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CCCP of China sends letter to BNP Mengal

Mengal, the leader of the ethno-nationalist Balochistan National Party (BNP), denied meeting with Chinese officials. “Why would I meet a Chinese delegation secretly in Dubai? I can meet them openly in Pakistan,” he said

*China woos Pakistan militants to secure Belt and Road projects*

Beijing in talks with tribal separatists in Baluchistan to protect $60bn investment

February 19, 2018 9:19 am by Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad and Kiran Stacey in New Delhi

*_China has been quietly holding talks with Pakistani tribal separatists for more than five years_ in an effort to protect the $60bn worth of infrastructure projects it is financing as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.*

Three people with knowledge of the talks told the Financial Times that Beijing had been in direct contact with militants in the south-western state of Baluchistan, where many of the scheme’s most important projects are located.

*For more than half a century, Beijing has maintained a policy of non-interference in the domestic politics of other countries. But that has been tested by its desire to protect* the billions of dollars it is investing around the world under its Belt and Road Initiative to create a “new Silk Road” of trade routes in Europe, Asia and Africa.

In Pakistan, Beijing appears keen to fill the void left by Washington, which has drifted from its former ally after becoming frustrated at Islamabad’s failure to tackle extremism. Beijing’s willingness to get involved in Pakistani politics has fuelled concerns in New Delhi, which is worried about China’s growing political influence in neighbouring countries, including Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

*“The Chinese have quietly made a lot of progress,” said one Pakistani official. “Even though separatists occasionally try to carry out the odd attack, they are not making a forceful push.”*

As it seeks to boost the Chinese economy, China’s plans for a new Silk Road has pitched Beijing into some of the world’s most complex conflict zones.

Chinese peacekeepers are already in South Sudan, where Beijing has invested in oilfields and is planning to build a rail line. China has also contributed troops to a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali and even talked about launching attacks against Isis in Iraq, where it has been the largest foreign investor in the country’s oil sector.

The Belt and Road Initiative is portrayed as an economic project . . . but, increasingly, it has significant local political and strategic dimensions

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Pakistan, which is set to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the infrastructure initiative, is one of the riskiest parts of the world in which to do business. Last year 10 local workers were killed by unidentified gunmen while working near Gwadar port, the linchpin of the economic corridor.

Some have warned that China’s investment could lead to Pakistan being treated like a client state by Beijing, despite promises that Chinese troops would not be stationed there.

“The Belt and Road Initiative is portrayed as an economic project to boost infrastructure and connectivity but, increasingly, it has significant local political and strategic dimensions,” said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

*Pakistani officials, however, have welcomed the talks between Baluch rebels and Chinese envoys,* even if they do not know the details of what has been discussed. *“Ultimately, if there’s peace in Baluchistan, that will benefit both of us,” said one official in Islamabad.*

Another said the recent decision by the US to suspend security assistance to Pakistan had convinced many in Islamabad that China was a more genuine partner. “[The Chinese] are here to stay and help Pakistan, unlike the Americans, who cannot be trusted,” the person said.

Pakistan is planning to buy Chinese military helicopters and components for surveillance drones as part of its plan to fortify its border with Afghanistan with a 2,600km-long fence.

Chinese officials did not comment on the talks, though the Chinese ambassador to Islamabad said in a recent interview with the BBC that militants in Baluchistan were no longer a threat to the economic corridor.

One provincial tribal leader said many young men had been persuaded to lay down their weapons by the promise of financial benefits. “Today, young men are not getting attracted to join the insurgents as they did some 10 years ago,” he said. “Many people see prosperity” as a result of the China-Pakistan corridor, he said.

This article has been amended to reflect that the 10 workers killed near Gwadar port last year were Pakistanis


Mengal, the leader of the ethno-nationalist Balochistan National Party (BNP), denied meeting with Chinese officials. “Why would I meet a Chinese delegation secretly in Dubai? I can meet them openly in Pakistan,” he said.

Confusion Over Chinese Talks With Baluch Separatists In Pakistan

February 21, 2018
FILE: Pakistani soldiers guarding the port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

FILE: Pakistani soldiers guarding the port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

Major separatist factions and leading ethno-nationalist politicians active in Pakistan’s restive southwestern province of Balochistan have denied engaging in secret talks with Chinese officials keen on preserving their country’s $60 billion investments.

Sources within the insurgent factions, however, claim that some Baloch political figures did meet with Chinese officials, but it is not clear what exactly was achieved.

The confusion over the meetings emerged this week after the Financial Times newspaper reported that Chinese officials have been holding talks with Baluch militants for more than five years to secure nearly $60 billion investments in energy and infrastructure collectively called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Quoting anonymous sources, a February 19 report in the newspaper said Chinese officials “have quietly made a lot of progress” in efforts to secure CPEC, which aims to link Balochistan’s Gwadar seaport to Xingjian region in western China.

CPEC is the flagship project of a larger Chinese strategy dubbed One Belt One Road, which aims to link China with Africa, Europe, and Asia in a 21st-century reincarnation of the ancient Silk Road.

Two people familiar with the talks said Baluch tribal leaders Gazain Marri and Sardar Akhtar Mengal held two rounds of secret talks with a Chinese delegation in the United Arab Emirates in May and September last year.

Both exiled members of Baluch separatist factions who now live in Europe requested anonymity because of fears that such claims would further divide an already fragmented separatist leadership.

“Gazain Marri ended 18 years of self-exile and returned to Pakistan, which was most probably because of Chinese government efforts,” said one of the figures, who was close to his father, the late Baluch separatist leader Khair Baksh Marri.

Marri couldn’t be reached for immediate comment but has rejected claims that his return in September was the result of a secret deal. In November, he urged caution and dialogue and indicated a willingness to help negotiations between armed separatist rebels and the Pakistani government.

“I want to engage in consultation to work out a middle path toward compromise,” he told Radio Mashaal at the time.

Mengal, the leader of the ethno-nationalist Balochistan National Party (BNP), denied meeting with Chinese officials. “Why would I meet a Chinese delegation secretly in Dubai? I can meet them openly in Pakistan,” he said.

Mengal, who served as chief minister or the most senior elected official of Balochistan in the 1990s, said the only time Chinese diplomats approached him was in 2016 when he hosted Pakistani political parties in the capital, Islamabad, for a debate over CPEC’s potential negative impact on Balochistan.

“I couldn’t meet the Chinese delegation then because I was busy, but we conveyed our party’s reservations,” he said. “Later, when I wanted to meet the Chinese diplomats, they declined to meet us, claiming our party’s stand on CPEC was too rigid.”

BNP and other Baluch nationalist parties oppose CPEC because of fears it will attract an influx of economic migrants to Gwadar and other Balochistan regions, which will render the Baluch into a minority in their historic homeland.

Sentiments over the CPEC run high in the region reeling from more than 15 years of simmering violence. Thousands of civilians, soldiers, activists, and guerrillas have been killed and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced in Balochistan, where the military and militants frequently accuse each other of atrocities and grave rights violations.

In recent years, Baluch separatist militants, organized in various guerrilla factions, have acted on their threats to attack CPEC projects. All prominent exiled leaders such as Brahumdagh Bugti, Mehran Baluch, and Hyrbyair Marri have either denied participating in talks with the Chinese or say they have no knowledge of such negotiations.

“All independent political parties and armed groups are working against Chinese investments and other exploitive projects, which are doomed to fail,” said Gwarham Baloch, a spokesman for the Baloch Liberation Front.

Pakistani and international media reports suggest that scores of Pakistani workers and a handful of Chinese engineers and technicians have so far been killed in attacks in Balochistan.

The sentiments against the growing Chinese footprint in the region is widely shared among separatist factions.

“How can talks be held with China when they are helping the Pakistani military kill and abduct Baluch activists?” asked Sher Muhammad Bugti, a spokesman for the Baloch Republican Party.

“We are open to talks even with China, but first China has to become neutral and leave the province,” he added.

Aslam Baloch, a senior commander of the Balochistan Liberation Army, also dismissed reports of secret talks with China.

“CPEC is a serious threat to Baluch national existence. Pakistan and China are continuously inflicting brutalities upon the Baluch nation for its success,” he wrote on Twitter. “Therefore, talks with tribal elders, or anybody else for that matter, do not carry any importance.”

Former lawmaker Kachkol Ali, however, says the talks between Beijing and Baluch separatist figures are a serious possibility. He points to the return of Gazain Marri and the recent reconciliation of another exiled figure, Juma Marri, with Pakistan as evidence of efforts to wean figures away from the separatist movement.

"It is premature to say if China is acting as the mediator between Pakistan and separatists,” he noted. “But if something is happening, it can't be kept secret for long.”

Kiyya Baloch is a freelance journalist who reports on the insurgency, militancy, and sectarian violence in Balochistan


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