Pakistan has taken the strange step of temporarily closing down selected business establishments run by and popular with Chinese nationals in a bid to protect Chinese nationals from attacks by nationalist insurgents like the Baloch and Sindhis. The Pakistani authorities have done so in Karachi, the capital of Sindh and the countrys financial powerhouse.
Reportedly, the local authorities have closed down a Chinese restaurant, a supermarket and a marine products company.
Though done with good intent in mind, the decision is likely to erode the iron-cast friendship between Islamabad and Beijing. On the other hand it could also be a signal to the West that Pakistan intends to reduce Chinese influence.
Nikkei Asia reports that Chinese business interests as well as Chinese nationals have become prime targets for separatists and other militants in recent years. Some of these attacks have been deadly leading to several deaths of Chinese engineers and workers assembling together the vision of President Xi Jinping through the $64 China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The Karachi Police, which itself faced a major terror raid recently, sealed off some Chinese businesses after receiving intelligence alerts about possible attacks. In its defence, a senior Karachi Police officer told Nikkei Asia: "Despite repeated warnings, several Chinese-owned businesses failed to implement security protocols, leading to their sealing until satisfactory security arrangements are made". He also said it was difficult to give a precise number of affected places because the police were closing and reopening the businesses.
The Nikkei report says that the business entities did not deploy standard security protocols. This included physical and technical security provisions like CCTV cameras, biometric systems, security gates and alarms.
The statement by the Karachi Police shows the helplessness of the police in providing security to Chinese assets besides showing the poor law and order conditions in the whole of Pakistan.
An apprehensive China had issued a warning to its nationals in February about augmenting their security owing to possible threats from rising militancy. It also closed down its consular section in its Islamabad embassy in February this year.
Xi and other top Chinese leaders have taken up safety issues with former prime minister Imran Khan as well as current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif numerous times. The Chinese are also pressuring Pakistan to allow them to deploy their own security agencies, a demand Pakistan has resisted for a long time as it weakens its sovereignty.
However, the Chinese have been working under extremely depressing conditions in Pakistan as they witness rising hostility. A BBC Urdu documentary interviewed Chinese workers in Pakistan in fearful and abysmal conditions.
Nine Chinese workers were killed in July 2021 after a bus carrying engineers to a hydro-power dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was rammed by a suicide vehicle. Under pressure and humiliation, a cash-strapped Pakistan paid blood money to fast-friend China for the dead Chinese workers.
Similarly, an audacious attack by Shari Baloch, allegedly the first suicide bomber from the estranged Baloch fraternity led to the killing of three Chinese teachers of the Confucius Institute at the University of Karachi in April 2022. China immediately took the decision to close down all Confucius institutes - a key driver of its cultural imperialism, across Pakistan.
The Baloch insurgents, who look at the Chinese as an exploiting colonial agency, have also attacked the Karachi Stock Exchange that has a majority stake owned by the Chinese. Often the Baloch and the Sindhi separatists have been supporting each other in trying to drive out China from Sindh and Balochistan, where Sindh remains a foremost investment and business destination while Balochistan is the mineral and gas-rich province.
Unfortunately for China, the political and economic instability wearing down Pakistan is bringing neither strategic nor economic benefits it desperately wanted from an unequal partnership. Now, Beijing also has to confront the threat emanating from the Af-Pak border with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the ISKP posing a threat to their investments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.