Chinese Nationals Killed in Pakistan, What Lies Ahead for CPEC?

Angered by the ISIS claim to have kidnapped and killed two Chinese citizens, Pakistan is enhancing the security around Chinese nationals coming to the country on the back of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” project.

China has often pressed Pakistan to enhance the security after promising around $50+ billion to build power plants, railways, roads and refineries that will cross the mountainous terrains in Kashmir and finally connect with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. Pakistani officials have sketched comprehensive security arrangements which include active protection forces, strict vigilance and protection of Chinese nationals, especially in volatile Baluchistan region.

The protection forces will support a 15,000-strong army division set up explicitly to shield projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is being speculated to reinvigorate Pakistan’s $300 billion economy.

Sindh is raising a protection unit of about 2500 defense officers to assist in protecting 4,000+ Chinese working on CPEC projects, and additional 1,000 working in other areas. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which signed billions of dollars in agreements with Chinese corporations, is also conducting a census of Chinese nationals and raising a force of about 4000+ officers to protect Chinese nationals working on different projects. Baluchistan would re-evaluate the entire security pattern around Chinese nationals who come in both private and professional capacity.

The number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has fallen recently, but extremists groups still pose a massive threat especially in Baluchistan region where separatists are vehemently opposing the CPEC project. The ISIS killings was a rare attack on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, but this incident has unnerved both Beijing and Islamabad.

A state minister involved in CPEC planning said Pakistan has dedicated massive resources to enhance the security, and Chinese investors should not be disheartened by this sole attack. The magnitude of the responsibility of security agencies is growing, as more and more Chinese nationals arrive in the country. Most of the people stay in major cities, but some people also need to travel to troubled and isolated areas, mainly the engineers and construction workers.

The real challenge for Pakistan defense forces will start when the CPEC corridor becomes operational and trucks ferrying goods to and from China traverse via remote, vulnerable and restive province of Baluchistan.