Militants Strike Pakistan, Hitting China’s Economic Corridor

  • China vows to push ahead with project, boost military support
  • Onslaught shows Pakistan anti-terror efforts futile: minister

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a militant attack in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province that killed at least 61 and injured another 110, shattering government claims it has been successful in its fight against terrorism.

Striking along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Quetta, three armed men wearing suicide vests broke into a police academy late on Monday -- most of the dead and injured were cadets. Balochistan government spokesman Anwarul Haq Kakar confirmed the death toll by phone from Quetta. 

"These attacks are aimed at destabilizing Balochistan and to create problems for CPEC, which certain countries don’t want to see as a success story," said retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a defense analyst who served in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

Pakistan’s army claims to have largely defeated militants who had wrecked the nation’s economy by violent strikes in past two years and killed thousands of people since the South Asian nuclear power joined the U.S. war on terror in 2002.

But such brazen strikes indicate the battle is not over.

"The numbers and the way they were martyred, it has made all efforts of yours and security agencies futile,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told newly graduated police officers in Islamabad hours after the attack. 

Internal risk

China’s reaction to the attack was low-key, suggesting its economic projects were not the target of the militant attack.

"It’s unrealistic to expect Pakistan’s domestic security situation to undergo fundamental changes in the near future," said Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for South Asia Studies at the state-backed Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. "The attack on the police training academy last night was a reflection of Pakistan’s internal security risk; it happened in the province that the CPEC passes, but didn’t target the CPEC."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing on Tuesday that China was shocked at the death toll.

"China opposes terrorism in all forms, and will continue to support the Pakistani government’s efforts to combat terrorism, maintain national stability and protect the safety of its people and property.”

Even though thousands of soldiers were tasked with providing security for CPEC-related construction, the Quetta attack would likely compel Beijing to scale up its demand for further protection, said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center.

"China is willing to tolerate a whole lot more risk than are many Western countries, and so I doubt this attack will deter its investment plan in Pakistan. That said, this attack will enhance the importance of the Pakistani military in the CPEC project," Kugelman said.

Competing militants

The attack on the academy is the second worst in Pakistan this year, since a suicide bomber killed 70 people in Quetta’s government-run hospital in August.

Security authorities blamed al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami for the attack, state-run radio reported citing Balochistan’s paramilitary force chief. But by Tuesday afternoon, the terrorist group Islamic State had claimed responsibility via a statement published on its Amaq news agency.

The former security chief of Pakistan’s tribal regions, Mahmood Shah, cast doubt on the IS claims, saying Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami has a history of attacks in Balochistan and were trained by al Qaeda for urban fighting. 

”The government has got to chalk out a new security plan for Quetta, Balochistan as militants keep coming and attacking it," he said. "You want to have CPEC there and raising just a force isn’t enough.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who aims to boost country’s economy to 7 percent before his terms ends in 2018, condemned the attack and expressed concern over the safety of cadets.

Pakistan is banking on China’s $46 billion investment into the corridor that runs from China’s western part to Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan to boost and develop the country’s economy.

— With assistance by Ting Shi, and Iain Marlow

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