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Ensuring Security for Progress: Pakistan’s Commitment to Chinese Safety

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Ensuring Security for Progress: Pakistan’s Commitment to Chinese Safety

In the face of continued attacks, Pakistan is making efforts to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals as well as foreign investments.

Ensuring Security for Progress: Pakistan’s Commitment to Chinese Safety
Credit: Instagram/Government of Pakistan

As the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) enters into its second phase, Pakistan is once again faced with the recurring challenge of terrorism, which endangers the safety and security of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan.

The recent attacks on Chinese nationals came with an increasing demand from Beijing for enhanced security protocols for the success of CPEC projects, which are an important pillar of the China-Pakistan relationship. While speaking at the third meeting of the Joint Consultative Mechanism forum, Liu Jianchao the head of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, expression appreciation for the success of Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies in combating terrorism. He also emphasized that the “deteriorating security situation in Pakistan is mainly shaking the confidence of Chinese investors in Pakistan.” Measures have previously been taken to ensure the security of Chinese workers, but the recent launch of strategy “Azm-e-Istehkam,” an extension of previous counterterrorism strategies, demonstrates Islamabad’s resolve to counter terrorism through all means.

Bearing the flag of “all-weather-friendship,” China is Pakistan’s closest ally and aims to invest $62 billion in the various infrastructure and energy projects included under CPEC. Over the past decade, CPEC has brought extensive opportunities for China and Pakistan but there have been many challenges, the most pressing of which has terrorism-related incidents aimed at Chinese nationals. Chinese investment in Pakistan began to increase at a time when the country was already fighting terrorism and the world was reluctant to invest in the country. This strategic partnership not only complimented economic growth but also reiterated Chinese confidence in Pakistan’s potential and resilience.

The recent resurgence in terrorist attacks targeting Chinese nationals working in Pakistan signaled the beginning of a new chapter in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. One of the first attacks on Chinese nationals took place in 2018, when three engineers were killed in a suicide attack in the city of Dalbandin, in Balochistan province. Responsibility for the attack was later claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Then, in 2022, a female suicide bomber killed three Chinese teachers in Karachi, which again was related to the Baloch separatist movement. This year, however, has been marked by the deadliest attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan to date. During March 2024 alone, there were five different attacks that killed at least 18 people, out of which five were Chinese nationals. Three attacks were carried out in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and two in Balochistan province.

Although these attacks have been relatively infrequent, Pakistan takes them very seriously and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of Chinese nationals. Islamabad views these attacks on Chinese nationals as part of a “larger plan” to harm the nation’s economic interests and sabotage its ties with China.

As a result, Pakistan has been making concentrated efforts to halt the attacks. Recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited China, where he promised to “ensure the safety of Chinese personnel in Pakistan.” As per the recent reports from unofficial sources in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari will be visiting China later this month to enhance bilateral confidence and to address the safety and security concerns of the Chinese. He recently also visited Quetta to address the growing security concerns in the region. The government recently launched another counterterrorism strategy in continuation of previous counter-terrorism effort named “Azm-e-Istehkam,”which aims to address the concerns related to terrorism while ensuring a stable domestic environment. An important concern addressed under this strategy is the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.      

Pakistan has undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure the safety of Chinese officials. A Special Security Division (SSD) was established back in 2017 to secure CPEC projects and Chinese nationals working within Pakistan. As per the Ministry of Defense, the SSD comprised 9,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and 6,000 para-military forces personnel. A budget of 1.3 billion Pakistani rupees was allocated for the security of CPEC in addition to the efforts of provincial governments. 

The formation and functioning of SSD is different in various provinces. Firstly in the province of Balochistan, the Frontier Corps will serve as the main tier with additional support from the Pakistan Army, police, and others; in Sindh, Rangers will be the front force backed by army and police; in Punjab, police are the main tier supported by the army; in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the army is the frontline force, supported by police and lastly in Gilgit Baltistan, the army is the main force supported by local law enforcers. 

In addition to the SSD, a special “Task Force-88” was established under the Pakistan Navy, the function of which is to protect the Gwadar port and its sea lanes from both traditional or non-traditional security threats. In November of last year, the 4th Pakistan-China joint naval exercises took place with a special focus on the security of CPEC. In addition, the Pakistan Navy has established a Force Protection Battalion at Gwadar to guard Chinese laborers and organized a Coastal Security and Harbour Defence Force to “tackle threats along the coast.” 

Besides the deployment of manpower, there are advanced surveillance technologies including CCTV and drones for better situational awareness in areas where Chinese nationals are working. The Pakistan Army has deployed additional troops along the routes of CPEC to ensure fool-proof security. Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) also provides a comprehensive satellite service to oversee the vulnerabilities and threats posed to CPEC projects by any means. Suparco is providing “complete geo sensing of the entire corridor from Gwadar to Khunjerab (PakChina border).” Chinese and Pakistani security personnel also collaborate while sharing intelligence regarding the key transportation routes of CPEC. There are existing laws within Pakistan that ensure the safety and security of foreign investments in Pakistan. 

There is no doubt that CPEC is both an important pillar of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and critical for the economic development of Pakistan. Allegedly external forces, along with the internal dissident elements, are harming the economic interests of the country. The primary responsibility for attacks on Chinese nationals is claimed by the BLA. However,  other terrorist outfits such as Islamic State Khorasan Province, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and Tehreek-i-Jihad Pakistan have also carried out attacks, particularly in the bordering areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is making efforts to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals as well as foreign investments, which is duly appreciated by China. Although there is an ongoing collaboration between China and Pakistan regarding BLA and other terrorist outfits operating in the region, there is a need for a comprehensive security approach that should not only entail domestic threats but should also consider external factors.  

Pakistan is not the only country facing security threats from terrorism. It is an issue that many projects today, whether in the planning or operating stages, are facing as they work to improve regional and global connectivity. Although these issues have always existed, coming up with workable strategies to deal with them is vital.