Pakistan: Targeting the Chinese

China holds about 40% equity in the Pakistan Stock Exchange through the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Shenzhen Stock Exchange and China Financial Future Exchange. 

by Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

On August 13, 2023, two terrorists were killed by Security Forces (SFs) after they attacked a convoy of vehicles belonging to Chinese engineers and SFs near Faqir Colony Bridge in Gwadar city (Gwadar District), Balochistan. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) disclosed that the terrorists carried out the attack using small arms and hand grenades but “due to the efficient and swift response, two terrorists were sent to hell with no harm to any military or civil persons”.

A statement on the website of the Chinese consulate noted,

A Chinese convoy from the Gwadar port project was hit by roadside bombs and gunfire on its way back to the port area from Gwadar. No Chinese citizens were killed or injured.

Source: Getty

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which took responsibility of the attack, however claimed that 11 SF personnel and four Chinese nationals were killed in the attack. In a media statement, the BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeeyand Baloch declared that BLA’s Majeed Brigade, the BLA’s ‘suicide bomber squad’, was behind the attack and identified the attackers as Naveed Baloch alias Aslam of Nigewar Dasht in Kech District and Maqbool Baloch alias Qaim of Awaran District. It also shared the photographs of the two attackers. The BLA’s statement read, further,

We have cautioned China repeatedly to reconsider its activities in Balochistan. BLA views such endeavours as acts of exploitation… Any foreign investments in the region should only proceed after Balochistan achieves independence.

The statement added that BLA had issued China a 90-day ultimatum to withdraw from Balochistan, or prepare for intensified attacks on its “key interests” in the region.

The previous recorded incident against a Chinese target in Pakistan was on April 26, 2022, when at least five persons, including three Chinese nationals, their Pakistani driver and a security guard, were killed when a women suicide bomber blew herself up near a van transporting Chinese nationals from a Karachi University (KU) hostel to the Confucius Institute in Karachi. The three deceased Chinese nationals were identified as Confucius Institute Director Huang Guiping and staffers Ding Mupeng and Chen Sa. The BLA had claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, releasing the image and name of the attacker, Fidayeen (suicide cadre) Shaari Baloch (30) aka Bramsh, of the Majeed Brigade. Shaari Baloch was the first Baloch woman suicide bomber.

According to partial data compiled by SATP, since July 19, 2007, at least 14 attacks directly targeting Chinese nationals have been recorded in Pakistan (12 in Balochistan and two in Sindh), resulting in 79 deaths (data till August 20, 2023). The dead included 10 Chinese nationals, 13 Pakistani SF personnel, 41 Pakistani civilians and 12 attackers. Another, 53 persons, including six Chinese nationals, were injured in these attacks.

Some of the other prominent incidents targeting Chinese nationals include:

August 20, 2021: A BLA suicide bomber attacked a convoy of Chinese engineers in the Nagori ward area of the Gwadar Expressway in Gwadar District, Balochistan, in which at least three persons, including two children, were killed and three persons, including a Chinese national, sustained injuries. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack. “BLA carried out a ‘self-sacrificing’ attack against a convoy of Chinese engineers,” the group’s statement asserted.

April 21, 2021: At least five persons, including four Pakistani civilians and a police official, were killed and another 12 sustained injuries, when a bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Serena Hotel located on the Shahrah-e-Zarghun Road in Quetta, Balochistan. No Chinese national was injured. It was a suicide car bombing, but the terrorists could not enter the main hotel building where a Chinese delegation was staying. The explosion occurred before Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong, who was in Quetta on that day, was to arrive at the hotel. Nong Rong was the apparent target of the attack.

May 11, 2019: Four terrorists stormed the luxury Zaver Pearl-Continental Hotel, in Gwadar, Balochistan. The Hotel had around 70 guests at the time, including 40 Chinese nationals. Nine persons, including four hotel employees, one Pakistan Navy sailor and all four attackers, were killed during the eight-hour long siege. BLA’s ‘Majeed Brigade’ claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was aimed at the Chinese and other foreign investors.

November 23, 2018: BLA fidayeen (suicide squad) ‘Majeed Brigade’ militants attacked the Chinese Consulate in Block 4 of the Clifton area of Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, leaving at least six people dead. However, no Chinese national was hurt in the attack. Three militants were killed in the operation by SFs. BLA claimed that the attackers had been assigned the task of targeting the Consulate.

August 11, 2018: At least six persons – among them three Chinese engineers – were injured in a suicide attack on a bus in the Dalbandin area of the Chagai District of Balochistan. The bus carrying Chinese engineers was being escorted by the Frontier Corps to the Dalbandin Airport from the Saindaik Cooper and Gold Mines, when the bomber tried to drive his explosives-laden vehicle in to the bus. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack. The suicide bomber, the first for the Baloch, was Rehan Aslam Baloch, the eldest son of Aslam Baloch, the brigade’s founder and BLA’s then-chief.

February 5, 2018: A Chinese national, Chen Zhu (46), who was a top official at a shipping firm, was shot dead by unknown armed assailants in a targeted attack at Zamzama Park in Clifton, Karachi.

The first and also the worst attack targeting Chinese nationals was, however, recorded on July 19, 2007, when a suicide bomber tried to ram his explosive laden vehicle into a van taking Chinese engineers to Karachi from Hub town, at the Gadani Bus Stop in the industrial town of Hub in Balochistan. The attacker missed the target when a Police van blocked its way. At least 30 people, including seven Policemen, were killed and 28 were injured. All seven Chinese engineers, including a woman, remained unhurt. This was also the first attack directly targeting Chinese nationals.

In another attack, not directly targeting Chinese nationals, but intended to hurt Chinese economic interests in Pakistan, at least 11 persons were killed when four terrorists attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) on Chundrigar Road, Karachi, on June 29, 2020. Those killed included four private security guards, one Policeman, two bystanders and all the four attackers. All the persons killed were Pakistani nationals. Significantly, after this attack BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch declared,

China holds about 40% equity in the Pakistan Stock Exchange through the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Shenzhen Stock Exchange and China Financial Future Exchange. That is why the attack was not only aimed at Pakistan’s but also an attack on Chinese economic interests and if China continues to take part in Balochistan’s exploitation they will face more attacks.

Baloch groups have carried out attacks directly targeting Chinese nationals engaged in economic activities, as they believe that China, in connivance with Islamabad, is exploiting the province. Their resentment towards the Chinese has grown stronger since the start of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in 2013, as both the civilian population and insurgents believe that CPEC is part of a ‘strategic design’ by China to loot resources and eliminate Pakistani, particularly Baloch, culture and identity. The USD 62 billion CPEC is a massive series of projects that includes a network of highways, railways and energy infrastructure, spanning the entire country. CPEC is a flagship project in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Significantly, the BLA and other Baloch groups are increasingly targeting Chinese nationals after the inception of CPEC-related projects in 2013. Out of 14 attacks directly targeting Chinese nationals, 13 have been reported after the inception of CPEC (11 in Balochistan, two in Sindh).  

These attacks continue despite Pakistan’s best efforts and assurances to China that all such attacks would be thwarted. The News reported on March 5, 2018, that by March 2018, Pakistan deputed an estimated 37,000 security personnel to guard Chinese workers engaged in some 22 projects directly associated with CPEC and another 214 related small and mega projects in Pakistan. These include 15,780 military personnel trained under the Special Security Division (SSD) and the Maritime Security Force (MSF). Current force deployment estimates, however, are not publicly available.

On February 12, 2023, the then Federal Minister of Interior Rana Sanaullah, while visiting Gwadar, announced that ‘foolproof security’ would be provided to Chinese nationals in Gwadar Port.

Not surprisingly, China has started taking direct measures to secure its national and vital installations. Faiz M. Baloch, editor of the online news website Balochwarna and the UK-based treasurer of the Free Balochistan Movement (FBM) claimed on March 23, 2022,

China is assisting Pakistan in many ways. It provides technology to Pakistan. We believe that China is assisting Pakistan in tracing the locations of the Baloch fighters. China is complicit in the Baloch genocide. In February [2022], at least ten Baloch fighters were killed in a drone attack in Hoshab, Turbat, in the Makran region. We strongly believe that China assisted Pakistan in the drone attack as it (Pakistan) is not that capable.

Inputs now indicate that China continues to increase pressure on the Pakistan Government to permit deployment of Chinese security companies to guard its citizens and assets in Pakistan. Though the Pakistani Government have so far been successful in cajoling China to hold off its demand, assuring Beijing of ‘foolproof security’, with every fresh attack on Chinese nationals and projects in Pakistan, China’s scepticism about Pakistan’s capabilities is likely to grow. There is, consequently, a growing likelihood of the presence of Chinese military boots on Baloch lands in the foreseeable future.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Counter-terrorism Expert on Pakistan at Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi