The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has strengthened cooperation and collaboration between Pakistan and China; however, Pakistan’s corruption within the government and involvement in Kashmir has made Beijing skeptical about its investment in the country. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping disclosed China’s plan to reroute global trade with the BRI. Inspired by the Ancient Silk Road dating as far back as 200 B.C., China built an economic belt, consisting of six corridors that serve as land trading routes. For example, there is a railroad connecting China to London and gas pipes connecting the Caspian Sea to China. Additionally, the Maritime Silk Road is a chain of seaports connecting the South China Sea to Africa. The picture to the left displays the land trading routes in orange and the maritime trading routes in blue. The Belt and Road Initiative is not solely a plan to make global trade more accessible but has planted the seed for China to obtain a substantial amount of power by expanding its resources and influence. The BRI includes oil refineries, industrial parks, mines, and fiber-optic networks. China has promoted the BRI as a win-win situation for everyone with a shortlist of demands in return. Less democratic countries, such as Thailand, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia have taken advantage of China’s global initiative. Countries with corruption and conflict are less likely to pay China back for the billions of dollars they owe, therefore China has agreed to control their ports. For example, Pakistan has agreed to sign a 40-year lease for the Port of Gwadar.
The situation in Pakistan is interesting because while China has been responsible for the improvement of Pakistan’s economy with the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) the country has seen in 8 years, China’s presence has created resistance against foreign involvement, especially in the Balochistan region. Balochistan is one of the four provinces of Pakistan and is located in the southwest part of the country. The strategic sea port at Gwadar is in the Balochistan province. While some Balochs are optimistic of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC), insurgencies by the Baloch nationalists have created a rift in China-Pakistan relations. One of the few conditions of CPEC, is for Chinese workers to be directly involved with building projects. The region has been neglected by Pakistan’s government for years and sudden foreign intervention of Balochistan has opened up opportunities for Chinese workers and alienated the Balochs.
The latest known attack against the Chinese in Balochistan occurred in early May. The Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack and killed four hotel employees and a soldier. The hotel was a strategic attack because of its location on a hilltop overlooking Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea. While the Baloch Liberation Army has not conducted any recent attacks they can be extremely violent. In April 2019, a bus traveling to Gwadar was attacked that killed 14 Pakistani soldiers execution-style. The attack displays the organization’s intelligence collection capabilities and resentment towards not only China but the Pakistani government. Additionally, the Baloch nationalists have spread their movements towards justice to England. In late September activists of the Baloch National Movement were seen holding signs stating, “UK stop Baloch genocide.’ The protestors claimed the abduction of hundreds of Baloch women and children from the region by the Pakistan Army. The protests in England display the region’s need for assistance from countries outside of its scope to defeat corruption. It is unclear if protestors were UK citizens or if the protestors were from Balochistan.
Violence between the Pakistani government and Baloch nationalists have been an ongoing conflict with heightened tensions of China’s involvement in the region. The focus of the Port of Gwadar with the ongoing conflict in Pakistan’s biggest province is intriguing. The Port of Karachi in the province of Sindh is one of South Asia’s largest deep-water seaports with an abundant amount of natural resources, such as gas and coal. The Port of Karachi is as valuable as the Port of Gwadar. The map below displays the close proximity of the ports, therefore allowing the Port of Karachi to also serve as the convergent point of CPEC and the BRI. Additionally, similarly to the Balochistan province, the Sindh province also holds an agricultural significance with crops such as bananas, mangoes, rice, and cotton. Sindh, Pakistan is also an economically well-established region and does not pose as many risks of insurgent groups. Balochistan may have been strategically chosen due to the higher likelihood of the Chinese and Pakistani grip of power in the region. The lack of economic, political, and social development of the region has allowed for more stable entities to drive existing groups out of the region. While Chinese investment into Balochistan may increase economic stability in the region it questions the future role the Balochs will have in their province. Will the Balochs have more opportunities for development with a more powerful economy or will Pakistan continue to neglect the province and allow China to have a greater scope of influence?
In response to the increase in violence that occurred in early 2019, the Pakistani military is in the process of raising a division headquarters of the 44th Light Infantry in Balochistan’s Gwadar. Pakistan’s response to creating a new division headquarters was due to China’s pressure on the country to increase security measures for Beijing’s major development program. Since Chinese involvement in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has discussed efforts to increase domestic security. In mid-September 2019, Pakistan has affirmed the country’s refocus on counterterrorism operations. Pakistan’s support of terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed(JeM) to attack Jammu and Kashmir and India do not align with the country’s effort to increase security. Historically, the Pakistani government has provided terrorist organizations with the resources and funding needed to maintain its strength through the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Indirect involvement allows Pakistan to deny responsibility for any violence. While the country may paint a serene picture with Beijing on securing CPEC, successful counterterrorist operations cannot occur without the complete removal of support for terrorist organizations.
With Chinese investment pouring into Pakistan, the country has become a greater economic power. The steady increase in Pakistan’s economic power allows for the country to take risks and put an emphasis on maintaining its economic strength. Recent terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir of laborers questions Pakistan’s involvement with disrupting the region’s economy. Is Pakistan seizing the opportunity to enforce business shutdowns through terrorist organizations while it has Chinese economic investments? On Monday, October 14, 2019, a trucker was killed by insurgents in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir. This attack did not seem out of the ordinary because of the threats that business owners, laborers, and traders received by terrorist organizations. On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, militants shot one non-Kashmiri apple trader; before the apple trader was shot, militants separated the laborers from the traders and spared 18 non-local laborers, sending a message for outsiders to leave the region immediately. The recent attacks on laborers have created fear with business owners and non-Kashmiris that some have begun to flee the following day. If the Pakistani government has instructed terrorist organizations to target laborers, the country may be fearful for Chinese investments to be directed elsewhere, such as India. India has not agreed to become involved with the Belt and Road Initiative due to territorial disputes in Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India states is illegally occupied by Pakistan; however, a recent meeting on Friday, October 11, 2019, between India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram, India may have threatened Pakistan. The attacks of laborers in Jammu and Kashmir after the meeting between India and China may indicate that Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks can not be ruled out. While the meeting did not change India’s position on the BRI there is no clear indication that there may never be any future cooperation between the two countries.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends a push for the Pakistani government to focus on the development of Balochistan. In June 2019, the Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that spare funds would be spent on the development of the region, however, it is not clear if any actions have been taken to improve the lives of the Balochs. The pre-existing conflict between the Pakistani government and the Balochs must be solved to maintain a successful relationship with China. The rise of the insurgency in Balochistan and the Port of Gwadar will raise doubts about China’s involvement in the region. China’s investments and/or Pakistan’s revenue from CPEC may be funded to support welfare programs of Pakistani citizens. Furthermore, Pakistan’s hypocrisy of counterterrorism efforts domestically does not align with the country’s support of terrorist organizations in Kashmir. Pakistan’s declaration of increasing counterterrorism measures is futile. The country’s normality of corruption allows for insurgent groups to justify their attacks. It is not feasible to recommend Pakistan to detach from terrorist organizations because of long-standing conflicts in the disputed region of Kashmir, however, the country may decrease support of violent organizations to foster order and structure. The Pacific Region Command (PACOM) will continue to monitor any attacks in the Balochistan region and those conducted by Baloch insurgent groups.
1. China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative, May 2019, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative
2. China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative, May 2019, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative
3. Pakistan Gives China a 40-Year Lease for Gwadar Port , April 2017, https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/pakistan-gives-china-a-40-year-lease-for-gwadar-port
4. Pakistan attack: Gunmen killed five in Balochistan hotel, May 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48245353
5. Pakistan to raise new division HQ in Gwadar to protect $60 bn economic corridor to China, October 2019, https://theprint.in/world/pakistan-raise-division-hq-gwadar-protect-60-bn-economic-corridor-china/304585/
6. Watch: Balochistan activists hold protests in London against abduction of women and children by Pakistan Army, October 2019, https://www.opindia.com/2019/10/watch-balochistan-activists-hold-protests-in-london-against-abduction-of-women-and-children-by-pakistan-army/
7. Economy of Sindh, September 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Sindh
8. Islamabad Set to Raise New Division HQ in Gwadar to Protect China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, October 2019, https://sputniknews.com/asia/201910141077044625-islamabad-set-to-raise-new-division-hq-in-gwadar-to-protect-china-pakistan-economic-corridor/
9. Lethal message: Leave Kashmir, October 2019, https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/lethal-message-leave-kashmir/cid/1712482
10. No rerouting China yet, October 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/no-rerouting-china-yet/
11. Pakistan refocuses on counter-terrorism to protect China’s investments, September 2019, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2019/09/sasia-pakistan-protects-chinese-investments