THE terror attack which led to the death of Chinese nationals and locals in Dasu is yet another reminder that the threat of militancy is ever present.

The government was hasty in dismissing the incident as an accident initially. Its first statement said the Chinese workers had died after a bus plunged into a ravine owing to a mechanical failure. It made no mention of terrorist activity and refrained from clearly saying where the team was working. Later, a statement from the Chinese embassy shared more details; the team was travelling in a bus belonging to a Chinese shuttle company and was en route to a construction site of the Dasu Hydropower Project in KP when the blast took place.

The Dasu Hydropower Project includes the construction of a 4,320MW hydropower plant on the Indus River in Kohistan. The main civil contract works are reportedly being performed by a major Chinese engineering company. It was later learnt that an explosive-laden car rammed into one of two buses carrying Chinese workers. Though the bomb was not detonated with full force, the driver of the second bus tried to swerve, lost control and the vehicle plunged into a ravine.

The Chinese embassy warned Chinese citizens and enterprises in Pakistan “to stay on alert” and to avoid going out unless necessary. It is unfortunate that the government did not issue a clear statement at the start. Clarity in communication is vital, especially when it comes to an important ally like China.

This is not the first attack on a Chinese target in the country. In the past, Chinese projects and staff have been targeted at multiple sites across the country. Chinese nationals and those working on Chinese projects have been targeted both by Baloch militants and the Pakistani Taliban. While the prime minister has expressed an interest in holding talks with insurgent groups in Balochistan, the grievances of those in the provinces where there are Chinese projects and workers are real and must be addressed through an effective strategy.

Mr Khan has also vowed to probe the Dasu attack and protect Chinese nationals working in the country, but the internal and external security decisions in the coming days, especially in the wake of a deteriorating regional situation, will really show what more can be done to improve security.

With the region on the brink of chaos as Nato and the US exit Afghanistan, all manner of militants will try and increase attacks inside Pakistan as is already evident. There is a dire need for improved security and intelligence gathering — not just for foreigners working in the country but also for ordinary Pakistanis. Pakistan has incurred an incredibly high human and economic cost due to years of unrest and militancy. The return of this threat could take Pakistan back to the era of uncertainty and strife.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2021

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