Despite the deployment of 20,000 soldiers to protect key projects, the Islamic militants are still threatening Chinese workers at various projects in Pakistan…. Writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
It’s slap on the face of Pakistani security officials. They are seething with rage following a meeting convened by Chinese Ambassador in Islamabad Yao Jing to discuss the safety of Chinese workers in Pakistan. A domestic issue exposing the inefficiency of the establishment. The Ambassador bypassed the normal route to ensure the safety of his fellow citizens.
The proactive ambassador, who has developed close links with a cross section of Pakistan’s political and military players, met a number of local representative officers of Chinese companies working in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The subject of discussions was the security situation in Pakistan, with focus on Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan areas, the end and start point respectively of the China-financed economic corridor.
The company representatives, in one voice, complained that despite Pakistani assurances about two new divisions (20,000 soldiers) of the military being raised exclusively for the security of Chinese men and materials, the situation on ground was unacceptable.
They are still in the shock of the killing of 10 Chinese workers by ISIS/Taliban militants near Gawadar. A group of gunmen on motorcycles had opened fire on the workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Gawadar city, killing eight of them on the spot while another two succumbed to their wounds at a nearby hospital. Gawadar with its 600-kilometer long coastline hosts a seaport operated by China, which aims to get direct access to the Indian Ocean in line with its over $51 billion project. The project agreed in 2014 aims to connect China’s strategically-important northwestern Xinxiang province to Gawadar port through a network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport cargo, oil and gas. The economic corridor will not only provide China with cheaper access to Africa and the Middle East markets but will also benefit Pakistan which would receive billions of dollars for providing transit facilities to the world’s second-largest economy. But the host nation is more keen on money that protecting the interest of China and its assets.
A representative from the Bureau of Geophysical Prospecting International (BGP) stated that they had to hire private security guards as they could not trust the Pak soldiers, who had a very different worldview and some of whom were suspected of even working together with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, especially in Punjab province of Pakistan.
The representative of another company, China Petroleum Engineering Construction Corporation (CPECC), complained about the paranoid levels in Pakistan security set-up, which were consistently issuing threat perception reports, often without any basis, which was forcing the company to restrict the movement of its personnel.
Another theme was that standard operating procedures imposed by the Pakistani security establishment were highly restrictive and caused significant loss of man hours to various Chinese industries, which were also struggling to meet various deadlines imposed from Beijing.
Consequently, the stress levels of the Chinese personnel and managers working in Pakistan were very high and the significant differences in cultural practices were making matters worse.
According to sources, Yao has taken up this matter with not only Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also the real power centres in Rawalpindi, the Pak military. Yao, known for his plain speak, has ruffled quite a few feathers as a result and the security agencies in Pakistan are learnt to be quite upset over his turn of events. However, they are unable to do much as the imperative of maintaining good relations with China, Pakistan’s only significant ally other than Saudi Arabia, force them to accept this behaviour silently.
Rumblings within the structure indicate that there might be plans to dilute the standard operating procedures applicable to Chinese personnel, quoting the request from the Chinese ambassador. This would relieve the pressure on the Pakistani security agencies and any mishap could always be placed at the door of the ambassador for his complaints.