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Have Terror Attack In Pakistan’s Gwadar, The Hub Of Chinese-Funded CPEC Project, Unnerved Beijing?

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Islamabad saw another extremist pushback for the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) when a militant group launched an attacked a convoy of oil and gas workers escorted by paramilitary troops southwestern province of restive Baluchistan region.

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The attack killed 14 people, including seven soldiers, said the report. State-run Oil & Gas Development Company Ltd (OGDCL) workers in Ormara town in Gwadar district became the target of the attack. 

“The terrorists attacked the convoy from the mountains near Ormara on the Balochistan-Hub-Karachi coastal highway and heavy exchange of fire took place. The convoy was returning to Karachi from Gwadar,” said a top police official in Gwadar, reported PTI.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Army revealed that the militants sustained injuries in the crossfire. Out of the 14 killed, seven soldiers belonged to the Frontier Corps (FC) and seven were private security guards.

“They were waiting for the convoy. Despite the FC and security guards losing their lives, the other FC personnel managed to safely get the convoy away from the spot near Oramara,” the official said.

Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), a banned terrorist organisation formed with the coalition of several extremist outfits, took the responsibility for the attack. 

The attack comes in the light of the Baloch militants resisting the Chinese investments through the CPEC program under the flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Beijing has already pledged US$60 billion to develop infrastructure in Pakistan.

In June, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) carried out an attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in the city of Karachi. Two guards and a policeman were killed along with seven people wounded before security forces killed all four attackers.

The police chief of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city and financial hub, Ghulam Nabi Memon, told Reuters the gunmen attacked with grenades and guns after pulling up in a silver Corolla car.

Several militant outfits have been fighting against Pakistan’s exploitation in the resource-rich Balochistan. The Baloch groups say that the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan are hit by China’s “expansionist” and “oppressive” policies that are intended to “subjugate” them. 

cpec-loan-to-pakistan

Border and Road Initiative (BRI) launched the multi-billion dollar CPEC programme in 2015 intending to connect Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.

The Karachi Stock Exchange also had Chinese interests. In January 2017, Pakistan sold 40% of the stake of the Stock exchange to a Chinese consortium.

“The significant feature of the deal [is that it is the] first such sale of strategic interest in a bourse in the regional markets. Through the deal, the Chinese bourse has also made its first foray in an acquisition outside China,” Dawn had reported. 

Yumi Washiyama, a Singapore-based security risk advisor for Asia-Pacific with Healix International stated after the attack in Karachi that “the future attacks in other major urban centres hosting prominent Chinese-affiliated targets should be expected, both within and outside of the Balochistan region.”

“Further attacks on Chinese-linked investments inside of Balochistan are also certain, given the increased capabilities of the militants in the state. The question remains whether Pakistan will be able to act quickly and effectively enough to protect China’s assets in the region and across the country,” he wrote.

The current Gwadar attack reinforces that the insurgent groups target the places that are of Chinese interest. Gwadar is the first deep seaport which will connect China with Pakistan instead of sailing all through South Asia to transport goods.

On June 8, the Pakistani government approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.

Islamabad has repeatedly blamed India for supporting the militant groups. New Delhi has rejected such claims saying that Pakistan is attempting to “shift the blame on India for its domestic problems”.

Experts believe that such attacks increase the security threat which may drive away the investors. “Nobody will come and invest in this climate of fear,” said Muhammad Zafar Paracha, director at the Pakistani partner of MoneyGram International.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center in Washington, told Nikkei Asia that such attacks reinforce the anxieties of Islamabad and Beijing about the security of CPEC projects.

“Beijing has shown a willingness — not just in Pakistan, but in other volatile areas of the world as well — to tolerate a fair amount of risk when making investments in insecure spaces,” he said.

Washiyama believes that as Beijing has already invested billions in the project and the CPEC is also an alternative to the Malacca Strait, it might not shelve the program due to these security threats.

“The size of its sunken investment in CPEC, and the need to find alternatives to its reliance on the Malacca Strait, makes withdrawal a nonstarter. Instead, China will remain, and the insurgency will go on.”

Apart from the domestic resistance, the international community has also raised concerns over Beijing’s ‘debt trap’ strategy. The US criticised the CPEC programme saying that it is neither transparent nor cost-efficient. It has further warned Pakistan that it is subjecting itself to expensive loans under China’s BRI.

However, Islamabad has defended its stand saying this is an opportunity for Pakistan for its economic development.

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