There are serious implications of recent attack on Chinese engineers in Pakistan
Last month’s unclaimed attack where nine Chinese and three Pakistani workers were killed while traveling to a construction site was no ordinary event. The incident occurred as a bus carried workers to the Dasu hydropower project in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In my view, it is an indication of Pakistan becoming a battleground for regional and global powers. The violence was directed against China-Pakistan cooperation and meant to damage deepening strategic ties between the two countries. The incident certainly put Pakistani authorities on the back foot and demonstrated that many gaps still remain in the security cover being provided to Chinese citizens working in or visiting Pakistan.
Fingers point toward hostile countries being the architects and implementers of this and subsequent attacks on Chinese personnel. Many believe that by these acts they plan on creating an environment of fear and anxiety among Chinese personnel visiting or working in Pakistan, to sow seeds of discord between China and Pakistan, to slow down CPEC and other Chinese projects and hurt Pakistan’s economy. Chinese authorities are naturally highly sensitive about the safety of their citizens and expect that foreign governments will undertake appropriate measures to ensure they are secure.
The attack may also be demonstrating that China-India and China-US rivalry could be right on the doorsteps of Pakistan. Historically, Pakistan is no stranger to the fallout of superpower rivalry. Fortunately, apart from India, Pakistan enjoys good relations with its five other neighbors. Despite problems with Afghanistan, the political scapegoating does not affect the deep bonds- historical, cultural, religious, ethnic and geographic- that binds the two nations together in several ways.
From statements by Chinese authorities, it is apparent that they are pressing Islamabad to significantly improve the security of their workers. Chinese authorities rightly consider the recent attack on their personnel a serious and well-planned move and are demanding a thorough investigation by Pakistani officials. They have also advised their citizens to exercise great caution and restrict their movement to official work or personal needs.
The rise of Sino-US strategic rivalry has global and regional ramifications that impact Pakistan
A scheduled meeting on the Road and Belt project was postponed after the incident on China’s request. Apart from political, there are also economic implications for Pakistan if security for the foreigners is not ramped up. Pakistan is equally concerned. As expected, the army has taken the lead and there will be very close coordination and sharing of information between the two countries.
The Dasu hydropower project, where the Chinese who were attacked were working, is a major project under construction that is designed for a capacity of 4300 MW and estimated to cost over $4 billion. Its main contractors are the China Gezhouba Group Company and it is being financed by the World Bank. Perhaps this was one reason the Chinese government was not involved directly or aware of the security arrangements of the victims.
The strong China- Pakistan strategic relationship is reinforced by CPEC and independent projects that lie outside it like Dasu. In the framework of CPEC, Pakistan has laid an elaborate energy and road network. This will facilitate the development of industrial and agricultural sectors. Pakistan’s industry and agriculture has been lagging behind and introducing new technologies and practices with Chinese assistance will no doubt help in moving up the value chain on a relatively fast track.
However in the presence of hostility created to upset relations, both China and Pakistan are in fact further strengthening their cooperation at the intelligence and political level to counter any hostile acts.
But India-Pakistan hostility is a road to nowhere. Both countries spend a significant percentage of their budgets on defense and countering each other’s hostilities. Meanwhile, millions of their citizens struggle to feed themselves two meals a day and aspire to live with a roof over their heads.
The rise of Sino-US strategic rivalry has global and regional ramifications that impact Pakistan. But in close cooperation with the Chinese government, Islamabad has and must go on to further strengthen the security of Chinese personnel working on its soil.
- Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
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