Pakistan faces both internal and external security threats. The monster of modern terrorism, however, is a post-9/11 phenomenon. When General-cum-President Pervez Musharraf supported the US-led War on Terror (WoT) against the Taliban, the latter, in reaction, started targeting the Pakistani society and state. Resultantly, more than thirty thousand civilians and law enforcement officials have lost their lives in multiple acts of terrorism since 2003. Nevertheless, the overall number of causalities have dropped since 2014 owing to some legislative and executive measures taken by the government, but suicide bombers are still a real threat. Finding opportunity, any terrorist organization can strike. The country’s security apparatuses are the most tempting targets, while minorities are the most vulnerable.
Most of the people who died in terror attacks were ordinary Pakistani citizens, both Muslims and non-Muslims. But foreigners have also been targeted. For example, an American national was kidnapped and later killed in Karachi some years ago. Iranians have also been targeted.
Similarly, the Islamic State (IS) abducted, as per media reports, two Chinese nationals who were Christian missionaries, near Quetta in 2017. The couple was eventually killed. This seemed like an attempt on the part of the terrorists to malign China-Pakistan relations, in general, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, in particular. Moreover, another Chinese national was also killed in Karachi, reportedly by extortionists. The deceased Chinese citizen, according to Pakistani officials, was working for a non-CPEC firm called Cosco Shipping Lines Pak (Pvt) Ltd, which has been doing business in Pakistan since the early 1990s. If analysed objectively, in both cases, the Chinese nationals were residing or working in Pakistan in their private capacity. Furthermore, they were not related to CPEC in any capacity. Noticeably, the missionary couple and the private-firm employee were provided due security by the government. However, in both incidents, the Chinese citizens seemed to have violated security protocols, which cost them their lives.
The overall number of terror-related casualties has dropped since 2014 owing to some legislative and executive measures taken by the government, but suicide bombers are still a real threat. Finding opportunity, any terrorist organisation can strike
Recently there have also been reports of some Chinese citizens involved in financial crimes such as ATM skimming. Such cases remain under investigation. In addition, in April 2018, a number of Chinese workers were filmed assaulting some personnel of the Punjab police in the Noor Pur camp (Khanewal, Punjab). Video footage of this shameful incident went viral on social media. At one point during the scuffle, the country project manager of the concerned company stood arrogantly on the bonnet of the police van with the Pakistani flag visible beside his shoes — this was not the first such incident.
Here, it is pertinent to mention that on December 8, 2017, the Chinese embassy in Islamabad issued a press release that read “the Chinese embassy has received some information that the security of the Chinese institutions and personnel in Pakistan might be threatened. This Embassy would make it clear that Pakistan is a friendly country to China. We appreciate that Pakistan has attached much importance to the security of the Chinese institutions and personnel”. The preceding is a reflection of China’s growing security concerns vis-à-vis its CPEC related citizens. Even, the number of non-CPEC related Chinese nationals — working, for example, as journalists — have crossed fifteen thousands. Physical security of the Chinese residing and working in Pakistan has, therefore, emerged as a legitimate concern, which the Pakistani authorities need to take into policy consideration.
However, despite the mentioned cases of Chinese citizens being killed by terrorists, the fact of the matter is that CPEC has, thus far, not been targeted by a major terrorist attack on its infrastructure, machinery and work force. However, this should not discourage or devalue the significance of security enhancement on the part of Pakistani authorities. Rather, impending security threats ought to be responded to diligently. This will be easier said than done because it raises questions on the legal, institutional and administrative capacity of the government.
For example, is it the prerogative of the local, provincial, regional or federal government to provide material and physical security to, for example, transportation infrastructure (or to the proposed Special Economic Zones) and the Chinese work force and machinery involved at different stages of construction? If it is a combined arrangement on the part of the provincial and federal government, who will be responsible for implementing the security measures? Which government and at what level, will bear the financial and logistical cost of security? Moreover, if the provision of security is the responsibility of the provincial government, will the province be able to manage it logistically and institutionally? Significantly, will the Chinese companies and human resource be satisfied with the security arrangements provided by Pakistani authorities? These are some major security challenges that Pakistan will have to deal with for the sake of CPEC, which has been termed by both China and Pakistan, as a crucial component of contemporary bilateral relations. I will provide policy input, in this respect, in the upcoming articles in this series.