A rebel chief in southwestern Pakistan says he will continue targeting a major Chinese-funded trade corridor.
Allah Nazar Baloch, a former physician who now heads the separatist Baluch Liberation Front (BLF), says his group will continue attacking the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
"We are attacking CPEC every day because it aims to turn the Baluch population into a minority,” he said. “It is looting, plundering, and taking away our resources."
Beijing’s $46 billion investment in the planned trade route aims to link Xinjiang in northwestern China with Balochistan’s Arabian Sea port Gwadar through a network of roads, railways, and energy pipelines.
A Pakistani Army-run company, Frontier Works Organization (FWO), is building most of CPEC’s roads in Balochistan’s volatile districts, where thousands of rebels, soldiers, and civilians have been killed in the decade-old Baluch separatist insurgency.
According to the FWO, over the past two years, 44 workers were killed and about 100 wounded in attacks on its CPEC projects. BLF is one of the main Baluch separatist guerrilla factions.
China’s investments have brought fresh focus on Baluchistan, which is endowed with rich but largely unexploited reserves of copper and gold. Islamabad has utilized its natural gas reserves for decades. The region is also believed to possess vast untapped hydrocarbon and coastal resources.
Most CPEC routes will culminate in Balochistan’s Gwadar seaport, which is already operated by a Chinese company and is expected to be transformed into a key regional commercial hub.
Baluch separatists and others fear CPEC will turn the indigenous Baluch people into a minority in their historic homeland.
He says such plans make CPEC a Chinese "imperialistic scheme." He vowed to attack roads, security personnel, and construction crews associated with it.
An estimated 10 million Baluchis comprise a tiny fraction of Pakistan's nearly 200 million population. Baluch separatists are particularly worried over the influx of ethnic Punjabis, Pakistan’s largest ethnic group, into Gwadar.
Islamabad is trying to allay Chinese security fears by raising a force of 15,000 personnel, mainly soldiers, to secure CEPC projects.
Beijing says it appreciates Pakistan’s efforts. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was all praise for Islamabad on September 29.
"We believe Pakistan will strengthen its guard against risks to projects and continue to provide a security guarantee for Chinese personnel and projects in Pakistan," he told journalists.
-- With reporting by Reuters