Mian Nawaz Sharif is heading towards China after assuming the mantle of Prime Minister for the third time. It is commendable that he selected Beijing as his first port of call.
Conceivably, the serious turn of events in Pakistan, especially pertaining to the security of Chinese citizens in Pakistan, the empty coffers, moribund economy and the urgency of launching fast track development projects like the “Economic Corridor” have impelled the PM to undertake the Beijing yatra.
The recent terror attacks in Pakistan, particularly the torching of Quaid-i-Azam’s Residency in Ziarat, the killing of female college students and nursing staff at a local hospital in Quetta and the carnage of 10 foreign trekkers, including three Chinese at Diamir in Gilgit-Baltistan, were, probably, aimed at sending a message to China to steer clear of Pakistan. Reportedly, the West is wary of the rise of China as an economic power and the installation of economic corridor from Gwadar to China will provide it greater impetus.
It has been rumoured that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is being manipulated to launch attacks on Pakistanis as well as Chinese in Pakistan. The TTP has been responsible for the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers from the Gomal Zam Dam site, which left one hostage dead during a botched rescue attempt. In summer 2007, the TTP sponsored militants kidnapped several Chinese citizens whom they accused of running a brothel in Islamabad, much to the chagrin of Chinese officials.
The Afghan Taliban, generally operate against international coalition and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan but are strictly opposed to targeting the Pakistani state. The TTP in contrast has almost exclusively targeted elements of the Pakistani state as well as Chinese interests in Pakistan, reportedly at the behest of the West. It is also believed that Baitullah Mehsud successfully targeted and eliminated Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007.
The tragic cold-blooded murder of the trekkers has revealed the emergence of a new terror group, Janud-e-Hafsa, which claimed credit for the bloody Nanga Parbat massacre. Sources reveal that foreign hands are involved in the attack as the group is, reportedly, receiving arms and additional assistance from Afghanistan and the motive of the attack was to dent Pak-China relations.
The situation is very grim and the government of Pakistan will have to take concrete steps to end the targeting of Chinese personnel as well as stop the alleged support by Taliban to terrorists in western China. A number of Uyghurs have, purportedly, received training at the terrorists’ training camps and allegedly launched by the West to foment trouble for China in the Xingjian province.
One of the most pressing problems being faced by Pakistan, apart from terrorism, is energy shortage. It is expected that Prime Minister Nawaz will ask Morinco, the Chinese company, to build solar energy plants in Cholistan and Rahimyar Khan, having a total generating capacity of 1,000MW. Not only is this the need of the hour, with crippling power shortages, the main barrier to economic recovery, but is also reflective of Sharif's diversification of energy sources.
China is also involved in building generation capacity from Thar coal, and through this thermal capacity based on indigenous coal, rather than imported oil. Recently, Beijing had withdrawn its mining teams from Balochistan owing to security concerns. Alternate sources of energy, wind and nuclear as well as hydroelectric power projects will come under discussion. Additionally, defence projects will be revisited.
The energy sector is not the only one in which China is involved, and which will be reviewed during this visit, infrastructure of the road or rail for linking Gwadar with China and the economic zones will definitely come into consideration.
While PM Nawaz will be finalising the agreements on the establishment of the economic corridor, in light of the recommendations of the task force led by Mr Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning and Development, who returned from China June 26, 2013, his counterpart in Beijing will require assurances for the security of the Chinese citizens in Pakistan.
In this regard, a leaf may be taken from India’s book and an “industrial security force” should be created, comprising elite hardcore security specialists, specifically trained to guard the safety of foreigners visiting or working in Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has his task cut out to reassure our Chinese friends for continued goodwill and support.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy on PTV.