NEW DELHI: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will face tough questions from the Chinese government and investors when he goes to China in November, as the Chinese are worried about and upset with the attacks on Chinese nationals and CPEC projects in Pakistan. The Pakistani delegation led by Sharif will deliberate with their Chinese counterparts 28 issues, out of which two relate to the security of Chinese nationals and the recent attacks on CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) projects. Last week, Sharif held a high-level meeting in which discussions on the security aspects of the Chinese nationals working in Pakistan were given top priority. Multiple deliberations were announced post this meeting to assuage the anger of the Chinese, particularly President Xi Jinping.
While no official numbers are available, it is believed that in Punjab province alone at least 4,000 Chinese nationals are working in various CPEC projects. Sharif, sources said, will be asked by the Chinese to share an update on the investigations regarding the terror attack on the Dasu hydropower project, which is being built by the Chinese as a part of the CPEC. In July 2021, at least nine Chinese workers were killed in a bomb blast that targeted the bus they were travelling in while going to the site of the project, which is being developed by China’s Gezhouba Group.
The previous government of Imran Khan had blamed India for these attacks, but could not provide any evidence to back such claims and convince the Chinese agencies that had gone to Dasu to carry out a parallel investigation of their own. Ultimately, the Pakistan government was compelled to pay nearly $12 million as compensation to the families of the Chinese nationals who were killed or injured in the Dasu dam attack.
The Chinese side has also demanded an update on last year’s 20 August attack that took place at the Gwadar East Bay Expressway project in Balochistan in which a motorcade carrying Chinese personnel was targeted by a suicide bomber. One Chinese was injured while two local children were killed and several others injured. Sharif will also be grilled by the Chinese agencies for updates on the suicide bombing in April this year in which three Chinese language teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in Karachi, near the city’s Confucius Institute. The responsibility for the said attack was taken by Baloch separatists.
Most recently, in the last week of September, two armed assailants killed one Chinese national and injured two others at a dental clinic in the southern port city of Karachi. All three were Chinese-Pakistani dual nationals and had operated the dental clinic in the area for 40 years. According to reports, the attackers did not target the Pakistani nationals who were present in the clinic.
The high-level meeting between Sharif and representatives of GHQ, Rawalpindi apart from the interior ministry, which was held on 25 October, has decided to ask the law and order agencies of Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to establish and strengthen Special Protection Units (SPU) similar to that of Punjab police for the security of Chinese nationals. The efforts will be monitored by a joint team of GHQ, Rawalpindi, and the Ministry of Interior.
The Punjab police have a dedicated staff of around 15,000 men who are a part of the SPU for guarding the Chinese nationals. An apex committee, which will have members from the Ministry of Interior and GHQ, and will be headed by the PM, too is being set up, to deal exclusively with issues related to the security of Chinese nationals and CPEC projects. Sharif during the trip to Beijing, sources said, will also communicate to the Chinese that the Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives will from now on hold a monthly meeting of the Pakistan-Chinese Joint Working Group on the security of Chinese nationals.
To increase the security of the Chinese nationals, the Sharif-led team is likely to seek technological help from the Chinese during the visit, including assistance in setting up a state-of-the-art National Forensic Science Laboratory in Islamabad, for which the funding is likely to come from the Chinese. It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan adds the cost of providing security to CPEC projects into the total cost of projects, which is borne by the Chinese.