The continual subjugation and marginalization of the Baloch people by the Pakistani government has left the province of Balochistan in a chaotic milieu. The Baloch strife for self-determination and freedom followed by Pakistan`s iron fist retaliation towards them has sparked the fifth wave of the Baloch rebellion.
Unlike earlier Baloch rebellions, the nature of the present rebellion contains new elements. The movement is no longer restricted tothe rural/ tribal bases, but has started to attract the Baloch from the newly de-tribalised urban bases. Secondly, the economic presence of the Chinese in Balochistan province has become an added reagent for dissatisfaction and resentment among the people; merging it with the hate narrative which the Baloch have shared for Islamabad ever since Independence. Lastly, certain Baloch separatist groups have changed their modus operandi from their mainstream secular- nationalist approach to a radical “Islamicized” approach.
Despite the simmering Baloch rebellion, China and Pakistan have continued to reassure one another of their brotherly ties and mutual respect. However, the security of Chinese citizens in Pakistan has become a concern for both nations. The Chinese are now targets of the religious extremists and the Baloch separatists.
On November 23rd, 2018, three heavily armed individuals from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) attacked a Chinese consulate in Karachi. Two police officers and two civilians were killed in the attack while the Chinese officials remaining inside the consulate were safe. The Baloch militants were killed in the retaliatory firing.
In August 2018, a bus carrying a group of Chinese engineers was targeted by a suicide bomber in the Chaghi district of Balochistan. There were no serious casualties, aside from the attacker. The BLA claimed the credit for the attack. The attack on the consulate was a daring deviation from the nature of attacks carried out by the BLA in the past. It was ambitious and has raised the bar for likely future attacks, thus instilling a concern for the security of Chinese citizens in Pakistan.
There are many factors which spell trouble for Chinese citizens in Pakistan from the resentment of religious extremists. Various radical religious radical groups have blamed the Chinese for the crackdown on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007. They believe Chinese pressure on the Pakistani government led to the incident, resulting in increased anti-China sentiments among various groups.
Another factor which has been fuelling hate for the Chinese stems from the reported inhuman treatment, including internment, of million Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang. Pakistan has always tried to project itself as the epitome of a “true” Islamic nation in the region. Hence it is no surprise that religious extremist groups are targeting Chinese citizens in Pakistan.
The Pakistani military had, in the past, carried out heavy-handed operations against religious extremists and sectarian groups which it proscribed as terrorist outfits. These actions, too, resulted in sparking discontent against the Pakistani military and, in response, Chinese citizens have been kidnapped and killed in the region.
In recent years, there is also growing apprehension among the Baloch nationalists because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) developments in their province. The Baloch concern stems from the fear of being reduced to a minority within their own province. They believe the CPEC investments will bring a demographic change in the Balochistan province, which will only exacerbate their current situation in Pakistan. Even though CPEC has been initiated from Gwadar and Balochistan, there have been no talks with the Baloch explaining “how and when” they will benefit from the CPEC. This has led to scepticism and doubts amongst the Baloch, who see this project as a forceful “takeover” of their land.
On January 11th, 2019, Dawn reported that the federal government of Pakistan had taken a decision to provide the Balochistan government a share from the exploration and development of natural resources projects in Balochistan.
A decision to set up a joint committee of both the federal and provincial authorities was initiated in a meeting attended by Jam Kamal Khan Alyan, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, and Federal Minister for Petroleum, Ghulam Sarwar Khan. The committee will deal with matters concerning the rights of the Baloch, issues relating to the Sui mining lease, licencing zones, 18th Constitutional Amendment, Petroleum Policy and article 172 (3) and 158 of the Constitution. This effort is believed to be a trendsetter for ‘bilateral’ cooperation between federal and provincial governments, participants of the meeting said.
Jam Kamal said, “We have witnessed high-level meetings in the past but didn’t see implementation of any decision, but now there should be progress on all decisions because the centre is responsible to take all provinces together.”
It is evident that China, which is seeking to secure its own geo-economic and geo-strategic interests, has played the devil`s advocate in convincing the Pakistani government to build the trust of the Baloch by maintaining local support groups in Balochistan in order to achieve success with the CPEC and reduce the attacks on its own citizens by seeking to address some Baloch grievances.
(The author is an independent researcher on defence and strategic issues. She can be contacted at email@example.com)