China's Silk Road ambitions in the country are being tested by the deteriorating security situation in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces
As the security situation in Baluchistan deteriorates fast, agencies remain in the dark with regard to who has been targeting police officials and law enforcers in the province.
The worsening law and order situation is a serious challenge to the safety of Chinese personnel working on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. With a view to averting any incident, the Gwadar seaport – a lynchpin of CPEC – has been given top security cover by Pakistan’s military establishment. Army units and paramilitary forces patrol the area round-the-clock in order to protect Chinese engineers and contractors.
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Such extraordinary measures, failed, however, to stop lawbreakers from attacking a Frontier Corps (FC) checkpoint in Karez Qamarudin – a village near the Afghan border, in Baluchistan’s Zhob district – with heavy weaponry on Saturday night. Officials claim the FC personnel retaliated and repulsed the attack, killing at least four attackers and seizing a sizable quantity of arms and ammunition. The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, claiming responsibility for the attack, said security forces had also suffered heavy casualties.
The Zhob district is a sensitive area where two vital CPEC road arteries are being constructed. The 81-kilometer N-50 and 126-kilometer N-70 links are marked for completion in 2018 at a total cost of US$20 million.
The latest incident followed a spate of targeted killings of high-ranking police officials in various parts of the province. Last week, as many as seven policemen –including two of the Baluchistan’s senior-most – were killed in separate incidents. Last month, three law enforcers were gunned down in Quetta’s Saryab Road area, while in May a pair of Chinese who ran a language institute in Quetta were abducted and subsequently killed by a group of terrorists. In April, four FC personnel were mercilessly killed in a roadside bomb attack while on patrol in Baluchistan’s Kech district.
Greater Baluchistan, which straddles areas of both Iran and Afghanistan, is fast becoming a breeding-ground for proscribed extremist groups whose activities must be well-known to Pakistan’s security agencies. Sipah-i-Sahaba, a virulently anti-Shiite group that is believed to enjoy both Saudi and Pakistani support, is operating openly in Pakistani Baluchistan. The group has been renamed – as Ahle Sunnah Wa Al Jamaat – after Sipah was banned in Pakistan.
A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh
Another active group in Baluchistan is the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an armed separatist outfit seeking to forge the creation of an independent homeland for the ethnic Baloch. This group also claimed responsibility for killing 10 laborers working on a CPEC project near Gwadar in May, and is openly opposed to the “foreign funded” projects in the province.
In a related development, armed resistance to CPEC is also rampant in Sindh province and a new Sindhi nationalist force, the “Sindh Revolutionary Army,” has emerged. Reports suggest this group made a botched attack on Chinese engineers last week. A roadside improvised explosive device (IED) went off minutes after a cavalcade of Chinese professionals working on CPEC projects passed through the steel town of Thatt.
Police said it was the second such attempt to kill Chinese nationals in Sindh after a previous explosion was carried out with the help of a remote-controlled device. Previous to that, anti-CPEC attacks were only reported from Baluchistan.
The Chinese Silk Road project in Pakistan may be threatened if the security situation is not improved and normality returned to regions such as Baluchistan and Sindh that are crucial to CPEC’s success