In Depth

Why Pakistani militants are turning on China

Insurgent group says attack on Chinese consulate in Karachi is warning to Beijing

An armed attack on the Chinese consulate in the Pakistani city of Karachi has put tensions over Beijing’s expansionist foreign policy in the spotlight.

Three suicide bombers killed two policemen and a Pakistani father and son applying for visas during the attempted raid on Friday morning, according to reports in local media. Police said the three attackers were killed before they were able to penetrate the compound.

No Chinese citizens were harmed in the attack. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to launch a “complete inquiry” into the incident, which he suggested was “part of a conspiracy aimed at undermining economic and strategic cooperation between the two nations”, Reuters reports.

As the news site notes, China “is Pakistan’s closest ally, ploughing billions of dollars in loans and infrastructure investments into the South Asian nation as part of Beijing’s vast Belt and Road initiative”.

That investment is critical for Pakistan’s ailing economy. Earlier this week, bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) broke down, with the US-led organisation unconvinced that Islamabad had taken sufficient steps to control the country’s fiscal deficit, says the Nikkei Asian Review.

However, not all Pakistanis welcome China’s growing involvement in the country. The attempted storming of the Karachi consulate appears to have been the work of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist insurgent group believed to be responsible for multiple acts of terror against the Pakistani state.

In a statement to Reuters, the BLA said it had ordered the assault because “China is exploiting our resources”.

The miliants’ main political objective is to establish an independent homeland for the ten million-strong Baloch ethnic group, around half of whom live in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan.

However, in recent years the group has also turned its attention to Chinese-funded construction projects in the province.

Balochistan “has rich mineral and natural gas reserves but remains Pakistan’s poorest province”, making Chinese encroachment in the region a delicate subject, says CNBC.

In August, a BLA suicide bomber blew up a van packed with explosives alongside a bus transporting Chinese engineers to a mining site near the provincial capital of Quetta, injuring six passengers.

The group’s spokesman said the attack on the consulate was intended as a warning to Beijing that “we will not tolerate any Chinese military expansionist endeavours on Baloch soil”.

China’s embassy in Islamabad has struck a defiant note in response to the attack, insisting that “any attempt to undermine the China-Pakistan relationship is doomed to fail”.

But even in more moderate quarters, China’s growing influence in Pakistan has been a cause for concern.

Part of the reason for the breakdown of the latest bailout talks was “the IMF’s insistence that Pakistan fully disclose the terms of loans extended under China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, the Nikkei Asian Review reports.

Washington has accused Beijing of engaging in “debt-trap diplomacy”, flooding poorer countries in Asia, Africa and Central America  with much-needed capital in order to establish Chinese influence.

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