Enough has been said and written about how several parts of the world are realising that Chinese Belt and Road Intiative (BRI) investments are predatory and dangerous. Therefore, you can see Chinese money drowning and dying out in different parts of the world.
However, Pakistan’s case is different. It is true that $60 billion invested by Beijing in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are going down the drain. Yet, it is the Chinese people who are dying faster than Chinese money is evaporating in Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an insurgent group, and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) are frequently targeting Chinese interests in order to jeopardise CPEC.
CPEC is a part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship BRI. It starts from China’s Xinjiang province and terminates at the Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
The purpose of the CPEC is to bypass the traditional sea route to China which passes through the Strait of Malacca, a narrow stretch of water dividing the Indian and Pacific Oceans. India’s geographical position is such that in an event of a Sino-India conflict, New Delhi can put a blockade on China’s trade through Malacca Strait and put an irreparable strain on its economy.
Yet, a spate of attacks against Chinese interests in different Pakistani provinces are literally killing Xi Jinping’s dreams of bypassing the Strait of Malacca. Most recently, a suicide bomb attack targeted a vehicle carrying Chinese nationals at the East Bay Road in the port of Gwadar. Two children were killed in the suicide attack. BLA claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
This isn’t the first time that BLA has targeted Chinese interests in Pakistan. Last year, the Karachi Stock Exchange was attacked by four-armed Baloch freedom fighters. The attack was significant as China held 40 per cent stake in the Karachi Stock Exchange.
Baloch freedom fighters had also targeted a five-star hotel in Gwadar. The BLA said that the hotel, the centrepiece of a multi-billion-dollar Chinese project, was selected in order to target Chinese and other investors.
In fact, the BLA had targeted Chinese interests, including the Chinese consulate, in 2018 and 2019 also.
Yet, the BLA isn’t China’s only headache in Pakistan. Chinese interests are also being attacked by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is described as the ‘bad’ Taliban by Islamabad though Afghan Taliban supports the TTP.
The TTP has been waging an insurgency against Pakistan in tribal areas as well as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The CPEC also passes through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which again gets China worried about its investments in the Pakistani provinces.
In fact, even TTP has started attacking Chinese interests and nationals. Only recently, TTP was involved in an attack that killed nine Chinese engineers in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Earlier this year, TTP had claimed responsibility for a bomb blast in Pakistan-occupied Balochistan’s Quetta that claimed four lives. The attack was significant as it targeted China’s Ambassador to Pakistan who missed the blast by just a few minutes.
For China, trouble is mounting in Pakistan. Many Baloch freedom fighters have reportedly learned to make roadside bombs from the TTP. Presently, Beijing is concerned about the possibility of the BLA and the TTP joining hands to create a shared network in Pakistan, which would enhance both frequency and scale of attacks on Chinese interests in the country.
The BLA and the TTP keep attacking Chinese interests, because they see Beijing as their second biggest enemy next only to Islamabad. They consider Pakistan to be an occupier and with China looking to indirectly capture the same territory, they have also started perceiving China as an occupying force.
China is evidently furious about the attacks on its nationals and other interests in Pakistan. It has issued several warnings to Islamabad, asking it to up the ante against the BLA and get it labelled as a terror organisation.
However, Pakistan’s promises of enhancing the security of Chinese nationals in the country haven’t made much difference. The CPEC was already in shambles because of rampant corruption in the use of Chinese funds by Pakistani authorities.
As such, China was already getting disillusioned with the CPEC owing to corruption and incompetence in the Pakistani administration. However, now Beijing literally worries for the life of its citizens in Pakistan as Chinese citizens get killed left, right and centre. The Pakistan Army, which itself fears the BLA and the TTP, has totally failed in protecting its Chinese masters’ assets.
Meanwhile, China cannot even take over Pakistani territory in large projects by bullying Islamabad. China has bullied countries like Sri Lanka with takeovers, but Pakistan’s case is different.
Pakistan is a terrorist State that sponsors cross-border terrorism as an instrument of State policy. Islamabad unabashedly supported Afghan Taliban out of American aid that was supposed to be used against terrorism and incidentally facilitated the creation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has come back to bite Islambad. It isn’t possible for China to simply take over big projects in Pakistan, as the TTP is literally unstoppable for both Islamabad and Beijing.
In Balochistan, Pakisan is facing a massive freedom movement because of its tyrannical policies and serious human rights violations against the Balochs. Again, the BLA becomes sort of an invincible group for China.