Amid a surge in the deadly attacks by Baloch separatists on Chinese interests in Pakistan, Baloch and Sindhi separatist groups have announced that they are forming an alliance aimed at disrupting China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) including the strategic Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea in Balochistan province.
On July 25, a consortium of four Baloch separatist organisation called Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) announced an alliance with Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a separatist group operating in South-eastern Sindh province in Pakistan increased the security risks and costs of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) manifolds.
According to a media release, “Sindh and Balochistan are equally affected by the ‘expansionist’ and ‘oppressive’ resolves of China,” the statement said. “Through the CPEC, China aims to subjugate Sindh and Balochistan and occupy the coasts and resources from Badin to Gwadar,” the statement added.
The BRI aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes. The CPEC is the flagship project of President Xi Jinping’s ambitious BRI consists of a variety of infrastructural projects. China has revisited the project and given a stimulus package with a fresh infusion of $11 billion in July to its flagship project CPEC under BRI projects in Pakistan.
Baloch insurgents claimed that an attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange, which is 40 per cent owned by a consortium of three Chinese bourses, was carried out on June 29 with support from Sindhi separatists. Beijing’s stakes in Sindh are as high as they are in resource-rich Balochistan, it said. China’s state-owned enterprises run container terminals at Karachi port with investments in nuclear and coal power projects established both under the umbrella of the CPEC and in partnership with local corporations.
Security officials observed that with the alliance Sindhi insurgents can now launch deadlier attacks with the help of Baloch militants. Analysts also think that the grouping will significantly increase security costs for CPEC activities. As China doubles down on the CPEC infrastructure projects from Kashmir to Karachi and Gwadar, the insurgent forces will seek to raise the costs by launching attacks and raids.
In May 2019, the Baloch Liberation Army, a BRAS constituent, attacked the Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar, the port city’s only five-star hotel and killed five people including four hotel employees. Though no Chinese killed, the BLA said in a statement that the attack planned with the intent of targeting Chinese, who often stayed in the hotel.
Recently in a leaked report, China has expressed anger and deep frustration with the Pakistani establishment regarding lack of security. According to the report, complaints are escalating to higher Pakistani Army echelons to comply with Chinese demands over poor security for its CPEC workers. China has repeatedly raised concerns at rising violence by Balochistan militants now expanding their footprints into Sindh. China has also been asking Pakistan to get the Balochistan Liberation Army banned by UNSC, but Pakistan is not doing enough.
Beijing’s political risks are also escalating because of a renewed wave of public anger in many parts of Balochistan against human rights abuses by Pakistani troops deployed to crush the low-intensity insurgency in the province. The more the government increases security for CPEC projects, the more it gives the nationalists a reason to tell the local population that these are exploitative projects aimed to take their resources away.
The CPEC which were originally valued at $46 billion is now estimated to be $87 billion and only a quarter of which have been completed. The plan was to rapidly upgrade Pakistani infrastructure and stimulate its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, energy projects and special economic zones (SEZs). The debt outcome of the CPEC project is about $80 billion, 90 per cent of which will be paid for by Pakistan in the form of the national debt. Islamabad knows that it will not be able to pay China back and will eventually lose the sovereignty of its own land.
According to experts, the CPEC could become a ‘trillion-dollar blunder’..