Pakistan grapples with deadly attacks

MONITORING (SW) – In the 10 days between March 16 and March 26, Pakistan witnessed five different attacks, three in its northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and two in its southwestern Balochistan province, resulting in the deaths of at least 18 people.

All five attacks were suicide bombings, in which at least 12 military personnel, five Chinese nationals and one Pakistani citizen died.

On March 16, an armed group attacked a military post in northwestern Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan using a vehicle laden with explosives as well as suicide bombs, killing seven security force members, Pakistan’s military said.

Troops responding to the attack on Saturday in North Waziristan, a district in the restive province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed six attackers, some of who were wearing suicide vests, according to the military statement.

The last three attacks, coming so quickly in succession, appear to target Chinese interests in Pakistan. First, armed fighters attacked Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan, which was built with Chinese help. Then, an armed group attacked one of Pakistan’s largest naval bases, also in Balochistan, citing Chinese investment in the region as their motivation. And finally, fighters targeted Chinese engineers working on a Chinese-funded hydropower project in the country’s north, near Besham city.

Five Chinese nationals and a Pakistani driver have been killed after a suicide attacker rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into their convoy near Besham city in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The incident happened on Tuesday when the convoy was on its way from Islamabad to Dasu, the site of a key hydroelectric dam being constructed by a Chinese company, about 270km (167 miles) from the capital.

China is one of Pakistan’s closest allies and has invested $62bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an infrastructure project that spans a series of highways linking southwestern China to Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.

The attack on Chinese workers triggered a sharp response from Beijing. “China asks Pakistan to thoroughly investigate the incident as soon as possible, hunt down the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Meanwhile, we ask Pakistan to take effective measures to protect the safety and security of Chinese nationals, institutions, and projects in Pakistan,” its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on March 27.

In response, the Pakistani government said it would bring “terrorists, and their facilitators and abettors to justice”, and announced the formation of an investigation team to further examine the attacks.

“Pakistan and China are close friends and iron brothers. We have no doubt that the Besham terror attack was orchestrated by the enemies of Pakistan-China friendship. Together, we will resolutely act against all such forces and defeat them,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued a day later.

Chinese interests have also been attacked repeatedly in the past. Two gunmen targeted a convoy of 23 Chinese engineers in Gwadar in August last year, but their attack was foiled by security officials.

In July 2021, at least nine Chinese engineers working on a hydropower project were killed when a suicide bomber rammed into their bus, in an attack that was eerily similar to what unfolded on March 26.

But what differentiates the two attacks is that while incidents in Balochistan were readily claimed by rebel secessionist groups, the attack in the north was not claimed by any group.

The attacks in Balochistan were claimed by the military wing of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), one of the many hardline armed groups seeking to secede from Pakistan.

Balochistan is the country’s largest province by area but also its poorest, despite being rich in natural resources, including oil, coal, gold, copper and gas reserves. This has bred accusations from many in Balochistan that successive Pakistani governments have neglected their concerns while exploiting the province and benefitting “foreigners”. The province has witnessed at least five rebellion movements since the formation of Pakistan in 1947.