Three gunmen carried out a brazen attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, Pakistan last Friday, Nov. 23. The shootout that ensued resulted in the deaths of four people, two Pakistani civilians and two police officers. All three attackers were ultimately shot and killed by security personnel, and no Chinese nationals were harmed during the assault.
Beijing was quick to reassure their confidence in their counterpart despite security concerns. As reported by CNBC, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad released a statement stating, “We believe that the Pakistani side is able to ensure the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel in Pakistan.” According to a statement by Pakistan’s foreign ministry, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi assured his Chinese counterpart via phone-call that a “thorough investigation will be carried out to apprehend the perpetrators their financiers, planners and facilitators.”
According to the Associated Press (AP), the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an armed- separatist group from the southwestern province of Balochistan, claimed responsibility for the attack. The BLA released photos of the three attackers, claiming to be fighting against the “Chinese occupation.” The BLA was also responsible for a suicide attack in August, where a bus carrying Chinese engineers was the target of an attack, resulting in at least six being injured, as reported by Al Jazeera.
This brings attention to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road initiative.” The CPEC project plans to develop an infrastructure and energy ‘corridor’ linking China’s western Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, in the Balochistan province. Originally stated at $46 billion, the CPEC program has garnered additional Chinese financing, increasing the investment volume to $62 billion as of 2017.
For decades, Baloch separatists have waged an ongoing low-level insurgency against the Pakistani government, seeking greater regional autonomy, as well as demanding a fair share of revenue from provincial projects. Since the launch of CPEC in 2015, armed Baloch separatist groups such as the BLA have begun targeting Chinese personnel. The local Balochs believe that the project is a guise to exploit the region’s natural resources while allowing the central government to expand control in the Balochistan province. According to a June report by the International Crisis Group, the state has ramped up its security presence in response to local dissent in Gwadar by stationing army checkpoints, suppressing anti-CPEC protests, and intimidating local residents.
As the project develops, China’s footprint continues to grow in Pakistan, with hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers stationed there due to the CPEC project. Hence, Islamabad is tasked with a growing challenge to maintain the relationship with its major economic benefactor, by ensuring the security and safety of Chinese nationals. However, the Pakistani government should also be mindful that due to reach of the project across such peripheral territories, consideration must be given to local ‘sensitivities’ – such as the employment of local labour, compensation to affected landowners, and communicate transparently about the project’s plans to all stakeholders. Neglecting these factors would only seek to aggravate political tension towards the government, widen social divides, and spark new areas of conflict in the country.
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