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Rising attacks by Baloch separatists increase risks, costs of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project

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The security risks - and costs - of Belt and Road Initiative projects in Pakistan are rising amid a resurgence of deadly attacks by separatists in southwest Balochistan province, home to the Chinese-operated port of Gwadar, according to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

In the third such attack since May, militant separatists opened fire on a patrolling paramilitary convoy in Panjgur district on Tuesday July 14, killing three soldiers and wounding eight others, including an army colonel, the military said.

The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) spokesperson Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

"The Pakistani Army came under heavy attack in a few minutes and later not a single bullet was fired by them. A few years ago, a BLF attack in the same area had killed several army personnel, including a Pakistani colonel named Waheed, whose video went viral, and because of this, all Baloch websites, social media pages and video channels were blocked in Pakistan. Video of today's attack will also be released soon," said Gwahram Baloch, vowing such attacks will continue until the independence of Balochistan.

Militant ethnic Baloch factions have also recently expanded their range of operations to adjoining Sindh province and its port city of Karachi.

Beijing's stakes in Sindh are as high as they are in Balochistan. Its state-owned enterprises run container terminals at Karachi port, Pakistan's busiest, and are invested in nuclear and coal power projects established both under the umbrella of the US$60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and in partnership with local corporations.

On June 29, four militants were killed by police commandos when they tried to shoot their way into the Karachi Stock Exchange, which is 40 per cent owned by a consortium of three Chinese bourses.

The attack on Karachi's stock market was claimed by the Majeed Fidayeen Brigade (MFB) of the Baloch Liberation Army, which emerged as a serious security threat to Beijing's interests in southern Pakistan two years ago.

In August 2018, MFB militants killed three Chinese engineers and wounded five others travelling in a bus in the town of Dalbadin, 930km north of Gwadar - to date, the most lethal attack on Chinese personnel since CPEC was launched in 2015.

The MFB subsequently carried out an abortive attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in November 2018.

"Baloch groups have not only intensified their attacks but also expanded the outreach of their terrorist violence beyond Balochistan, but it is hard to predict whether this trend will persist," Mohammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, told the Post.

He said Baloch insurgent factions had historically preferred to conduct low-intensity attacks, while their high-intensity attacks had tended to come in waves lasting "only for a few weeks".

Rana said the CPEC projects and Chinese personnel remained well protected by the dedicated 13,700-strong Special Security Division, led by a two-star Pakistani army general, established in 2017.

"Only low-intensity attacks have been reported around the CPEC project sites, but the financial cost of the security [to Pakistan] is high," he said.

The Indian Connection

Tellingly, India has been working to destabilize Balochistan in two ways; by sponsoring terrorism using Afghan soil, and by inciting and supporting the Baloch dissidents to carry out a movement for the province's separation from Pakistan, according to Pakistani sources.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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