Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and ISI chief Faiz Hameed are in China for high-level “strategic talks” with the Chinese officials. The meeting is taking place in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province. The meeting, as reported by the Pakistani media, is purportedly an attempt by Pakistan to do some damage control after the bus attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that killed 9 Chinese engineers who were part of the Dasu Hydroelectric Project. This project is part of the $65B China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.
REASONS FOR CHINA’S DISPLEASURE
Pakistan and China had differing versions about the bus explosion, in the early hours of the incident. The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad confirmed that it was a terror attack but the Pakistan government blamed the explosion on a Mechanical snag. This attempt by Pakistan to downplay the explosion irked China, and Pakistan had to, within 24 hours, reluctantly admit the possibility of a terror attack. This caused displeasure to China, and Beijing made an announcement about sending in a team of investigators to Pakistan to probe the blast. The decision to send its own team was clearly a sign of China’s distrust of Pakistan. China also canceled the CPEC meeting between the two nations that was scheduled for 16th April.
Northern Pakistan is a stronghold for Baloch rebel groups and Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These two groups are against Chinese activities in the region, which has automatically made them the prime suspects in the case. However, it would be a shame for Pakistan to admit that Tahreek-i-Taliban, which was born out of Pakistan’s radical terror policies, was involved in the attack on its closest ally, China.
On the other hand, blaming the Baloch rebels would draw unwanted attention towards the ethnic cleansing of Baloch people by the Pakistani state. Moreover, it would reveal Pakistan’s weak grip on its internal security and the huge challenge posed to them by the poorly-armed and meekly-funded Baloch rebels. This would also force Pakistan to admit to an attack by India in Pakistan, by extension, as Pakistan has time and again blamed India for secretly funding Baloch rebel groups. Furthermore, an Indian attack that seemed imminent after the drone attack on Jammu Air Force Station will make the Imran Khan-led Pakistani government appear weak against India, which Imran Khan’s popularity in Pakistan can ill-afford.
In either case, Pakistan will lose China’s trust, which will ultimately lead to cuts in Chinese investment in the country, an investment which the staggering Pakistani economy badly needs to keep its wheels rolling. And this fear of losing funds might be the reason why Pakistan was so eager to blame the Dasu bus explosion on a gas leak.
CHINA ARMS CITIZENS
Pictures that emerged on social media suggest that China has armed its workers in Pakistan with assault rifles. If true, this will be enough evidence to show China’s level of distrust of Pakistan.
China’s anger in the matter is through the roofs as the mighty Dragon feels challenged by militant and terrorist groups in a country that survives on Chinese investments. The possibility of an Indian hand in the attack, through its proxies, is equally threatening for the image that China wants to project of itself on the international level, especially when it is involved in a border standoff with India.