Suspected fighters from a designated ethno-nationalist terrorist group killed at least thirteen individuals within a week who were working on projects affiliated with the Chinese-funded “Silk Road” project in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, on the border of war-ravaged Afghanistan.
The nearly $55 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is only one component of Beijing’s modern-day estimated $3 trillion “Silk Road” project, officially known as the “One Belt, One Road (OBOR).”
When completed, OBOR is expected to be a massive network of land and sea links connecting Muslim-majority Xinjiang, China’s largest province, to more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa along one route.
The CPEC highway is expected to run through Pakistan’s Balochistan, the largest province of the Muslim-majority nation, with 44 percent of the country’s land.
Although no specific group has claimed responsibility for the May 19 attack, authorities believe the outlawed Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group, is behind the attacks.
Pakistan considers the BLA to be an Indian proxy that receives military aid through New Delhi envoys in neighboring Afghanistan.
Moreover, WikiLeaks leaked an alleged draft of a presentation by Ahmed Shuja Pasha, then-director general of military operations in Pakistan, that purportedly warned lawmakers in Islamabad that India, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UA) were funding, training, and supporting the BLA and other Balochistan terrorists, reports the Express Tribune.
Russia and the UAE have signed on to the “Silk Road” project, but India has not.
BLA militants and other separatist groups in Balochistan have been fighting the Pakistani government for nearly two decades, demanding a greater share of the gas-rich territory in the province, The BLA members claim the government favors the Punjabis, the largest ethnic group in the country.
The Punjabis are a minority in Balochistan, where Baloch, also spelled Baluch, are the predominant group, followed by Pashtuns.
Suspected militants on Friday [May 19] gunned down three Pakistani workers building a Chinese-funded “Silk Road” highway in the country’s southwest, just days [May 13] after a similar attack killed 10, officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but previous attacks in Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan have been unleashed by separatists who fear the construction projects are a ruse to take over their land.
The separatist BLA claimed the May 13 attack that left 10 Pakistanis dead. Referring to the deadly assault, DAWN reported:
At least ten laborers were killed in Balochistan’s Gwadar district on Saturday as unidentified assailants opened fire at the construction site where they were working…
Though the road where the laborers were working was not a specific CPEC-funded project, it was a part of a network of connecting roads that are part of the corridor — a common target for separatists militants who view construction projects as a means to take over their land.
The attacks came soon after U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, in America’s latest annual World Threat Assessment, warned “Anti-Pakistan [terrorist] groups will probably focus more on soft targets. The emerging China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will probably offer militants and terrorists additional targets.”
BLA has been officially deemed a terrorist group by Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
Although the United States has not designated the group a terrorist organization, it has described BLA’s activities as terrorism.
The Pakistani men killed by suspected terrorists on May 19 had been working on the CPEC highway connecting the port city of Gwadar to the provincial capital of Quetta, Sarmad Saleem, a regional official, told Reuters.
In the past, the terrorist group BLA has attacked Chinese foreign workers involved in Chinese-funded mega-development projects approved by Islamabad.
Drawing the ire of BLA militants, China’s ally Pakistan leased the rights to the port of Gwadar that lies on the Arabian Sea in southern Balochistan, giving the terrorists one more reason to accuse Islamabad of trying to colonize the province and accuse the country’s forces.
“Hard-line Baluch nationalists, engaged in a simmering decade-old separatist insurgency, are opposed to the Chinese investments and have been attacking Pakistani security forces and Chinese workers in Balochistan since 2004,” reports a component of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
According to the Economic Times, a report by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) claimed late last year: “At the current rate of influx of Chinese nationals into Balochistan and after completion of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the native population of the area will be outnumbered by 2048.”
While the rest of Pakistan considers China’s “Silk Road” an economic opportunity, some natives of Balochistan see it as the invasion they have long been fighting against.
China and its ally Pakistan consider India their regional rival.
Angered that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is expected to run through the Pakistan-occupied portion of Kashmir that is also claimed by India, New Delhi has refused to sign on to the modern “Silk Road” project.
While the United States, considered a staunch ally by India, attended a recent “Silk Road” summit in Beijing, New Delhi skipped it.
China, its ally Pakistan, and India all have competing claims to Kashmir.
State-run Global Times suggested that China should not hesitate to respond if India attempts to interfere with the section of the CPEC highway expected to run through the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
Pakistan-controlled Kashmir shares a border with China.
“Chinese personnel are essentially barred under Chinese law, and that of many host nations they work in, from carrying or using weapons,” reports Reuters. “Instead, COSG [Chinese Overseas Security Group] and its rivals usually work with and train local staff and focus on logistics and planning.”