KARACHI – The recent attacks on Chinese citizens in Karachi show that Pakistani militant groups opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative have changed their strategy – focusing on the country’s urban centers and targeting Chinese citizens and investment.
On Tuesday, a Chinese national and his translator survived a gun attack on a car showroom on the outskirts of Karachi, the main port city and economic hub of the country. A week earlier, another Chinese national survived an attempt to blow up his vehicle outside his restaurant in the upscale Clifton district of Karachi.
The Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army rebel group claimed credit for both attacks. “China and Pakistan have forcibly occupied the land under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and we will continue our attacks to target them,” SRA said in a statement.
CPEC – which involves a $ 50 billion infrastructure project in Pakistan – is part of the BRI which aims to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.
Militant ethnic groups in Balochistan and Sindh provinces who have battled security forces for years over what they see as unfair exploitation of the region’s enormous mineral wealth have also attacked CPEC-linked projects.
Security experts believe the group is now choosing major urban centers, particularly Karachi, to target Chinese citizens and investment in addition to Pakistani state institutions and personnel, their traditional focus.
In June, four militants from the Baloch Liberation Army attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building, which is located in the heart of Karachi’s main corporate district, killing two guards and a policeman and injuring seven others before being shot dead.
The Shanghai Stock Exchange, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and the China Financial Futures Exchange are the foundation investors on the exchange and gained management control after acquiring 40% of the shares in 2017.
“Militant attire regularly targets Chinese and Pakistani security personnel interests in the mountainous and rural areas of the country,” said Abdul Basit, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, a Singapore-based security think-tank. “But carrying out attacks against them in big urban centers, like Karachi … they want to attract global attention and publicity.”
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a US-based non-profit organization that performs real-time data collection, analysis and mapping of crises, has noted an increase in organized violence by groups opposing BRI since early 2020. ACLED said the formation of a cross-provincial alliance between militants has given new life to their insurgency that has continued to weaken after 2015.
In July, SRA formed an operational alliance with Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar, or BRAS, a consortium of four Baloch militant organizations formed in late 2018.
Experts believe that uniformity in their opposition to BRI has brought together armed groups and the alliance has helped them to coordinate in identifying strategic targets and expanding operational areas.
“Operational alliances between militant groups are likely to rob counterterrorism forces of the huge advantage they have over the militants, namely tackling fragmented insurgencies,” said Tariq Pervez, former head of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority, the government’s counterterrorism agency.
Karachi has for years been fraught with political, sectarian and ethnic militancy. A crackdown by security forces that began in 2013 has eased violence in recent years, but scattered attacks are still occurring.
In the third quarter of 2020, SRA and BLA remained active in Karachi and engaged in acts of terror, including in the paramilitary Rangers, said a report by the Center for Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based security think-tank.
Security agencies have also stepped up their crackdown on the group. Karachi police on Wednesday claimed to have arrested two SRA militants in the city for alleged involvement in terror activities.
Although Chinese authorities have not issued any reaction to the recent attacks on their nationals in Karachi, China’s diplomatic mission in Islamabad regularly advises its citizens in Pakistan to be vigilant after receiving intelligence reports about possible attacks targeting China.
In July, senior Karachi police officials met with delegates from the Chinese consulate and companies to discuss steps to ensure better security for Chinese people in the metropolitan city. That same month, a similar meeting was held in Lahore, another major city, where officials from the two countries agreed that the consulates there would “ensure that their citizens extend cooperation to law enforcement agencies on security measures.”
However, law enforcement personnel complained that Chinese nationals do not follow security protocols. “They [Chinese] roam freely and do not adopt security measures in sensitive areas of the city, and because of their carelessness, they become targets of attacks by militant groups, “said a Karachi security official.
“We are also worried that militant groups might target Japan, Korea, Singapore, Chinese Americans, etc., without realizing it, because it is difficult for Pakistanis to differentiate among the Asian community,” the official, who did not want to be named, told Nikkei. Asia. .