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Pakistan: Has China shut down its consular section due to terror threats?

Site of the attack at the Chinese dental clinic in Karachi by Sindhi rebels (Photo: Twitter)

China has closed down its consular section in its Islamabad embassy citing “technical issues”. The short notice does not specify the reasons nor does it say when it will be reopened.

In a notice on its official website, the embassy said: “Consular Section of the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad will be temporarily closed from February 13, 2023 until further notice, due to technical issues”, Pakistani news channel Geo News reported today.

With Beijing not assigning any reason for the sudden suspension of its consular section, speculation mounted that China has done so due to threats from Baloch militants, or because of rising violence by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Geo News reported that the Chinese government, this Saturday, had advised its citizens to be extremely cautious in Pakistan due to the deteriorating security environment. The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs cautioned its nationals that they may be at high risk as violence mounts in the country.

China’s directions for its nationals came around the same time as Pakistan made two major announcements over security of foreigners.

On Sunday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah promised to provide security to Chinese nationals and other foreigners working in the country. He gave this assurance at a high-level meeting on anti-terror measures and the security of foreigners in the restive port city of Gwadar in Balochistan. Sanaullah also said that one per cent of the project money under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been reserved for security arrangements.

Just a few days before the Interior Minister’s remarks, the Punjab government had said that it will not be able to provide security to Chinese nationals in Pakistan except for those working on government projects. It also advised Chinese nationals to hire private security firms for their safety if they were not working on Pakistan-government projects.

Irrespective of the Pakistani government’s assurances, the Chinese do not feel assured over what they are witnessing. Pakistan is facing major violence from the Pakistan Taliban in the north-west as well as Baloch nationalists in the south-west, making Pakistan extremely unsafe, particularly for foreigners.

Baloch rebel organisations have carried out multiple fearsome attacks against Chinese nationals and assets in Sindh and Balochistan, asking Chinese companies to vacate the region and not exploit their local mineral wealth.

China has taken up the issue of its nationals with Pakistan multiple times at the highest levels but to no avail.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with two successive Pakistani Prime Ministers—Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif—about enhancing security for CPEC, yet Pakistan has been unable to do so. Similarly, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Sharif in November 2022 that “the Chinese side is shocked and outraged by the recent attack on Chinese citizens in Karachi and strongly condemns this terrorist attack”. He added that China hopes that Pakistan will bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible”.

However, with Pakistan unable to stop the targeted attacks on Chinese assets, there has been considerable diplomatic rift between the two all-weather allies. China has in retaliation completely stalled many CPEC projects.

Besides the TTP attacks and Baloch nationalism, rising fundamentalist violence in Pakistan related to the blasphemy laws has resulted in many people being fatally assaulted and set on fire. In one such incident, Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara was brutally attacked by fanatics and his body burnt over false allegations of blasphemy.

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