Targeting Chinese Nationals

Plagued by recurring security issues, Beijing’s more than a decade old ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] project suffered yet another setback last week when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden vehicle into a convoy carrying Chinese engineers working on the Dasu Hydro electric project near Besham city in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] province. In this attack, five Chinese nationals and one Pakistani lost their lives.

Coming hard on heels of suicide attacks on the Turbat air base and Gwadar port, this incident has once exposed the woeful inadequacy of the security arrangements that increases vulnerability of Chinese nationals working on CPEC projects. This is because the latest attack isn’t the first time that Chinese nationals working on the Dasu Dam project have been targeted; in 2021, an explosion in a bus carrying Chinese nationals left nine of them dead.

CPEC Security

Overall responsibility for ensuring security of those working on CPEC as well as the assets of this project is that of the Pak Army for which it also has a host of paramilitaries as well as intelligence and law enforcement agencies under its command.

In September 2016, Rawalpindi created an additional force [34th Light Infantry Division] exclusively for providing protection to Chinese nationals working on CEPC. However, when this 15,000 strong mammoth force [commonly referred to as Special Security Division or SSD] was unable to provide the requisite degree of security, the Army created yet another similar sized SSD in 2019.

Surprisingly, despite putting a whopping 30,000 soldiers [along with several others] on the job of ensuring safety of Chinese nationals working on CPEC projects, instead of showing discernable decline, there’s been a phenomenal spike in both the intensity and frequency of attacks. This clearly indicates that independence fighters are giving the Army more than a run for their money.

Passing the Buck

Islamabad has tried every trick in the book to water down its own security lapses by blaming foreign “hostile agencies” and at times has even gone to the extent of trying to cover up terrorist attacks by denying their occurrence and the 2021 Dasu Dam project bus attack is one such classic example. Readers may recall that after this incident, Pakistan’s Foreign Office [FO] had announced that the bus went off the road “after a mechanical failure resulting in leakage of gas that caused a blast.” [Emphasis added].

However, when Beijing called Islamabad’s bluff and outrightly rejected this outrageous claim, Pakistan’s then Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary immediately changed track by admitting that “Initial investigations… have now confirmed traces of explosives [and] terrorism cannot be ruled out.” [Emphasis added]. Having established the terror angle, one awaited Islamabad’s next predictable move of passing the buck and it didn’t disappoint.

A month later, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced that “According to our investigation, Afghanistan’s soil was used for this attack, for its planning, its execution and the making of the plans, we see them clearly connected to an NDS [National Directorate of Security, Kabul’s spy agency before Taliban takeover] and RAW [Research and Analysis Wing, Indian intelligence agency] nexus.” [Emphasis added]. Like all other unsubstantiated allegations, this one too fell on deaf years!

Rawalpindi’s Skewed Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Pak Army’s counter-terrorism strategy is a study in contrast. On the one hand, it had [till very recently] been treating TTP, which killed and injured thousands of Pakistanis soldiers and civilians with kid gloves. It unsuccessfully tried  to buy peace through negotiations and making unwarranted concessions like unconditional release of TTP terrorists with blood of Pakistani security force personnel and civilians on their hands, it has been extraordinarily harsh while dealing with BNGs.

On the other hand, Rawalpindi has been using disproportionate force against the Baloch people with scant regards for safety of innocents, the old, infirm, womenfolk and children. It liberally uses the air force to bomb inhabited areas on mere suspicion, employs attack helicopters equipped with rockets and machine guns as well as heavy calibre artillery to wreak death and destruction on the hapless residents of Pak-occupied-Balochistan which have even horrified PTI chief Imran Khan.

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