Chinese workers killed in suicide bomb blast as Pakistan grapples with attacks on Beijing’s interests

By Sophia Saifi and Nectar Gan, CNN

Islamabad CNN  — 

Five Chinese workers and their local driver were killed in a suicide bomb blast in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, authorities said, the latest in a string of terror attacks that the South Asian country’s military and government say aims to disrupt Islamabad’s close ties with Beijing.

Senior police official Muhammad Ali Gandapur said the explosion occurred when the bomber rammed a vehicle into the workers’ convoy as it traveled from the capital to the Dasu dam, the country’s largest hydropower project, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The blast is the third atrocity in a week to rock Pakistan, a strategic ally of China and a key link in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, underscoring the mounting security challenges for Chinese projects in the country.

No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s blast, which comes nearly three years after a bus explosion killed 13 people including nine Chinese workers on their way to the dam in another unclaimed attack on the project.

Pakistan has been grappling with a surge in violence from militant and terrorist groups since the Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan following the withdrawal of American troops in 2021. The Pakistani Taliban denied any involvement in Tuesday’s blast.

China strongly condemned Tuesday’s attack.

“China asks Pakistan to thoroughly investigate the incident as soon as possible, hunt down the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday, urging Pakistan to take effective measures to protect the safety and security of Chinese nationals, institutions and projects.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered condolences for the death of the Chinese nationals during a visit Tuesday to the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, where he met with Beijing’s ambassador.

Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar also condemned the “heinous act of terrorism,” and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.

“Today’s attack was orchestrated by the enemies of Pakistan-China friendship. We will resolutely act against all such forces and defeat them,” he said in a statement.

The blast Tuesday follows two militant attacks in recent days in southwest Pakistan, where China is investing billions in infrastructure projects.

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in restive southwest Balochistan province, claimed responsibility for the assaults on a Pakistani naval air base and a government complex outside the Chinese-funded strategic port of Gwadar.

In a statement, Pakistan’s military said the attacks were aimed at destabilizing the country’s internal security and its relationship with China.

“Strategic projects and sensitive sites vital for Pakistan’s economic progress and the well-being of its people are being targeted as a conscious effort to retard our progress and sow discord between Pakistan and its strategic allies and partners, most notably China,” the military said in a statement.

Without naming any country, the military’s statement also accused “certain foreign elements” of aiding and abetting terrorism in Pakistan.

Beijing has invested tens of billions of dollars in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship Belt and Road project launched in 2015 that links China’s western Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with a network of roads, railways, pipelines and power plants.

But Chinese-funded projects have sparked resentment from locals in parts of Pakistan, who say they have benefited little from the developments.

The anti-China sentiment is particularly strong among separatist groups in Balochistan.

In November 2018, the BLA claimed responsibility for an attack on the Chinese consulate in the city of Karachi, which killed four people. Half a year later, a separatist group attacked a luxury hotel in Gwadar, often used by Chinese nationals working at the port. In June 2020, the BLA said it was responsible for another deadly attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange, where Chinese companies own 40 percent of the stakes.

In August last year, BLA militants opened fire on a Pakistani military convoy in Gwadar as it was escorting a delegation of Chinese nationals to a construction project. Two militants were killed and no harm was caused to any military personnel or civilians, according to the Pakistani military.

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