The Baloch vs Beijing - Pakistani militancy targets Chinese investment

In this file photo taken on November 13, 2016, a Pakistani Army personnel looks on during the opening of a trade project in Gwadar port, some 700 kms west of Karachi. Gunmen have stormed a five-star hotel in the southwestern Pakistani port city of Gwadar, the centrepiece of a multi-billion dollar Chinese infrastructure project in the country, a provincial minister said on May 11. (AFP)
Updated 15 May 2019

The Baloch vs Beijing - Pakistani militancy targets Chinese investment

  • Deadly weekend attack in Gwadar was latest high-profile assault linked to Chinese projects
  • Gwadar is crown jewel of $62 billion corridor of energy and infrastructure projects China is building in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A vast Chinese-funded infrastructure project in Pakistan has become a major trigger for separatist insurgents, galvanizing their movement as they employ new tactics — including suicide attacks — in an escalation that could rattle Beijing, observers say.
A deadly weekend attack by gunmen who stormed the luxury Pearl Continental hotel in Gwadar, a port on Pakistan’s southern coast, was the latest high-profile assault linked to the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
CPEC — part of China’s massive Belt and Road initiative — seeks to link its western province Xinjiang with Gwadar, giving Beijing valuable access to the Arabian Sea and conferring new roads, ports, and airports on Pakistan.
Pakistani authorities routinely tout Gwadar, a former fishing village, as “the next Dubai.”
The problem is that Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province through which much of CPEC runs, is a Pandora’s Box of Islamist, sectarian, and separatist insurgencies.
Saturday’s attack was claimed by the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Chinese and Pakistani investors visiting the hotel, isolated high on a ridge overlooking the port, were the target, a spokesman for the BLA said.
“We warn China to stop her exploitative projects in Balochistan and do not support Pakistan in the genocide of Baloch people, otherwise, we would respond with more attacks,” the English-language message to media read.
The BLA has attacked the Chinese in Pakistan before, said analyst Michael Kugelman of the Washington-based Wilson Center.
What’s new is the desire and capacity to attack highly visible, well-secured Chinese targets, he said, citing another deadly attack claimed by the group on Beijing’s consulate in Karachi last year.
“There’s good reason to believe that the Pearl Continental attack spooked (Beijing) in a big way, given that a major facility was struck in a city that houses one of the crown jewels of CPEC,” Kugelman said.
The project, he continued, “is a major trigger for Baloch insurgents.”
“CPEC represents everything the insurgents despise: A large infrastructure and development project undertaken by the Pakistani state and its Chinese ally.”
Separatist groups in Balochistan, whose proud population have a turbulent history, have long demanded autonomy and a fairer share of resources.
For years the Pakistani military maintained a crushing grip on the insurgency, while brushing off accusations of serious rights abuses.
However, analysts say Chinese investment appears to have imbued the nationalist movement with new energy, inflaming the long-running grievance over resources and giving sometimes-disparate groups a common focus.
At the same time, Pakistan’s determination to protect Chinese investment saw the military further intensify its stance, deepening resentment among the Baloch people.
With positions hardening on both sides, one result is the relatively new phenomenon for Baloch separatists of suicide attacks, such as in the Karachi consulate attack.
Nationalist politician Jan Mohammed Buledi described the development as previously “unimaginable and unthinkable” for a movement driven more by socialist principles than jihad.
“When locals resist they are kidnapped, tortured and their mutilated dead bodies appear,” he explained.
The state, he argued, has left young Baloch “no option but to blow themselves up.
“And now with the influx of Chinese, the Baloch separatists are getting international attention, so it seems the only way out.”
Anger against the Chinese, seen as usurpers, is real and powerful, said Buledi — but the true enemy for the separatists remains the Pakistani state, with analysts warning that unless genuine grievances are addressed, a low-level insurgency could continue indefinitely
“They blame the state for its long and relentless predatory behavior in Balochistan, and for the scorched earth policies used by the military,” agreed Kugelman.
Publicly at least, Beijing backs Pakistan’s crackdown, and while the Pearl Continental attack was widely reported in Chinese media the claim that Chinese investors were the target was largely downplayed.
What Beijing can do about the threats its faces remains to be seen.
One tantalising suggestion came from a Baloch leader based in the US, who told AFP that some Chinese officials have sought help from exiled Baloch nationalists in exchange for bringing them home.
AFP was unable to verify the claim.
“To the best of my knowledge they are still in contact with more than half a dozen nationalist leaders in US, UK and other European countries,” he said.

British Airways to resume Pakistan flights next week after a decade

Updated 23 May 2019

British Airways to resume Pakistan flights next week after a decade

  • BA halted service to Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad
  • BA will begin the London Heathrow-Islamabad service with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

ISLAMABAD: British Airways will resume flights to Pakistan next week a decade after it suspended operations following a major hotel bombing, becoming the first Western airline to restart flights to the South Asian country.

BA halted service to Pakistan in the wake of the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in the capital Islamabad that took place during a period of devastating Islamist militant violence in Pakistan.

Security has since improved, with militant attacks sharply down in the mainly Muslim country of 208 million people, reviving Pakistan as a destination for tourist and investors.

“The final touches are coming together for the airline’s return ahead of the first flight on Sunday June 2,” British Airways said in a statement. It will launch a three-per-week service to London Heathrow, it said.

“We’re on board,” Pakistani Civil Aviation spokeswoman Farah Hussain said about the flights resumption.

BA, which is owned by Spanish-registered IAG, will begin the London Heathrow-Islamabad service with the airline’s newest long-haul aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

At present, only loss-making national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flies directly from Pakistan to Britain, but its ageing fleet of planes is a frequent source of complaints by passengers.

Middle Eastern carriers Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates have a strong presence in Pakistan and have been eating into PIA’s dwindling market share. Turkish Airlines also lays on a regular service to Pakistan.

Islamabad has been running international advertising campaigns to rejuvenate its tourism sector, which was wiped out by Islamist violence that destabilised the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

“We hope customers in both the UK and Pakistan will enjoy the classically British service we offer, with thoughtful bespoke touches,” Andrew Brem, Chief Commercial Officer at British Airways, said in BA’s statement.

BA said there will be a halal meal option in every cabin and the airline would also ensure sauces in every meal do not contain alcohol or pork.