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Pakistan beefs up security for Chinese workers after attack

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Pakistan has intensified security measures to protect Chinese engineers engaged in Beijing-backed projects in the nation’s northwest following a deadly suicide bombing that claimed the lives of five workers, an official announced on Wednesday (27).

China stands as one of Islamabad’s closest regional allies, investing billions of dollars in various projects in recent years. However, ensuring the safety of Chinese migrant workers has posed a significant challenge for Pakistan.

The fatal incident occurred when a convoy of Chinese engineers, accompanied by their Pakistani driver, was targeted while en route from Islamabad to a hydroelectric dam construction site in Dasu, located in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

This tragic incident marks the third violent attack within a week in Pakistan, a country strategically aligned with China and pivotal in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s expansive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. These events underscore the escalating security risks facing Chinese ventures within Pakistan.

A high-ranking official from the provincial interior ministry told AFP on Wednesday that at the more than two-dozen sites hosting Chinese engineers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa security was stepped up.

“Directives have been issued to all law enforcement agencies to enhance security for Chinese nationals and all other foreigners,” he said on condition of anonymity.

“Instructions have also been given to foreign nationals to restrict their movements.”

Information minister Attaullah Tarar told a press conference in Islamabad that security procedures would be reviewed “with a focus on identifying and addressing any gaps”.

Meanwhile, further details emerged about the attack, which has yet to be claimed by any militant group.

Local police officer Bakht Zahir said the five engineers killed near the city of Besham included four men and a woman, and that the bomber targeted the middle vehicle in a convoy of 12.

“The suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into the convoy in the middle, detonating himself, causing the Chinese engineers’ vehicle to fall into a 180-foot-deep (55-metre) ravine and catch fire,” he said.

Pakistan’s domestic chapter of the Taliban is the most active militant threat in the region, but the group’s spokesman denied involvement in a statement late Tuesday.

China has inked more than two trillion dollars in contracts around the world under its Belt and Road investment scheme, with billions pouring into neighbouring Pakistan and aiding its crumbling economy.

Since 2015, power plants, ports and transport projects have been under construction by joint Pakistani-Chinese teams in remote parts of the South Asian nation.

But Chinese workers have frequently been targeted by militants hostile to outside influence, with some complaining Pakistanis are not getting a fair share of wealth from the huge projects.

Tuesday’s attack came just days after militants attempted to storm offices of the Gwadar deepwater port in the southwest, considered a cornerstone of Chinese investment in Pakistan.

It sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the foreign and interior ministers offering condolences in quick succession.

China’s foreign ministry declared the countries “iron-clad friends” but asked Pakistan to “take effective measures to ensure the safety and security of Chinese nationals, projects, and institutions”. (AFP)

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