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In blow to CPEC, four Chinese engineers killed in terror strike in northern Pakistan

File photo of a blast site in Pakistan's north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (Photo: IANS)

Ten people, including at least four Chinese engineers, were killed when a bus was struck with a blast in Upper Kohistan in restive northern Pakistan on Wednesday. The bus was transporting staff that has been working on building the Dasu Dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

“There is a huge explosion in the bus carrying the Chinese engineers … in Upper Kohistan. Eight people lost their lives,” a senior administrative officer of the Hazara region told Reuters, adding an investigation is being conducted to ascertain the intensity of the blast and know more about it. The toll might rise further as several injured are critical.

Quoting the officials, the Pakistani daily The News, reports that the bus was carrying over 30 Chinese engineers and their Pakistani security guards to the Dasu dam construction site in Upper Kohistan. It is believed that the banned terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was behind the strong IED blast.

The Dasu Dam is a large hydroelectric gravity dam currently under construction on the Indus River near Dasu in Kohistan District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $65 billion investment plan under Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that is aimed at connecting Kashgar in China’s restive Xinjiang region, with Pakistan’s Gwadar—a sea port on the Arabian sea coast of the Indian Ocean.

 More than 500 Chinese engineers along with Pakistani construction workers have been working on the Dasu hydroelectric project for several years.  Under CPEC agreements, Pakistan has awarded the contract to a Chinese company China Gezhouba Group Company (CGCC) in 2017, overriding protests from the local residents and climate experts. The project is being constructed on the Indus River, upstream of Dasu town in Kohistan district of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, which border Afghanistan, have served as the main base for local and foreign militants. 

The Pakistan army had dealt a serious blow to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in June 2014 through its operation Zarb-e-Azb but the reunification of TTP has increased China’s concerns as the latter is executing several projects in hydropower generation and infrastructure development under CPEC in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

On Monday, the banned terror group TTP dealt a serious blow to the Pakistani army by killing one captain and 11 soldiers in an encounter in the same region. Six employees of Pakistan's Jazz Mobile Operator were abducted by the TTP.

The TTP has already killed and kidnapped a number of Chinese, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. These strikes have alarmed China, which was already pressing Pakistan to crack down on ethnic separatist groups in Balochistan and Sindh provinces because of projects linked to CPEC. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Chinese companies are working on several energy and infrastructure projects, including the Karakoram Highway Phase II. The Suki Kinari Hydropower Station and the Havelian Dry Port lie along the highway, which ends at the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan. Across the border, the road is called China National Highway 314 leading to Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region.  

There are fears in Pakistan that in the absence of a peace deal Afghanistan will plunge into civil war after the complete withdrawal of the NATO troops. The TTP and Al-Qaeda leadership have sworn allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

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