China lobbies Pakistan after losing 9 engineers in bus attack


KARACHI – Following a terrorist attack that killed nine Chinese engineers in northern Pakistan last week, Beijing has stepped up pressure on Islamabad, postponing a high-level joint committee for the Belt and Road Initiative. Route “and shutting down a billion dollar hydroelectric project.

The Dasu hydropower project currently under construction in northwest Pakistan is led by China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) at an estimated cost of over $ 4 billion. It is expected to have a capacity of 4,320 MW.

Contrary to media reports, the project is not part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but is instead funded by the World Bank.

After 13 people were killed in a bus explosion in Kohistan district on July 14, including nine Chinese nationals working on the dam, Pakistan’s foreign ministry called it an accident caused by an accident. mechanical failure. This sparked a strong response from Beijing, demanding that Islamabad investigate the blast.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan subsequently assured Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that Islamabad would investigate “the terrorist attack”, which allegedly targeted the Chinese. Pakistani authorities later found traces of explosives at the site, giving weight to the sabotage theory.

China’s plans in Pakistan face major security threats: A Chinese national injured in a hospital in Kohistan province after a bomb caused a bus crash that killed nine of his colleagues, all engineers. © AP

A 15-member Chinese team is in Pakistan to investigate the incident. So far, no terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Fakhar Kakakhel, a senior analyst covering activism in Pakistan, said the attack was typical of sabotage. “Obviously, these are efforts to block the CPEC megaproject,” he told Nikkei Asia. Kakakhel added that previously a number of attacks only targeted the outlying areas of the CPEC in Balochistan, but this time it happened near China.

Beijing’s initial reaction was to cancel the 10th meeting of the Joint Coordinating Committee. Jointly chaired by senior Pakistani and Chinese officials, the JCC is the governing body of CPEC, the Pakistani $ 50 billion component of Belt and Road. The previous JCC took place in November 2019.

In a July 15 tweet, Asim Saleem Bajwa, President of the CPEC, said: “The JCC-10 meeting on #CPEC which was scheduled to be held on July 16, 21 has been postponed to a later date.”

This year’s meeting was to approve the funding mechanism for the Mainline 1 rail project. “The delayed JCC meeting means that the ML-1 project will not start anytime soon,” a government official with knowledge of. the case on condition of anonymity. The official added that Pakistan wants the JCC meeting to be held soon, but that it will not be possible without the green light from Beijing.

In addition to postponing the CCM meeting, China has also suspended work on the Dasu hydropower project. CGGC then announced on July 17 that it would not continue the work and that most of the local employees would be laid off.

The Indus River flows through Dasu in northwestern Pakistan, where the China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) is working on a hydropower project valued at more than $ 4 billion. © Getty Images

Officials said that after the announcement, Islamabad asked CGGC to reconsider its decision in order to avoid an internal backlash. The Chinese company later withdrew its order terminating the contracts of local employees. “[CGGC] has temporarily suspended work on the hydropower project and it will resume work when security issues are resolved, ”said another Pakistani government official, who also requested anonymity.

Analysts believe the attack dealt a blow to Chinese interests in Pakistan. He said the fallout from the situation in Afghanistan will be directed against Chinese interests in Pakistan, and that Belt and Road will be the main target. “The worrying situation in Afghanistan will lead to further unrest in Pakistan where [CPEC] will be the main target, ”Kakakhel said.

As anti-China forces raised the bar against CPEC in Pakistan, China retaliated with a more aggressive stance. Global Times, spokesperson for the Communist Party of China, noted in an editorial that anti-government forces in Pakistan who target Chinese personnel and projects will incur Beijing’s wrath.

In the midst of the crisis, China is not disheartened, reaffirming its support for Pakistan while warning anti-government forces in the country. As reported in the Global Times: “[China] will not only provide the necessary support and assistance if Pakistan’s strength is insufficient, but China’s missiles and special forces could also directly participate in operations to eliminate threats against the Chinese in Pakistan with Pakistan’s consent. We will lead by example as a deterrent. “

One of the unnamed Pakistani government officials seemed to agree. “This attack and the strong reaction of the Chinese government suggest a change of approach by Beijing to acts of sabotage against its interests in Pakistan.” He added that Beijing may have lost patience and would likely face threats head-on.

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