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CPEC and Terrorism in South Asia

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The resurgence of terrorism in South Asia in recent years has constantly threatened the CPEC. Over the recent decades, regionalism in South Asia has necessitated collective endeavors to aid weaker economies, ethnoreligious cleavages, and political fragmentation and subsequently address the entrenched diversion primarily between the two main regional actors, India and Pakistan.

The idea of an Economic Corridor has been the focal point of foreign policy strategies to facilitate the greater integration of the Asian region.

Encapsulating President Xi Jinping’s strategic vision of revitalizing the ancient Silk Road into the majestic Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 to enhance economic and regional connectivity, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor came to the limelight in 2015 as the epicenter of this project.

The CPEC is a Beijing-financed infrastructure project comprising highways, rail networks, Special Economic Zones, and other energy projects to be completed by 2030.

Beijing and Islamabad are significant to this multi-billion-dollar venture worth $62 billion. However, given the resurgence of terrorism in South Asia, the project faces multifaceted security risks to its timely implementation and operationalization.

The critical location and scope of CPEC create security concerns for the project’s infrastructure, workers, and investors and threaten the whole business environment.

The Balochistan factor:

The prime location of CPEC’s infrastructure-based projects is the Balochistan region which has a horrible history of long-running separatist insurgency marked by violence and terrorism.

Baloch resistance primarily emanates from the grievances of Baloch nationalists, given the exploitation of resources and underdevelopment of the region for decades. The recent wave of insurgency in the Balochistan region has been beleaguered by massive development projects in Gwadar by the central government, mainly excluding the welfare of the locals.

The resurgence of terrorism in the region, therefore, adds another layer of complexity to the security situation in Balochistan, making it a challenging environment for infrastructure development. Balochistan Liberation Army’s growing capabilities are assumed to have the support base from the TTP.

We can find various high-profile terrorist attacks by ethnic separatists in Pakistan, constantly targeting Chinese nationals and infrastructure projects. The history of targeted attacks against Chinese nationals is not new.

Whether it’s the 2018 suicide bombing that killed three Chinese engineers in Balochistan province, the July 2022 attack on a bus carrying Chinese and Pakistani nationals to the construction site of the Dasu hydropower project, killing nine Chinese engineers, the suicide terrorist attack on Karachi Confucius institute at Karachi University by a female Baloch separatist, or the most recent targeted attack on Chinese Dentist in Karachi in September last year, all create hurdles for the successful implementation of the CPEC.

Complex Security Situation of Pakistan and CPEC under Threat:

The CPEC faces multifaceted security concerns, given the resurgence of terrorism. The security risks can therefore cause delays in the implementation of the projects, economic slowdowns, political instability, and inter-state tensions. There is an increased fear that the local terrorist groups, primarily Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and international Jihadi organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, might exploit the numerous opportunities of CPEC to carry out malpractices detrimental to the country’s economic prosperity and region’s stability.

Moreover, inter-state tensions due to the resurgence of terrorism also complicate the security situation for CPEC. For instance, the attacks on the CPEC have raised questions about Pakistan’s ability to provide adequate security to Chinese workers and investments, leading to a strained relationship between the two countries, with China compelling Pakistan to take more robust measures to ensure the security of the CPEC.

Equation with India

India has also expressed concerns about the security implications of CPEC as it passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, on which India has its claims. Since the CPEC provides China greater access to the Indian Ocean, it could also encircle India.

Though India has not been directly affected by the attacks on the CPEC, the security situation surrounding the project has added to the already tense relations between India and Pakistan. If there are any attacks on the CPEC project, it is likely to escalate tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, further straining their already fragile relationship. These tensions can impact the implementation of infrastructure projects and overall regional stability and cooperation.

With Iran

The western front of Pakistan faces strained relations with Iran over cross-border terrorism. The Pak-Iran border has long been expected to serve as a support base for the Balochistan Liberation Army. Iran has also accused Pakistan of not doing enough to control the activities of terrorist groups operating along the border, which has led to cross-border attacks and instability.

With Afghanistan

Afghanistan, which shares a border with Pakistan, has also been affected by the security situation surrounding the CPEC. The attacks on the CPEC have raised concerns about the spillover of violence into Afghanistan. Some terrorist groups responsible for the attacks are believed to have links to the Taliban and other extremist groups operating in Afghanistan.

The CPEC has also led to concerns about China’s increasing influence in the region and its potential impact on the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

CPEC as a Crucial Facet of Pakistan’s Anti-terror Campaign:

Given its increased vulnerability of Pakistan to the threats of terrorism and separatism, the credibility and timely implementation of the CPEC has consistently been under question, and China also views Pakistan’s security with an eye of suspicion. In this regard, it is critical to view CPEC as a crucial facet of Pakistan’s Anti-terror campaign. To mitigate the project’s security risks, China and Pakistan have taken several measures to improve security along the CPEC route.

These measures include deploying additional security personnel, establishing a dedicated security force to protect Chinese nationals and projects, and developing a coordinated security plan for the entire CPEC route. The project’s association with terrorism in South Asia has raised concerns about its long-term impact on regional stability and security. It is important for all parties involved to address these concerns and work towards a peaceful resolution of the underlying issues.

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