourism-related activity. Regulation is the only way to avoid this loss of life on a regular basis and bring more revenue in through mountain tourism.