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Did the Baloch suicide bombing in Karachi target Pak-China relations?

The van that was ferrying the Chinese teachers of the Confucius Institute at the Karachi University (Photo: screen grab/Twitter)

Pakistan's Counter Terrorism Department has registered a case against two commanders of the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) including Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) head Bashir Zeb Baloch for the Karachi University suicide bombing that killed three Chinese nationals.

On Tuesday, Shari Baloch of the BLA killed four people including three Chinese nationals of the Confucius Institute in the Karachi University. The suicide bombing by Shari Baloch, a well-educated woman caught international headlines while spotlighting the poor security provided to Chinese nationals by Pakistan—who seem to have become easy targets across the country.

The Counter Terrorism Department now plans to investigate Bashir Zeb Baloch, commander Rehman Gul and spokesperson Jeeyand Baloch of the BLA—a Baloch armed group fighting for an independent nation, in the sensational suicide bombing case in Karachi.

Dawn reports that Pakistani officials believe "the motive of the attack was to sabotage Pakistan and China relations". Pakistan also suspects the involvement of a "foreign hostile agency". On different occasions, the country's government has blamed Iran and India for the Baloch insurgency which has claimed dozens of lives of Pakistani security personnel in audacious attacks this year.

Relations between the two all-weather friends have come under strain due to deadly attacks on Chinese nationals. In a bid to pacify Beijing, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif along with a battery of ministers rushed to the Chinese embassy soon after the attack. He also wrote a message and promised to "bring the perpetrators to justice", according to a press release by the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad.

It was only in January this year that Pakistan had managed to iron out its differences with China after paying a hefty $11.6 million compensation to the ten Chinese engineers killed in the Dasu hydropower project car bomb attack in July 2021. China had sought $38 million for the families of its nationals killed and injured in the bombing. To mount pressure on Islamabad, Beijing had stopped work on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.

Baloch armed groups have once again warned Beijing that they are opposed to Chinese investments in Balochistan. The Baloch community also opposes the mining of coal, copper and gold from their region as Balochistan itself does not get the benefit of resources or investments, which are shared between Islamabad and Beijing.

Baloch nationalists say the CPEC projects are being carried out without the consent of the Baloch people. The BLA has increased its attacks on the Pakistani army, Chinese projects and nationals.

The Baloch also allege massive human rights violations by the Pakistani establishment including State-sponsored kidnappings as well as gruesome murders by the military. The issue of "enforced disappearances" has become a sore point with the alienated community.

Meanwhile, the Karachi University opened up two days after the bombing. The Confucius Institute, however, remains closed and the staff of the institute has been moved to an undisclosed location. Pakistan has enhanced security for the Chinese employees. The university plans to improve security on the campus by constructing plugging gaps in the boundary wall and by installing more CCTV cameras.