Chinese Nationals Killed in Pakistan

Nine Chinese nationals and four Pakistani nationals were killed in a shuttle bus explosion in north Pakistan on Wednesday morning on their way to the China-invested Dasu hydropower project, Daily Dawn reported.

The Dasu hydroelectric project is part of  the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$65 billion investment plan under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative  that is aimed at connecting western China to the Gwadar seaport  in southern Pakistan.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday afternoon that the bus carrying Chinese workers in Khyber Pakhunkhwa Province plunged into a ravine after a mechanical failure resulting in leakage of gas that caused the blast.  The ministry said Chinese workers and Pakistani staff were on their way to work at an ongoing project, and further investigations are under way.

Two Pakistani soldiers were among the dead while injured included 28 Chinese nationals, according to media reports

Chinese spokesman

In a statement on Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Pakistan said that “a certain project of a Chinese firm in Pakistan suffered an attack, which caused the deaths of Chinese nationals”. It urged Chinese firms to strengthen their security procedures.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China was “shocked by and condemns the bomb attack.”

“We mourn over the Chinese and Pakistani personnel killed in the attack and express sympathies to bereaved families and the wounded,” Zhao said during a daily news briefing.

“We have demanded the Pakistani side get to the bottom of the incident, arrest and strictly punish the assailants as soon as possible, and earnestly protect the safety of Chinese personnel, institutions and projects in Pakistan,” Zhao added.

Chinese experts

Li Wei, an expert on national security and counter-terrorism at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Chinese projects are well protected by the Pakistani army and police, and vehicles carrying Chinese employees are usually followed and led by Pakistani military vehicles, especially in sensitive regions such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Long Xingchun, a senior research fellow at the Academy of Regional and Global Governance of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that if it was a terrorist attack, it may not necessarily target Chinese nationals. It could have been an attempt by terrorists to exert pressure on the Pakistani government and military.

Sharing similar speculations, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that he also tended to believe Balochistan terrorists and the Pakistani Taliban organization are possible sponsors of a bomb attack. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is the most restless region in Pakistan, as it borders Afghanistan and is home to the Pakistani Taliban, said the expert.

Qian said the group gained fame by attacking the Pakistani government, civilians and army. In recent years, the terrorist group has targeted Chinese projects in the country, and launched attacks on Chinese tourists, as well as businesspeople, as they know that Pakistan attaches great importance to China-Pakistan ties and aims to use those attacks to sabotage the relations, said Qian.

Anti-China attacks

On April 21, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of a luxury hotel in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, killing five people and injuring 12 others. No Chinese citizens were injured in the incident. The Pakistani Taliban organization later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Pakistani Taliban’s activities have been subdued with Pakistani government’s continuous efforts in cracking down on terrorism, yet they have been on the rise recently, one possibility being the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Qian said.

Wang Shida, deputy director of the South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania Research Institute of Contemporary International Relations Research Academy of China, pointed out that while the security situation in Pakistan has been improving and the number of violent attack has been decreasing, there has been an increasing trend of attacks against Chinese targets in the past two years.

In May 2017, two Chinese nationals were killed in southwestern Balochistan province, days after they were kidnapped by armed men pretending to be policemen from the city of Quetta.

This is mainly due to the smooth progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Wang explained. Some people inside and outside Pakistan do not want to see this and always attempt to create vicious incidents to delay the progress, Wang said.

Long said hydropower station is key project for any country, and something the Pakistani government desperately wants to protect. Normally, the Pakistani government makes sure those projects are well protected and he believes this time the army provided protection, and the accident happened suddenly before any reaction could be made.

The Pakistani army and police attach great importance to security of Chinese nationals and have set up special security units, Wang said, noting that in the past two to three years, there have been many attacks against Chinese targets without causing major casualties, which is due to the efforts of Pakistan.

The biggest concern is the impact of the deteriorating situation in neighboring Afghanistan: there are a large number of anti-Pakistan groups in Afghanistan, and if the situation deteriorates further, there may be more international and regional terrorist groups entering Pakistan, as well as hostile forces targeting Chinese nationals and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Wang said.

Long believes that after this incident, the Pakistani government will increase security around Chinese enterprises, as well as Chinese nationals as the destruction of the CPEC is the last thing they want to see. “The incident will not sabotage China-Pakistan ties. China will stand firm beside the Pakistani government to crack down on terrorism, and support them to punish whoever is behind this attack,” Long told the Global Times.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011@gamil.com

 


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