Amid growing threats, Pakistan to review security of CPEC projects and Chinese nationals

“Conventional security for CPEC projects is essential, but state institutions cannot ignore the strategic and political context. Cursing external elements alone cannot solve the problem,” Muhammad Ameer Rana, a security expert, wrote in Dawn. He suggested engaging with the Baloch people to address their concerns, the most prominent among them are the cases of missing people.

May 02, 2022
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Pakistan to review security of CPEC projects and Chinese nationals (Photo: Dawn)

After a spate of big attacks in the last few years targeting Chinese interests, the Pakistan government is set to review the security arrangements of projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Chinese nationals. The move came after the recent suicide attack last month in Karachi where three Chinese nationals were killed.

After the attack on 26 April, Beijing had expressed “extremely grave concern” and demanded the Pakistan government take all measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals in the country. The attack, carried out by a female suicide bomber of the banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), indicated a growing security threat to Chinese interests.

Prior to this in 2021, eleven Chinese workers were killed in an attack, where the TTP militants targeted a bus carrying those workers to a nearby dam site in Dasu.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who had visited the Chinese Embassy immediately after the attack to condole the deaths, will hold a meeting to review security arrangements in the coming days.

Significantly, as the Chinese footprint and investments grew in Pakistan, it came under the radar of disgruntled groups, with insurgents targeting both the projects and Chinese workers. The cost of security, especially in the restive Balochistan province and other megacities, is growing, with little tangible outcome.

Already around 30,000 personnel from the Special Security Division are deployed to safeguard the CPEC projects. Besides, 32,000 from other security agencies are deployed in escort and safety services for Chinese nationals and engineers. Many Chinese nationals, working in small-scale industries and restaurants, who are out of this security arrangement, remain vulnerable to attacks.

However, the changed tactics and approach of militant groups—using suicide bombers in megacities—have complicated the task of security. Furthermore, the growing cost of security has also become an additional burden on the Pakistan government.

Significantly, the ML-1 rail line, a multi-billion dollar project connecting Karachi with Peshawar with a 1700 km rail line, has been put off as the government delayed the funding approval, roughly $200 million, for the security of the large project site.

Apart from physical measures, many analysts in Pakistan urged the government to address the root cause of the Baloch insurgency, which is political in nature.

“Conventional security for CPEC projects is essential, but state institutions cannot ignore the strategic and political context. Cursing external elements alone cannot solve the problem,” Muhammad Ameer Rana, a security expert, wrote in Dawn. He suggested engaging with the Baloch people to address their concerns, the most prominent among them are the cases of missing people.

“If the state is sincere in isolating and demoralizing the insurgent movement in the province, it will have to address the issue of the Baloch missing persons,” he said, adding, “The judiciary will have to be efficient and decide such cases on a priority basis to give the message that justice is being done.” 

A broader initiative at the political level for talks with Baloch leaders, holding free and fair elections in Balochistan, and a review of the official policy towards the Afghan Taliban, which has so far failed to rein in the TTP, are among other suggestions given by him.

(SAM)

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