$62 BILLION INVESTMENT AT STAKE: Challenges for China in Pakistan

CPEC Chinese China Pakistani flags

China’s substantial investment of $62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) underscores the strategic significance of the relationship between the two nations. The recent attack on Chinese nationals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) underscores the vulnerability of the security architecture in Pakistan… writes Sanchita Bhattacharya

he recent attack on Chinese nationals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) underscores the vulnerability of the security architecture in Pakistan, which poses a threat to its strategic alliance with China in the context of the highly anticipated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The latest attack followed several prior incidents targeting Chinese citizens across Pakistan, raising serious concerns about the safety and security of foreign nationals working on big-ticket infrastructure projects. The repercussions of such attacks go beyond immediate casualties, leading to project disruptions, diplomatic strains, and economic setbacks.

During ten days from March 16 to March 26, Pakistan experienced five separate attacks, three in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and two in the southwestern Balochistan province, which resulted in the tragic deaths of at least 18 people, including 12 military personnel, five Chinese nationals, and one Pakistani citizen. These highlight the severity of the security threats faced by Pakistan and the inadequacy of its security establishment. The attacks targeted Chinese interests, highlighting a new chapter in Pakistan’s struggle against armed groups.

In the restive province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in the latest explosion in the Bisham area of Shangla district on March 26. An explosives-laden vehicle rammed into a convoy of Chinese engineers in transit from Islamabad to their camp in Dasu in KP.

Also Read
Corruption Scandal Rocks Walton Airport SaleNorth Korea Demonstrates Growing Threat with Hypersonic Technology
After every such attack, Beijing usually warns Islamabad of serious penalties if the culprits of the attacks are not identified and punished. This time also, in a statement, the Chinese Embassy strongly condemned the terrorist attack. “The Chinese Embassy and Consulates General in Pakistan strongly condemn this terrorist attack, express deep condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families, and are making every effort to handle the aftermath together with the Pakistani side,” it said. This time, however, Beijing has also called for a thorough investigation into the attacks, stressing the necessity of protecting Chinese interests in Pakistan. In response, the Pakistani government has committed to holding the culprits accountable and implementing measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and projects.

China’s substantial investment of $62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) underscores the strategic significance of the relationship between the two nations.

This is not the first attack on Chinese citizens working inside Pakistan. Earlier, In August 2023, a Chinese envoy in Gwadar, Balochistan came under attack, although no one was hurt. In 2022, three Chinese teachers and their Pakistani driver fell victim to an explosion in Karachi, Sindh. Similarly, in July 2021 also, tragedy struck when nine Chinese nationals and four Pakistanis lost their lives, with around two dozen others sustaining injuries, in a shuttle bus explosion in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). These incidents serve as stark reminders of the persistent threats and risks associated with working on critical projects like the CPEC. They not only result in tragic loss of life but also disrupt essential infrastructure projects, strain diplomatic relations, and create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for foreign investors and workers.

The March 26 attack in the north was not claimed by any terror or militant group. The substantial escalation of threats has led to a reassessment of the safety of Chinese nationals living and working in Pakistan. For example, the March 26 assault in Bisham has resulted in the suspension of work on the Dasu and Diamer-Bhasha dams. There are concerns that 991 Chinese engineers may be planning to leave Pakistan. This trend of departure among Chinese nationals was earlier observed in April 2022, when 40 Chinese teachers left Pakistan in the wake of a violent incident at the Karachi University.

Unfortunately, despite repeated warnings, the Pakistan army seems to be unsuccessful in combating the terror attacks against the Chinese nationals. China’s frustration with Islamabad over repeated terror attacks on CPEC projects is evident. Besides cutting down on the proposed investment, and Chinese leaving Pakistan, Beijing has declined to include cooperation in the areas of climate change, energy, and water management, under the CPEC projects. Pakistan’s proposal for cooperation in cross-border tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan, KP, and coastal tourism, as well as the setting up a new Joint Working Group (JWG) and the inclusion of a 500kv transmission line from Hub to Gwadar to link the seaport city with the national grid, were all rejected by China.

Even though CPEC remains a lynchpin of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it would be a mistake for the Pakistani establishment to perceive the attacks as merely a security issue. They point to the broader vulnerability of Pakistan’s political-economy. Pakistan’s security issues, oscillating from its never-ending skirmishes with Afghanistan and the Baloch unrest in the west, require more than just a military response.

Pakistan’s leadership has placed a disproportionately high importance on CPEC projects. The dependence on China, along with its protracted financial crisis, has made Pakistan more susceptible on numerous other fronts.

The resurgence of violent incidents coinciding with the Afghan Taliban’s return to power and the involvement of assorted radical groups illustrate the multifaceted security challenges faced by Pakistan.

The persistent grievances in Balochistan against structural poverty and relentless resource extraction without any development in return have been studiously ignored. Addressing these issues requires prioritizing development, welfare, and local participation in decision-making processes in Balochistan. Failure to do so will only continue to hinder economic progress and security in the region.

The unclaimed attack in KP adds complexity to the security scenario, which underscores the multifaceted nature of security challenges faced by Pakistan. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive and multifaceted security strategy that goes beyond military responses. It necessitates enhanced intelligence-sharing mechanisms, robust border security, community engagement, infrastructure protection, and diplomatic collaboration. Moreover, public awareness and understanding of the importance of foreign investments and bilateral cooperation are crucial in fostering a conducive environment for economic growth and regional connectivity.

The collaboration between Chinese and Pakistani authorities in investigating the attacks and implementing security measures reflects a shared commitment to safeguarding mutual interests. However, sustained efforts and proactive measures are essential to mitigate security threats, promote stability, and protect foreign investments and personnel in Pakistan.

In conclusion, the recent attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan serve as a stark reminder of the complex security challenges confronting the nation. Pakistan must prioritize security and adopt a comprehensive approach to ensure the safety of foreign nationals, protect critical infrastructure, and preserve bilateral relations with key allies like China. Only through concerted efforts and effective strategies can Pakistan navigate these challenges effectively.

(Dr. Sanchita Bhattachayra is an eminent scholar of International Relations. She has been working on Pakistan for over a decade)

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024