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Innocent Admission

Will Pakistan prove to be Waterloo for China and its ambitious BRI?

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New Delhi, July 30, 2021- China has begun arming its workers engaged in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with AK-47 guns and has also started mulling sending its troops to Pakistan to protect its men and interests spread across the country. China has no trust on the capability of the Pakistan Army’s Special Security Division (SSD) on which Beijing invested massive sums of money in training and in equipping the troops tasked to protect Chinese nationals and properties linked with the multi-billion dollar CPEC project.

China has also stopped work at the Dasu Hydropower project in Upper Kohistan area of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Anguished over the death of nine Chinese workers in the July 14 blast, China has stopped a high-level joint cooperation committee meeting for the CPEC project, which was to be held on July 16.

Worst, with its faith in Pakistan almost shattered, it sent its team to investigate the cause of the blast in the bus in which Chinese and Pakistani workers were travelling to the 4,300 MW Dasu Hydropower Project being developed by Wuhan-based construction company, Gezhouba Group Co.

Although no terrorist outfit has claimed responsibility for the blast so far, in view of the fact that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been the stronghold of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) outfit, there is a suspicion that the terrorist outfit may be behind the blast. In earlier attacks on Chinese interests, the TTP had owned responsibility. It was behind the suicide attack on the luxury hotel in South-West Balochistan in April.

The attack was carried out keeping Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan, Nong Rong in target. The Chinese Ambassador, however, miraculously escaped the suicide bombing, carried out by the TTP, the terrorist outfit that promptly owned up the responsibility of the incident in which five people were killed and 12 others were injured.

Records suggest that in the last six years, especially after Chinese men landed in hordes in Pakistan in connection with CPEC projects, different extremist groups have made Chinese interests targets of their attacks inside the country. On May 6, 2016, the foundation of CPEC initiative was laid in Sukkur city in Sindh province with the beginning of the construction of a section of highway between Sukkur and Multan.

Even before sounds of encouraging words of Pakistan and China’s ruling elites on CPEC at the opening ceremony in Sukkur city could have dissipated, Chinese engineers in Karachi were attacked by Sindh separatists in May 2016. No Chinese nationals were killed in that attack. Then in September 2016, two Chinese engineers were killed and several others injured when they were attacked by Baloch rebels.

In 2017, an outfit called ‘Majeed Brigade’ attacked a five-star hotel in Gwadar when Chinese delegation was busy planning for a port project. Eight people were killed in that attack. In the same year, a video on Twitter and other social media surfaced in which a purported member of the ‘Majeed Brigade’ is heard warning Chinese President Xi Jinping to “get out of Balochistan”.

A man wearing military fatigues and his face covered by a black cloth is heard saying, “President Jinping, you still have time to get out of Balochistan or you will witness retaliation from Baloch sons and daughters you will never forget”.

Four people were killed when Baloch Liberation Army carried out a strike on the Chinese Consulate in November 2018. In August 2018, a suicide attack was carried out on a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbandin, a city that lies in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Three Chinese engineers had suffered grievous injuries in this attack.

These incidents are a grim reminder of deep-seated hatred against China because of CPEC projects, which envisage building energy, highway and port infrastructure. In fact, the kind of protests and disruptions that these projects face, it doesn’t show they have been well-received in Pakistan.

On July 7, 2020, when the entire world was in the thick of the Covid-19 triggered problem, Pakistan occupied Kashmir’s Muzaffarabad city was jolted by a massive anti-China and anti-Pakistan protests. Thousands of people took out a rally in protest against Pakistan and China for illegal construction of two mega-dams on Neelam and Jhelum rivers. The protesters asked under which law the river agreement of the disputed region is signed by Pakistan and China? They said Pakistan and China are violating UN Security Council resolutions by occupying rivers.

Disparity in the wages of Pakistani workers in comparison to their fellow Chinese compatriots has also fuelled anti-China sentiments.

In November 18, 2020, thousands of Pakistani labourers staged a protest against China in Pakistan’s Karachi, complaining about unequal wages received by them as compared to Chinese workers involved in CPEC projects. And then this year on January 16, massive protests and violence erupted in Pakistan occupied Kashmir over the Chinese move to build a 33-km road from Yarkand in Xinjiang region to Pakistan occupied Kashmir to move its artillery and military personnel in the region.

There is hardly any region in Pakistan where the presence of China-led projects is not generating ill feeling among the country’s citizens. There is a strong feeling that the large-scale Chinese investments through various projects, including CPEC, running from Xinjiang region to Gwadar Port in Balochistan, cannot be without any clandestine or major objective of converting Pakistan into a Chinese colony. In Chinese activities, Pakistani nationals see the imprint of the British East India Company’s activities, which came as a trading organization during the Mughal rule but later facilitated the capture of entire India by the British colonists.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, the Taliban-led violence and capturing of large swath of the country’s areas have already sent across a message to the world that the Islamist group is not far away from capturing Kabul. It has also made its intention clear that it will run Afghanistan as per tenets of Shariat. Chinese leadership is shivering out of fear that this will encourage Uyghur separatists of the Xinjiang region, which borders Afghanistan, for anti-China activity. With reports after reports maintaining linkages among terrorist groups and their swearing by Islamic fundamentalism, China fears safety and security of its interests in the entire South Asian region. Amidst this, if China sends its army to protect its people and interests in Pakistan, it will be like stirring up a hornet nest as simmering anger among Pakistani nationals against Chinese will spill over across lanes, streets of the South Asian country.

Developments in countries like Myanmar, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have already stunned China. Rising anti-China protests and arsons in these countries have left the Chinese leaders in no doubt as to how fast Beijing has lost goodwill today. Its ambition to economically connect the world and consequently, influence its political affairs through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) appears to be in shambles.

But the larger question is: Will Pakistan or South Asia prove to be a Waterloo for China and its ambitious BRI initiative?  (Agency)

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