Miffed China and Pakistan’s Security Predicament: Implications Post Dasu attack
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 Jun , 2024

On 26th March 2024, a convoy of Chinese citizensen route to the Dasu Hydropower Project site in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohistan district from Islamabad faced an attack claimed by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Five Chinese nationals lost their lives.  Since then, China has demanded a probe into the incident, suggested to send its own security personnel for the safety of its citizens and additionally recommended Pakistan to conduct a large-scale counter terrorism operation.

Aftermath and Implications of the Attack (26th March 2024)

Following the attack, the government of Pakistan announced a compensation of US $2.5 million for the families of the deceased Chinese nationals who fell victims to the attack. An investigation teamof police and intelligence agencies was disbanded toaddress Chinese concerns.

Post attack, Power Construction Corporation of China (PCCC), the company overseeing the Tarbela 5th Extension Hydropower Project ceased their operations and dismissed 2,000 of its employees.

Regardless of the suspension of the operations, the general secretary of the Awami Labour Union at the project asserted that the delay would be negligible and would not affect the completion of theTarbela extension project (T5) which is scheduled to be completed by May 2026, with financial aid from the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

It is important to mention, this was the second time when an attack was orchestrated on Chinese national  saffiliated with the China-backed Dasu hydro power project. The previous attack was reported on July 14th 2021. It took the lives of nine Chinese engineers and two Frontier Corps personnel. Envisaging the probability of further attacks from insurgents and terror outfits on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, China has condemned the attack and demanded an aggressive operation to crack down of terrorists.

It had demanded for an intensive investigation of the incident by Pakistan and asserted for a security boost for its citizens. In 2014 post the first attack near Dasu dam, the collective pressure from the international community including China, compelled Pakistan to launchOperation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan. This effort was further bolstered with the Chinese government providing unconditional support for the Financial Action Task Force’s recommendation for Pakistan’s counterterrorism financing and anti-money laundering commitments. Using the past precedence for the crackdown on the militants attacking the Chinese and China related projects, the Chinese government has demandeda large-scale operation recently. However, the suggestion seems far from pragmatic given that the TTP and its affiliates are securely sheltered in Afghanistan (as claimed by Pakistan), and further cross-border operations would escalate the already ongoing skirmishes between the Afghan security forces and the Pakistani military.

Additionally, Pakistan’s economy is in the Doldrums and complying with massive scaled operations would incur further expenditure at the cost of Pakistan.

However, despite the portrayal of being an “Iron brother”, it would be asinine to presume that China would forgo its large investments in Pakistan due to Pakistani military’s incompetency to counter the threats to the Chinese projects. It can be anticipated that as a form of quid pro quo, China can expect at least some level of security for its nationalsin exchange for bailing out an economically cash strapped Pakistan.

The Chinese are discernibly miffed and Pakistan’s efforts to raise 12,000-strong Pakistani army and naval units in 2016 to protect CPEC projects seems to not placate its worries.

The Pakistani component of the CPEC project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is worth $50-billion.It aims to connect its ports in Gwadar and Karachi to China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region by land.

According to an article in The Diplomat, Pakistan carried a total of 129 strikes in  thelast year, with 125 of these being carried out in the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In 2023, 82 percentof the attacks were orchestrated by the Thereek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and various separatist groups. The commonality among the objectives of each group is the targeting of the Chinese nationals who are considered to be marginalizing the ethnic groups within the area, with Pakistan’s complaisance.

Another factor emerges from the Chinese ill treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, with many jihadist groups holding Pakistan accomplice to Beijing’s crimes. “The Pakistani state should declare jihad against whoever is marginalizing Muslims anywhere in the world.” stated Ejaz Ashrafi, the co-founder of the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.

The growing intolerance due to the radicalization against the non Sunniand non Muslim minority groups is also presenting as a security concern for those companies and security firms who deal in risk assessment, often citing the incident ofmurder of the Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana in Dec 2021 by a mob in Sialkot. In several American assessment reports, it was stated that Pakistan in its effort to counter terrorism, is blatantly selective in its approach. It clearly turns a blind eye to those who it cultivates for its own interests or those who share similar anti India aspirations. Pakistan’s effort to resolve the radicalization is to establish more institutions to counter extremism, which are mostly to pacify the clergy.

With the several biases and fault lines in its administrative and security policies, it is incomprehensible how it will meet the demands of the Chinese interests.

It would be imperative for Pakistan to get its ducks in order before appeasing China by enforcing an iron hand approach on its insurgents or bereaved citizens who feel alienated from its state.

Additionally, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned a cooperation agreement between the Presidency of State Security in the kingdom and the Pakistan’s ISI to combat terrorism and its financing. This may have resulted in Pakistan’s overconfidence in its capabilities to counter and mitigate conflicts or terror activities.

However, the recent incidents such as the Dasu attack have only managed to place doubts in the Pakistani capabilities in the minds of the foreign investors.

This is precisely the reason one would infer behind the five days diplomatic visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to China on June 4th 2024, which would be to pledge Pakistan’s commitment to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and to iron out any doubts which China may harbour in terms of Pakistan’s unconditional cooperation with China.

It may appear for now, Pakistan and China may have succeeded in weathering the storm and precariously holding on to their symbiotic friendship by acknowledging a united front in terms of trade, investments and countering terror threats, but much remains to be determined as Pakistan’s internal affairs are expediently  exacerbating in terms of security and political instability.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Aparna Rawal

is an Independent Researcher and Analyst specialing in Af/Pak region and Counter Terrorism.

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