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CPEC security key to Sino-Pakistani ironclad relations

By Khalid Rahman | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-05-15 07:06
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While the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects have yielded tangible benefits for the local economy and its people, recent attacks targeting the CPEC should serve as a cause for serious concern. Despite the enduring ironclad friendship between the two nations, the security issue must be prioritized.

The killing of seven workers in the Pakistani coastal city of Gwadar in Balochistan province on May 9 hit the headlines around the world. A few weeks earlier, 11 people were shot dead in two separate incidents in Balochistan.

The fact that all the seven victims in Gwadar and the nine bus passengers who were gunned down near Noshki were from Punjab province adds an ethnic dimension to the incidents, especially because the Baloch Liberation Army, designated a terror group, has been openly threatening to target people from Punjab. However, this viewpoint is too simplistic because Pakistan is facing a multidimensional terrorist threat.

In the context of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its extraordinary importance for Balochistan, Gwadar in particular, and Chinese nationals working on projects there, it would not be wrong to say the killings are a continuation of the attempts to create instability in Pakistan to check the progress of the CPEC and damage China-Pakistan relations.

On March 26, five Chinese nationals and a Pakistani citizen were killed in a suicide attack on a vehicle carrying Chinese staff working on the Dasu Dam in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Similar attacks happened in 2021 and 2022, too.

Each of these incidents has its own specific dynamics, with the identity and motivation of the perpetrators and facilitators varying. However, given the current global and regional situations, it wouldn't be wrong to assume that the masterminds of the attacks want to cause instability in Pakistan. Their other objectives include derailing the CPEC projects and straining Sino-Pakistani ties.

While these incidents attract global attention, they cause severe concerns in China, undermining its confidence in investing in development projects in Pakistan, eroding the trust between the two governments and weakening the spirit of Chinese investors and workers engaged in Pakistan.

Beijing's reaction to the incidents has been firm. After the March 26 Dasu attack, Beijing called for a "thorough investigation", insisting on forming a joint investigation team. The Chinese embassy in Islamabad demanded that Pakistan take practical and effective measures to improve the situation. Although it was reassuring to see the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson emphasize that as all-weather strategic cooperative partners, China and Pakistan's cooperation cannot be sabotaged by any attempt, several Chinese companies suspended work on their projects. They resumed operations only after security was beefed up and the Pakistani prime minister visited the Chinese workers at the Dasu site and promised to make "foolproof" security arrangements and hand down "exemplary punishment" to the attackers.

There is no doubt there have been administrative failures and security lapses, and strict measures are required at every level to safeguard China-Pakistan interests and, most importantly, protect human lives. As such, a comprehensive joint strategy is needed to address the situation.

Security issues are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, and there are many internal, regional and international reasons for that. As a matter of fact, terrorism attacks were more frequent and deadly when the CPEC was negotiated and launched. Nevertheless, the two countries agreed to launch the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative because of their mutual trust and a desire to achieve common development.

In the years that followed, Pakistan achieved remarkable success in curbing terrorism, but could not uproot all terrorist groups. In fact, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 made the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an amalgam of several terrorist groups, even stronger thanks to the release of prisoners and terrorists getting access to the sophisticated weapons and equipment left behind by the Americans. Although there is little common between the Afghan Taliban and Baloch terrorist organizations, the room for cooperation with various elements of the TTP at the tactical level has increased compared with the past.

On the other hand, with polarization and instability being at their peak in Pakistan, economic, security and social vulnerabilities have increased, creating governance issues and slowing the pace of the CPEC projects. Apart from creating a favorable environment for terrorist outfits, the situation has also made it easy for outsiders to interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs, especially to sabotage the CPEC projects and ruin Pakistan-China friendship in order to fulfill their own narrow goals.

Despite the evil designs of the anti-Pakistan and anti-China forces, however, the Chinese and Pakistani peoples' opinions about each other remain positive. In the case of Pakistan, where almost everything is debated, successive public opinion surveys and political discourse verify this fact.

There is indeed a need to ensure the safety of workers and projects by strengthening security and taking administrative measures, but those moves should be accompanied by a comprehensive strategy in order to maintain an environment of mutual trust at the public and government levels.

The author is chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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