Karachi Confucius Institute Attack: Why The Pakistan Army Will Be Worried
On Tuesday, three Chinese citizens, who were on their way to the University of Karachi's Confucius Institute, a Chinese government-run body, were killed in a suicide attack carried out by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a Pakistan-based militant outfit fighting for the independence of Balochistan.
The context: This is the latest in a series of attacks against Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
Last year, 9 Chinese citizens working on a hydro-power plant project site in northern Pakistan were killed in an explosion.
Earlier that year, a luxury hotel in Balochistan's Quetta, where the Chinese ambassador was reportedly staying, was attacked.
In 2018, the BLA attacked a bus ferrying 18 Chinese mining workers. The Chinese consulate in Karachi was also attacked the same year.
But why are the Chinese a target? China is involved in large infrastructure projects across Pakistan, including the resource-rich but militancy-hit Balochistan province.
In its statement, the BLA has said that it targeted the Confucius Institute because it is a "symbol of Chinese economic, cultural and political expansionism."
Communities in remote parts of Pakistan, including Balochistan, have been against BRI projects in the country because they have been excluded from the economic benefits derived from them.
In Balochistan, which remains the poorest region in Pakistan, locals have accused China and the Pakistan Army of usurping their land and resources without sharing the benefits.
Resistance has been building up against large Chinese presence that these mega infrastructure projects bring.
China's reaction: China has condemned these attacks and has sought better security for its citizens working in Pakistan.
However, signs of China's growing frustration due to the increase in attacks and the Pakistan Army's failure to provide a safe environment have been increasingly visible over the last few years.
Last year, when 9 Chinese citizens were killed near a dam site, Pakistan said the incident was a result of a mechanical failure in order to downplay it. But the Chinese instantly labelled it a "bomb attack". Pakistan was forced to change its statement.
Chinese netizens, including prominent ones, have also been reacting angrily. Hu Xijin, the controversial Chinese "journalist" who was until recently the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, has called on the Chinese military to launch "air strikes" against the BLA.
Pakistan Army is very worried because the increase in attacks on Chinese nationals by the BLA means trouble for it.
With the attack on the rise, it is clear that the militancy in Balochistan is intensifying. Pakistan has long accused India of helping the militants in Balochistan using its presence in Afghanistan. But with the Taliban in Kabul and India out, it can no longer make that excuse for its failures.
If the attacks continue, China may be forced to rethink its strategy, and that would mean more instability for Pakistan, which is currently under economic pressure due to its failing economy. The Pakistan Army, which is believed to have benefited from Chinese investments in the country under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, stands to lose if China decides to go slow.
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