CPEC under attack
The recent attacks on Chinese nationals are actually attack on China’s economic interests in Pakistan especially CPEC, a $65 billion-plus investment in infrastructure in Pakistan and part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
On April 26, three Chinese nationals and a Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide attack in Karachi and later the responsibility of the attack was claimed by Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a militant group operating in Balochistan for a long time.
The attack gave a clear message to China that its direct or indirect presence in Balochistan will not be tolerated. The group’s statement also claimed that the attack was carried out by the first female suicide bomber, Shari Baloch, belonging to the Majeed Brigade of BLA, illustrating the operational role women play in terrorist attacks. This increase in attacks on Chinese nationals also sent chills to the Chinese Communist Party, which wanted safe and secure economic ties with Pakistan.
Historically, the BLA has primarily targeted Pakistani security forces in the Balochistan province and Karachi, the key economic hub close to the province. However, as China’s economic, political, and security inroads in Pakistan have increased over the past years—especially since the launch of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2013—the BLA has also deliberately targeted Chinese nationals and interests in the country. In November 2018, the group targeted the Chinese consulate in Karachi, and last year, a spate of attacks targeted Chinese workers in the city.
Other than the BLA several other militant groups are also targeting China’s interests and nationals in Pakistan. Last year, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Nong Rong, was nearly a casualty in a bombing targeting a hotel in Quetta carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In June 2017, two Chinese nationals were kidnapped in Quetta, Pakistan, and later executed by members of the Islamic State. The broad range of organizations that have targeted Chinese nationals and interests in Pakistan poses a big challenge for the new government, which is already struggling to stand on its feet economically and desperately needs foreign help in terms of investment as well as strategic partnership in various projects and China is one of the countries that can rescue Pakistan in this hard time. In 2020, Beijing and Islamabad signed an agreement to enhance defense cooperation between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Pakistani counterparts. In 2021, the two countries announced deeper counterterrorism cooperation. As security concerns for China in Pakistan will likely continue to grow as violence worsens, the Sino-Pakistan strategic military and security cooperation will continue to evolve in parallel. The deepening Sino-Pakistan relationship serves Beijing’s geopolitical goals in the region, strengthening its traditional alignment with Pakistan against India and deepening ties to a now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Now Chinese are urging the Pakistani government to take immediate and firm actions on protecting Chinese nationals and projects and to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a press conference recently that terrorism was the shared enemy of all humans and China and Pakistan have the resolve and capability to cut the black hands of terrorists and make them pay the price. “The Pakistani government has promised to strengthen safety for Chinese nationals, projects and organizations. We will not allow any force to sabotage the great China-Pakistan friendship and cooperation. We believe Pakistan will take stronger measures to ensure smooth China-Pakistan cooperation. Any attempts to destroy this cooperation will be smashed by the two peoples,” said Wang.
A senior government official said already there are many security paradigms in place to ensure the security of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan that further may be beefed up by increasing intelligence sharing and relevant paraphernalia. Recently, the newly appointed Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also announced that Pakistan will provide all out security to the Chinese citizens. A security specialist believed that fully-supported by malicious international players, nexus of evils have ganged up with one another to sabotage regional peace, CPEC and Pak-China relations. He said in order to revamp security standards for Chinese nationals, there is also a need to launch special capacity building courses for Special Security Division (SSD) for CPEC that consists of regular armed forces and elements of the “Civil Armed Forces” (CAF), which is a federal paramilitary force within the Ministry of Interior. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has to take serious notice of the situation as any harm to CPEC or Chinese nationals in Pakistan will also hit the friendly ties between the two countries and will definitely affect the ongoing economic partnership.
— The writer is the Editor of Daily Jehan Pakistan, a senior journalist and the Joint Secretary (Punjab) of Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.