CPEC: China expresses concern over BLA’s militancy in Pakistan

Image Source : AP China expresses concern over BLA’s militancy in Pakistan The upswing in militancy in the province of Balochistan by ethnic groups calling for independence from Pakistan poses a security challenge to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing’s Consulate General in Karachi Li Bijian said on Thursday, during his live remarks in a panel discussion on the Gwadar port. There are “security challenges” facing us, said the Chinese diplomat. “Security also includes many more aspects,” Li clarified in a message to India TV, when asked to elaborate on his remarks. He added that this was a “sensitive issue” for the Chinese government, when asked for detailed remarks on the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Li’s concerns mark one of the rare instances when Chinese officials have conveyed their displeasure with the Pakistan government on a public forum. At least a dozen odd attacks have been carried out on Chinese properties and citizens by the BLA over the last few years. Gunmen from the separatist group had stormed the Chinese Consul General’s office in Karachi in November 2018, in a brazen suicide mission that also left four others dead. The BLA has warned that it would not tolerate “any Chinese military expansionist endeavours on Baloch soil.”  The BLA advocates separation from Pakistan and claims to speak up against human rights abuses and ethnic oppression of Balochistan’s native population. The group last month mounted a major bomb attack on a Pakistani military post in the resource-rich region, that left six Pakistani Army soldiers, including a Major, dead. Activists say that BLA’s attacks have been in retaliation to the violent crackdown on dissidents and Baloch political groups by Pakistani forces in Balochistan. The Pakistani Army and Islamabad-backed local ‘death squads’ have created a reign of terror in Balochistan, complains Abdullah Baloch, a Baloch human rights activist who is in exile in Europe. Abdullah notes that “at least 45 people were forcibly disappeared by the Pakistani state in Balochistan in the month of April. “They have used COVID-19 as a distraction to intensify their campaign of human rights abuses and torture in Balochistan,” says Abdullah. Significance of Gwadar to China Stressing upon the significance of Gwadar to the success of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Li noted that it was one of the world’s most favourably located deepwater ports which could serve as a gateway into Central Asia. The first-ever cargo shipment bound for Afghanistan from the port of Gwadar was transited last week, the Pakistan government announced. Sixty per cent of China’s energy imports are sourced from the Persian Gulf, which also makes having an overland route as an alternative to the waters of the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea a lucrative proposition for Beijing. The first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) was operated by the port in January this year, Li also noted during his remarks. The Chinese diplomat, however, cautioned that a fully-operational port would only materialise in another “five to 10 years,” as he lamented the shortage of labour, infrastructure and poor connectivity of Gwadar to Pakistan’s major cities such as Karachi and Islamabad. The Chairman of the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) Nasser Khan Kashani, who was also on the panel, revealed that he had expected the port would be able to handle 40 million tonnes of cargo by 2020, adding that the project hadn’t performed up to the expectation. On his part, he estimated that it will be another two to three years before Gwadar could be counted as the third biggest port of Pakistan. The online discussion on the Arabian Sea port was organised by an Islamabad-based think tank, Centre for Peace, and Diplomatic Studies. It also featured Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Naghmana Hashmi and Zhang Baozhong, the Chairman of the China Overseas Ports Holding Company Pakistan, the company operating the port. Gwadar is the endpoint of the CPEC, a network of roads, and other infrastructure projects connecting Xinjiang in China to Gwadar in Pakistan. Officially launched in 2015 as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the CPEC passes through the disputed parts of Jammu and Kashmir and Leh territories in India. Latest World NewsFight against Coronavirus: Full coverage

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