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China-Pak relations on collision course as Islamabad charges Chinese engineer with blasphemy, terrorism

Chinese national in Pakistani custody (Photo: Twitter)

The Chinese national arrested by Pakistan on Sunday for allegedly making blasphemous remarks about the holy month of Ramzan, has been sent to prison on a 14-day judicial remand by an anti-terrorism court. He has been charged with blasphemy, reports Pakistani media.

He has been air-lifted out of the remote Himalayan area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the police feared he would be lynched by the enraged workers of the Dasu hydro-power project. The police report against the Chinese national has been filed on the basis of information given by truck drivers – Gulistan and Yasir.

The case against the Chinese national has been registered for use of derogatory language in respect of the Holy Prophet. Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports that the police has also included Section-7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act against the arrested Chinese.

The dispute between the Chinese engineer and the Pakistani workers broke out on Sunday after he reportedly said that work on the Dasu hyrdo-power project is going slow because of Ramzan. The workers alleged blasphemy by the Chinese engineer and pelted stones at the Chinese camp at the dam site. The police was able to prevent further violence by firing in the air and restoring calm.

However, the crowd began to mobilise people from the nearby villages and gathered at the site, shouting “Gustaak-e-Rasool ki ek hi saza, sar tan see juda“, which translates to “off with his head for insulting the Prophet”.

On Monday, the beleaguered engineer was flown to Abbottabad in an army helicopter.

Abbottabad is the same city where the Pakistani government and army had provided shelter to global terrorist Osama bin Laden even as the US forces were searching for the wanted man in the caves of Afghanistan. Eventually, the US forces were able to locate Laden’s compound in Abbottabad and kill the terror leader, inviting global shame and distrust for Pakistan.

Chinese workers have faced a tough time in Pakistan despite Beijing and Islamabad calling each other “iron brothers”. The artificial marriage of convenience isn’t working as the two find themselves ideologically and culturally on different sides of the fence. Sharia-compliant Pakistan and atheist Chinese keep discovering new and fundamental contradictions in their belief systems.

Chinese workers have told BBC Urdu that they live uncomfortable lives in the Islamic country due to different cultures and security reasons.

Another reason for the discomfort among the Chinese in Pakistan is the distrust for Beijing among local communities, who look upon China as a colonial power. The Baloch and Sindhi groups have carried out dozens of attacks on Chinese assets as they feel exploited, and also alienated, because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Exactly one year back, Shari Baloch had blown herself up in the University of Karachi killing three Chinese teachers of the Confucius Institute.

The killings of Chinese workers in Pakistan has soured diplomatic relations between the two nations. Chinese leaders have asked Pakistani prime ministers and foreign ministers repeatedly to enhance safety for their nationals or allow China to send its own military forces – which has been an uncomfortable thought for Pakistan as it impinges on its sovereignty.

The reality on the ground is that Pakistan is unable to provide security for Chinese nationals due to the presence of large numbers of terrorists from neighbouring Afghanistan. With the presence of the Pakistani Taliban, almost all of Pakistan has become unsafe for Chinese workers.

Recently, Pakistan even shut down Chinese businesses in Karachi as it could not enhance spending on security expenses. The Pakistani logic was that if it could not protect the Chinese, it should order closure of their establishment to prevent attacks.

Pakistan is unable to provide security to its own soldiers who have been facing daily attacks from Baloch groups like the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and even the Baloch National Army (BNA).

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