By Sanchita Bhattacharya
May 14, 2019
On May 11, 2019, four terrorists stormed the luxury Zaver Pearl-Continental Hotel, in Gwadar in Balochistan which had around 70 guests at the time, including 40 Chinese nationals. Nine persons, including four hotel employees, one Pakistan Navy soldier and all four attackers were killed during the eight-hour long siege. Six persons, including two Army captains, two Pakistan Navy soldiers and two hotel employees, were injured.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), lauded as a strategic game-changer for Pakistan which would provide the country with rich dividends, has faced several jolts in the restive Balochistan Province as a result of repeated insurgent attacks. Claiming responsibility for the Zaver Pearl-Continental attack, the Majeed Brigade of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)- stated that "our fighters have carried out this attack on Chinese and other foreign investors who were staying in PC Hotel".
The CPEC project has been targeted since the very beginning of the venture. On September, 8, 2016, Colonel Zafar Iqbal, a spokesman for the construction company Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), disclosed, “The latest figure has climbed up to 44 deaths and over 100 wounded men on CPEC projects mainly road construction in Balochistan, which began in 2014.” Since September 9, 2016, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least another 31 persons have been killed in attacks targeting CPEC related projects across the Province (till May 13, 2018).
Among the most prominent attacks in the recent past include the October 31, 2018, attack in which five construction workers of non-Baloch ethnicity (Sindhi and Punjabi) were shot dead while another three suffered injuries near Ganz, some 15 kilometers west of Jiwani town in the Gwadar District of Balochistan. According to official sources, the labourers were working at a CPEC-related private housing scheme on Peshkan-Ganz road, which links Gwadar with Jiwani. Earlier, on August 11, 2018, six persons, including three Chinese engineers, were injured in a suicide attack targeting a bus in the Dalbandin area of Chagai District in Balochistan. The bus, carrying 18 Chinese engineers, was being escorted by Frontier Corps (FC) troops to the Dalbandin Airport from the Saindaik copper and gold mines, when a suicide bomber tried to drive his explosives-laden vehicle into the bus. Moreover, the Chinese establishments have also been targeted outside Balochistan. On November 23, 2018, BLA carried out a suicide attack targeing the Chinese Consulate at Block 4 in the Clifton area of Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. At least six people, including three civilians, two Policemen, and a private security guard, were killed. Three terrorists involved in the attack were killed by the Security Forces (SFs). No Chinese national was hurt.
Meanwhile, the attacks have increased CPEC’s security costs. According to a November 2018 report, in order to protect Chinese personnel working on CPEC projects, Pakistan has raised a 15,000 strong Special Security Division. In addition, Chinese firms working in Pakistan have also hired private security guards.
The insurgencies in Balochistan have principally been linked with a sense of deprivation and under-development. Natural gas was discovered at Sui in Balochistan as far back as in 1952, yet only a tiny fraction of current output is supplied within the Province, and large regions of Balochistan remain deprived of natural gas. The sharing of CPEC benefits repeats the same pattern, where the people of Balochistan are denied the benefits of projects that exploit the Province’s own resources. On December 10, 2018, Pakistan’s CPEC Cell, in its briefing to the Balochistan Cabinet, revealed that Balochistan’s share in the USD 62 Billion CPEC project was a miniscule nine per cent, approximately, USD 5.6 Billion. It was also disclosed that, out of this committed sum, less than USD One Billion had been spent since CPEC was launched.
Baloch rebels also accuse China of exploiting the Province’s abundant mineral deposits. China has been involved in projects in Balochistan even before CPEC was put in place. China's state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) received a contract in the 1990s to extract gold and copper from the Saindak Mines in Balochistan. January 2018 reports indicated that the project has a Corporate Social Responsibility Component, in pursuance of the Government’s vision to “ensure the contribution of the mining sector to poverty alleviation...” Ironically, the Balochistan Government says that funds under the Saindak Project’s Corporate Social Responsibility component do not trickle down to the people living in the vicinity of the project.
Moreover, Baloch rebels believe that China is militarily supporting the Pakistan Army in its efforts to crush the Baloch insurgency.
Pakistan identifies the sub-nationalist movements in the Province as terrorist outfits, and continues to deny locals their due share on the pretext of counter-insurgency operations. With the relentless exploitation of Balochistan’s resources, the concentration of large parts of the CPEC critical infrastructure in the Province, and the continuing and overwhelming denial of benefits to local populations, resentment is unlikely to diminish, and the targeting of project-related activities, infrastructure and personnel can only continue.
Sanchita Bhattacharya is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal