Up to 230 people have been killed and more than 400 injured in a spat of suicide attacks in Balochistan province so far in seven suicide attacks. The security establishment and government functionaries have condemned the lawlessness in the province as foreign hands’ desperate measures to destabilize the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). 

On August 8 last year, 95 people were killed in a suicide blast outside the Quetta hospital. The very next day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Balochistan and categorically called the attack on the CPEC.

The day the blast struck Quetta, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a press release, quoting the Army Chief as saying that the attack was an attempt to undermine the improved security situation of Balochistan, and the effort was especially targeting the CPEC.

Similar statements have been issued by the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif and Balochistan Chief Minister that foreign hands are all set to derail the great economic gift to Pakistan from China.

The corridor set the bells ringing after Chinese Premier Li Kequiang visited Pakistan in April 2015 and announced the project. 

If you see the number of suicide attacks targeting Balochistan, it shows a hike in 2016 as compared to 2015, when only one suicide attack occurred, and it shows the new target is Balochistan, the focal point of the CPEC.

On July 17, 2015 two people were killed in a suicide explosion near Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University on Brewery Road. The attack was of a sectarian nature.

The nature of the attacks occurring in 2016, however, shows that attacks have aimed at security forces and the general public only to harm the CPEC. 

The suicide attackers opened the year of 2016 with a deadly blast on January in Satellite Town in Quetta where 15 people, including 13 police personnel, and an FC soldier, were killed and 25 others injured. The target was a hospital. After two weeks on January 29, a suicide bomber claimed six Pakistan Army personnel near the Cantonment area of Zhob district. This followed a suicide blast on February 3 in Kalat where one of the three would-be suicide bombers detonated the explosives he was wearing. Three days later, the suicide bomber showed his precision and detonated himself near an FC picket at Multan Chowk in Quetta, killing 12 people, including four FC officials, and injuring another 38 people. The deadliest of them occurred on August 8, when 95 people were killed and another 100 others injured outside the Quetta's Civil Hospital. The bomber hit the crowd mourning the death of Balochistan Bar Association President Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was killed in a gun attack just hours ago. Another of the deadliest blasts followed which killed 61 police personnel while 164 others were injured at a police training school at New Sariab on October 24. On November 12, 60 people were killed in a suicide blast at the Shah Noorani shrine in Hub. 

Peace remains elusive in Pakistan since the launch of the war on terror back in 2001, but the recent blasts show Balochistan is fast becoming a new flashpoint because of the security concerns. 

The government is aware of the security situation and for that reasons, extraordinary measures have been taken for the project. 

The project has been the main priority for the Army. To support his argument, the ISPR, in a press release issued on April 21 last year, had announced that it would set up a ‘Special Security Division for Pak-China Economic Projects’ for the projects of China in Pakistan. The security division will consist of nine army battalions and six wings of civil armed forces, a major general will command the division. 

The press release was issued right after the day Chinese President Xi Jinping had visited Pakistan.

TV footage aired tight security on November 15 this year around the venue of a great ceremony, seeing off the first vessels from the Gwadar port to some international destinations. The vessels had loads of cargoes of China and Pakistan. The ceremony, which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a part of the CPEC, was attended by the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, some Chinese traders and the then Chief of the Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif. The prime minister said the CPEC was for all provinces. He meant the economic benefits of the $45 billion project, mostly funded by China. Such greater economic activities need an atmosphere of ease.

According to figures shared by the official of the Balochistan Home Department 9,000 army personnel and 6,000 civil armed force had been deployed for the CPEC security and that under two Public Sector Development Programme projects for 2015-16 will raise 22 additional wings of the civil armed forces with an estimated cost of Rs7.546 billion and through another project raising six additional wings with a cost of Rs2.350 billion; so the total cost of projects stood in the range of Rs10 billion. This cost might go up by 20 to 30 percent with the inclusion of escalated land cost.

Khurram Hussain, a journalist with expertise on economic matters, dubbed these arrangements as the hidden cost of the CPEC. According to him, “Nobody doubts that CPEC carries tremendous promise for Pakistan. And nobody doubts that our security forces have made major sacrifices in the war on terror, as well as facing the looming threat from a belligerent India these days. But greater transparency is needed in the financing of CPEC projects. Otherwise, hidden costs of all sorts will start getting bundled into whatever recovery machinery there is, whether power tariffs of gas surcharges or whatever else”.

Another visible security measure for the CPEC involving huge allocations is the creation of the Gwadar Security Task Force. The force has been put under the command of a brigadier. The federal government and the Balochistan government are bearing the cost.

The skyrocketing figures for the CPEC security came from Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. He said in a news briefing in May that Rs 100bn expenditure on security was to be outside the fiscal deficit ceiling, would be generated again this year.

How will Rs100 billion be generated?

The answer came in an Economic Coordination Committee meeting, which decided Nepra should pass on security expenditures for CPEC projects security to the consumers. Nepra objected to the move. But they are now being offloaded directly onto the public through electricity bills.

That is not the end of the story.

“One percent of the Chinese investment will be spent on security of the project,” CPEC project director retired Maj Gen Zahir Shah told parliamentary committees in July last year. 

The CPEC was heralded as a game changer for the Pakistan economy. So far its security cost has taken its toll on Balochistan, the power consumers and over all public. 

In the days to come, it is expected that the government will reveal the security cost and the impact on the treasury.