Terrorist attack in Karachi highlights security threats for China along the Belt and Raod Initiative

The terrorist attack against the Chinese consulate in Karachi (Pakistan) underlines the instability and lack of control of the Pakistani authorities in the Balochistan region with significant consequences for the Chinese economic activities and interests in the country and the Road and Belt Initiative. According to the local sources, on November 23rd, 2018 a commando of three heavily-armed suicide bombers attacked the Chinese consulate in the city of Karachi killing two police officers before being killed by the security forces during the exchange of fire. Some locals and witnesses stated that they heard shooting and explosions around 9.30 am.

The Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility of the attack in a statement where China was accused of exploiting the regional resources for its economic goals and interests.  The Balochistan Liberation Army (in Urdu: بلوچستان لبریشن آرمی‎; abbreviated BLA), also known as the Baloch Liberation Army, is a militant organisation based in Pakistan and Afghanistan which fights for the self-determination of its region. Pakistan and United Kingdom consider BLA a terrorist organisation while the United States describe its activities as terrorism.

Balochistan is the largest region of Pakistan and plays a fundamental role in the world of geopolitics and international relations because of its strategic position. The area is the centre of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an investment project of 56 billion dollars whose aim is the construction of logistic infrastructures like railways, roads and ports to support the Belt and Road Initiative.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will connect the Chinese Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with Balochistan and will cross an area close to Afghanistan. This corridor will allow China to export goods via the Arabian Sea and also will boost the Pakistani local economy. 

Even last year the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was the target of another terrorist attack perpetrated by the Balochistan Liberation Army.  On May 13th, 2017 two Baloch militants attacked a group of labourers in Gwadar while they were working on a connecting road which is part of the CPEC. The attack caused the death of 10 people, and the BLA claimed responsibility.

The terrorist attack in Karachi highlights the instability of the region and demonstrates that it is fundamental for China and the success of the Belt and Road Initiative that the entire Asian region would be safe, stable and under control of the local authorities. The recent events in Pakistan but also the negative trend in Central Asia, an area affected by radicalisation and the emergence of different terrorist organisations, have proved that investing massive amount of money in infrastructure projects is not enough for the success of Beijing’s strategy which aims at creating a commercial and human interconnection in Eurasia and Africa.

The attack in Karachi which targeted the Chinese consulate follows another attack against a Chinese state representation abroad: on August 30th, 2016, a Uygur suicide bomber with links to Syria drove a Mitsubishi Delica multi-purpose van packed with explosives into the security gates of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) injuring three Kyrgyz security guards.

Considering the terrorist attacks against China, its representatives or economic projects in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan and also the propaganda video released by Islamic State militants recording for the first time “scenes from the life of immigrants from East Turkistan [Xinjiang] in the land of the Caliphate.”, it is possible to state that the level of threats for the People’s Republic of China has increased.

Beijing cannot underestimate security issues in the region because the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, a strategy which the Chinese government has heavily financed, depends on regional stability and public opinion’s supportCentral Asia and the Af-Pak region are fundamental for the New Silk Road for its strategic location and natural resources but recently they have experienced the rise of radicalisation, the affirmation of terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, and the emergence of independence movements which are destabilising a region also afflicted by organised crime and illicit trafficking.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor aims at connecting the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with Balochistan, two regions which have been characterised by local militancy and movements of self-determination. Beijing and also Islamabad should avoid any form of contact between these two realities whose cooperation might represent a severe threat for their partnership and the final success of the economic corridor and the Belt and Road Initiative.


Author

Giuliano Bifolchi. Director of ASRIE OSINT Unit, he has worked for several years as a journalist and Open Source Intelligence analyst specialised in the field of international relations, terrorism and security in the Middle East and the post-Soviet space. He holds a master’s degree in Peacebuilding Management and International Relations from Pontifical University San Bonaventura and a B.A. in History from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. Currently, he is a PhD student at the University of Rome Tor Vergata with particular interests in geopolitics, history of Islamic countries, strategic communication, conflict management and ethnic minorities.