ISLAMABAD: The army formally announced on Tuesday the creation of a 10,000-man strong special force for protecting the development projects to be carried out under the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (PCEC) and the Chinese workers associated with them.

“A special force is being raised for Pakistan-China economic projects,” military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said.

The new force named ‘Special Security Division’ would be of the size of a division consisting of nine army battalions and six wings of paramilitary forces – Rangers and Frontier Corps. A two-star general would head the special force.

The announcement came as Chinese President Xi Jinping completed his two-day visit to Pakistan during which he performed the ground-breaking of a number of power generation projects, besides signing agreements on other ventures worth $28 billion under the economic corridor.

President Xi, much like his reception on Monday, was given an exceptionally warm send-off. He was seen off by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, federal ministers and the services chiefs at the Nur Khan Airbase.

Both Beijing and Islamabad have been attaching immense importance to the $45bn PCEC which is part of China’s ‘Road and Belt’ project aimed at promoting regional connectivity, besides increasing cooperation between the two countries in the field of energy, infrastructure, transport and industry.

China is looking at the project from the perspective of expanding its footprint across the region, while Pakistan is hoping to resuscitate its ailing economy through the Chinese investment that will come along with it.

However, security concerns loom large. The terrorist attack on a camp of Pakistani labourers working on a dam project in Balochistan ahead of President Xi’s trip reinforced those concerns.

The issue of security of Chinese projects and workers was reported to have been raised by President Xi in his meetings in Islamabad.

President Mamnoon Hussain reassured the Chinese leader that Pakistan would leave no stone unturned in protecting the Chinese workers and projects and would set up a dedicated force for the purpose.

Senator Mushahid Hussain, Chairman of Pakistan-China Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank, welcomed the creation of the new force: “This is a much needed force. It is a timely decision that will provide a conducive environment for Chinese projects and personnel,” he said.

Personnel from the newly created force will be made part of the security mechanism of the proposed projects. Men from local law-enforcement agencies will also be dovetailed with these projects. Details of the structure of the force are still being worked out and no specific timeframe has been fixed for its raising.

A military officer said the numbers would grow as projects came along.

Training of the special force would partly be carried out at the newly set up National Counter-Terrorism Centre in Pabbi. The training regime will include security, counter-terrorism and intelligence drills.

Chinese workers have in the past faced a number of attacks by militants and some of them were fatal.

These attacks were orchestrated by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and their local allies. The ETIM, which earlier operated from sanctuaries in North Waziristan, has been significantly affected by the Zarb-i-Azb military operation in which a large number of its fighters were killed.

But the threat has not diminished because of the linkages that the ETIM has been maintaining with local extremist groups.

Baloch and Sindhi nationalists have also been opposing the Chinese presence.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2015

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