A shocked and worried China has asked Pakistan to ensure safety of Chinese projects and its citizens in the country after Wednesday’s deadly shuttle bus blast in north Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province killed 9 Chinese people. Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed shock at the incident and announced Thursday that it is sending a special team to Pakistan to investigate and follow-up work into the blast that killed at least 13 people. The joint investigation was announced after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned the blast and urged the Pakistani authorities to get to the bottom of the incident. A further 28 Chinese nationals were among the 36 people injured, in the worst incident so far to befall the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday in Dushanbe and called for a probe into whether it was the result of a terror attack. Pakistan has said on Wednesday that the blast occurred due to mechanical failure while Chinese Foreign Ministry immediately termed it as a bombing attack. Wang told Qureshi that lessons should be learned from the incident, and the security measures for China-Pakistan cooperation projects should be further strengthened to ensure the safe and smooth operation of all projects.
The bus was taking workers to a Chinese-funded dam construction site at the Dasu hydroelectric project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, part of the CPEC, a 65 billion USD investment plan which aims to connect western China to the Gwadar seaport in southern Pakistan. The blast sparked an engine fire and plunged the bus into a ravine, according to media reports quoting a local official.
Experts are divided on the cause of the blast. Media reports in China are pushing the tragedy as a “bombing”, reflecting long-held concerns about the security of Chinese workers in Pakistan, where large numbers are now based to supervise and build infrastructure projects worth tens of billions of dollars funded by Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. But the projects have sparked resentment among locals who say there have been few benefits for them, along with the jobs they create being lost to foreigners.
There have been previous attacks on Chinese national in Pakistan, including a deadly suicide blast in April 2021 at a luxury hotel in Quetta in southwest Balochistan where the Chinese ambassador was staying. He was unhurt in the attack, for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. The group has recently claimed a string of attacks, not only in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas along the Afghanistan border but also in the country’s cities, including the capital Islamabad. Experts believe the biggest concern is the impact of the deteriorating situation in neighboring Afghanistan and if the situation deteriorates further, there may be more international and regional terrorist groups entering Pakistan.
In 2019, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Balochistan overlooking a flagship Chinese-backed project – the deepwater Gwadar seaport that gives China strategic access to the Arabian Sea – killing at least eight people. In June 2020, Baloch insurgents targeted the Pakistan stock exchange, citing its link with China, in the commercial capital of Karachi. In May 2017, two Chinese nationals were killed in southwestern Balochistan province, Pakistan, days after they were kidnapped by armed men pretending to be policemen from the city of Quetta.