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Photo Source: The Express Tribune

Pakistan Reader# 321, 28 April 2022

Who, Why, and Beijing's response: Karachi suicide attack on the Chinese targets



The frequent attacks on Chinese nationals by the BLA highlight the revamping of the Baloch insurgency

Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Avishka Ashok

On 26 April, three Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in an attack by a female suicide bomber outside the Confucius Institute at Karachi University. The head of the counter-terrorism department stated that the attack was carried out by a female MPhil student, who had said her goodbyes on Twitter at 12:10 pm. Further, the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) said that three to four kilogrammes of explosives were used in the attack. The deceased Chinese nationals were the director of the Confucius Institute and two female teachers. 

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack. The group’s spokesperson said, “Hundreds of highly trained male and female members of the Baloch Liberation Army’s Majeed Brigade are ready to carry out deadly attacks in any part of Balochistan and Pakistan.” The spokesperson also threatened China and stated that “harsher” attacks would be launched unless they stop “exploitation projects” and “occupying of the Pakistani state.”

Following the incident, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the Chinese embassy and stated, “I am deeply grieved on the loss of precious lives including of our Chinese friends in the heinous attack in Karachi today.” He said, “I strongly condemn this cowardly act of terrorism. The perpetrators will surely be brought to justice.” Similarly, the Foreign Office said, “We strongly condemn the reprehensible terrorist attack in Karachi which claimed innocent lives, including those of Chinese nationals working at the Confucius Institute,” adding, “The law enforcement agencies are investigating the incident to apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice. Local authorities are also providing all possible assistance to the injured.”

Attacks on Chinese targets: A brief profile
20 August 2021: A suicide attack targeting a Chinese convoy working on the East-Bay Expressway construction killed two children. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack.

14 July 2021: Nine Chinese engineers were killed in an explosion near the Dasu hydropower plant in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Upper Kohistan district.

29 June 2020: The BLA attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) building in Karachi. The attack is believed to have been carried out because China had acquired 40 per cent of the shares in the bourse in 2016, and had also taken over the management controls.

11 May 2019: BLA stormed a five-star hotel in port city of Gwadar and killed at least five people. The attack was targeted at Chinese and other foreign investors who were staying at the hotel as part of the CPEC project

23 November 2018: An armed assault was carried out on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi; the attack was suspected to be carried out by the BLA.

11 August 2018: Six people were injured in a suicide attack in Balochistan’s Dalbandin, targeting a vehicle which had Chinese engineers. BLA claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the coach.

5 February 2018: Two Chinese nationals, working in the Cosco Shipping Lines Pakistan, were attacked by unknown gunmen, leaving one dead and one injured.

May 2017: Two Chinese nationals were abducted and later executed in Quetta. The Islamic State claimed responsible for the same.

8 July 2007:  Unidentified gunmen killed three Chinese workers in Peshawar. Pakistani officials said that the terrorist attack came as an aftermath of the siege of the Lal Masjid incident.

 15 February 2006: Three Chinese engineers, assisting in the construction at the Attock Cement Factory were shot and killed. 

3 May 2004: Three Chinese engineers and 11 other people were injured in a car bomb incident in the coastal town of Gwadar.

Who is behind the attacks?
The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) is the most prominent separatist group operating from Balochistan. The group has been behind most of the attacks that have targeted Chinese nationals and investments in Pakistan. The first reported attack by the BLA took place in 2004 when a suicide attack killed three Chinese engineers who were working on a project to develop port facilities in Gwadar. This was the first major attack on foreign workers since a suicide attack on French engineers in Karachi in 2002. Since 2004, waged a violent armed struggle against Pakistan with the aim of ‘self-determination’ for the Baloch people and has carried out several attacks against Chinese personnel and investments. Initially, the BLA’s targets included Chinese engineers working on several projects in Balochistan, particularly in Gwadar and Quetta. However, a shift took place in 2018 when the group carried out an attack on the Chinese Consulate in the Clifton area of Karachi. This shift not only includes a location change but also its targets, which now included high ranking officials. The expansion continued in the subsequent years as they launched attacks on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi in 2020, and the Dasu hydropower plant in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Upper Kohistan district in 2021. The most recent attack took place in August 2021 in Gwadar, where a suicide attack targeting a Chinese convoy working on the East-Bay Expressway construction killed two children. 

The BLA claims that it attacks Chinese nationals because China has ignored warnings not to enter deals and agreements regarding Balochistan before the province had been "liberated."

With the recent attacks, it is clear that the BLA has expanded its attacks geographical and targets, the recent attacks reveal two new dimensions to the nature of the attacks. First, the bold attacks. The BLA in the recent past has moved from carrying out low-intensity attacks to bolder attacks. The BLA along with other Balochs seem to be coming together in efforts to restructure and revive the insurgency. Second, fidayeen tactics with women. Most of the attacks carried out by the BLA have been suicide attacks, however, the deployment of a woman suicide bomber reveals the extent to which the group has taken forward this strategy. 

China’s response to the attack
On 27 April, a Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson responded to the terrorist attack and said that China would take strong action against the perpetrators of the attack. The Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao also made an urgent phone call to the Pakistani Ambassador to China and pushed for an immediate and thorough investigation into the incident. The Chinese Consul General also visited the injured citizen and reported that the teacher was receiving proper treatment at the hospital. The Global Times recalled a similar attack at the Dasu hydropower project that took place less than a year ago and claimed the lives of nine Chinese citizens while they were travelling to the project site in a shuttle bus. 

China’s spokesperson also said that Jianghao implored the Pakistani administration to take quick action, work towards protecting Chinese citizens in Pakistan and prevent future attacks against Chinese nationals. The Foreign Ministry and Diplomatic Missions in Pakistan are pushing the responsible departments for a speedy investigation into the attack. He said, “The blood of the Chinese people should not be shed in vain and those behind this incident will pay the price.”

On the same day, Sichuan Normal University released the names of the teachers who were killed in the terrorist attack and urged Pakistan to make way for justice by punishing the perpetrators. The attack claimed the lives of the Director of the Confucius Institute Huang Guiping and two volunteers, Ding Mufang and Chen Sai. The University mourned the death of its teachers and released a statement which read, “After hearing the news of the tragedy, we were greatly shocked and felt grieved. We deeply mourn the victims and send sincere condolences to the families and the injured.” Students at Karachi University also expressed their shock and tweeted about their Chinese teachers and mourned their loss. One of the students tweeted, “With a sad heart and shaky hands I write this… her big eyes and big heart will haunt me for the rest of my life… Taught the ABC of mandarin [Chinese] to us and had big plans for her students. I feel ashamed today that she was murdered in my country. She loved teaching. RIP. Laoshi Chen."

The Chinese are no stranger to attacks in Pakistan. Both Chinese nations, development projects and other investments are viewed with suspicion by many of the locals as well as militants across the country. However, the increased frequency of attacks on Chinese nationals and projects funded by China may spook the Chinese investors from funding in Pakistan. The Chinese and Pakistani governments have both promised to not let terrorist activities cause obstacles in their bilateral relations. However, terrorist attacks like the one in Dasu and Karachi University play a dangerous game and are bound to raise questions about the safety and security of investing in Pakistan.

References
Female suicide bomber kills 3 Chinese nationals at KU,” The Express Tribune, 27 April 2022
PM assures Chinese officials of swift probe into KU attack,” The Express Tribune, 27 April 2022
Attack on Chinese,” Dawn, 27 April 2022
Juan Mary Joseph, “Attacks on Chinese Investments in Pakistan: Who, Where And Why?,” Pakistan Reader, 10 September 2021
Apoorva Sudhakar, “In Gwadar, a suicide attack targets a Chinese Convoy,” Pakistan Reader, 23 August 2021
Those behind Karachi terrorist attack will pay price: FM spokesperson,” Xinhua Net, 27 April 2022
Blood of Chinese people cannot be shed in vain: FM condemns terrorist attack that killed 3 Chinese in Pakistan,” Global Times, 26 April 2022
Sichuan university, Pakistani students mourned teachers who died in Karachi terror attack,” Global Times, 27 April 2022

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