In restive Baluchistan, 44 Pakistanis working on Chinese developments have been killed since 2014. Beijing is getting nervous, Reuters reports:
Militants trying to disrupt construction of an “economic corridor” linking China with Pakistan’s coast have killed 44 workers since 2014, an official said on Thursday, a rising toll likely to reinforce Chinese worry about the project’s security.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a $46 billion network of roads, railways and energy pipelines linking western China to a deep-water port on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, which passes through Pakistan’s troubled Baluchistan province.
Pakistani officials say they have taken tough measures and that security has greatly improved in Baluchistan, a resource-rich region where ethnic Baluch separatists have battled the government for years. They oppose the CPEC.
China has been calling for improved security, perhaps with an eye toward convincing Pakistan to allow a larger role for the Chinese military inside its borders.
This isn’t just about Pakistan’s inability to control terror; it’s also about a proxy fight between India and China. Islamabad and Beijing have long suspected that India supports the Baluchi insurgents, and New Delhi has done little to persuade them otherwise. In an important recent analysis, the Lowy Interpreter explains:
In a carefully worded national Independence Day speech at Delhi’s Red Fort on 15 August, Modi sent his greetingsto the ‘people of Balochistan, Gilgit [and] Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’. These words caused outrage in Islamabad where they were viewed as an infringement on Pakistani sovereignty, ‘confirming’ their long-standing claims that India had been supporting insurgencies in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan.
Playing the Balochistan card represents a big shift for India. Initially, Modi’s election in 2014 prompted expectations that Delhi would take a much less conciliatory line with Pakistan. But, to the surprise of some, beginning with the invitation of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Modi’s inauguration, the Modi government appeared relatively open to exploring approaches to reconciliation.
But Delhi seems to have now concluded its efforts have generated few returns. Sharif’s Pakistan Independence Day speech on 14 August, which he dedicated to the freedom of Kashmir, may have been the last straw for the Modi government, ending hopes that a detente could be reached with Pakistan’s civilian government.
As the author notes (and do read the whole thing), all of this has important implications for China, which sees Baluchistan as a critical link in its Silk Road project. The port at Gwadar, a key component of China’s plan, will be far less useful if the access roads, pipelines, and railways leading to it are under constant threat of ambush—assuming they can even be built in the first place.
New Delhi, of course, knows all of this. With India looking to push back against China’s maritime aggression, leveraging longstanding animosity with Pakistan to frustrate Beijing is a way of killing two birds with one stone.