IT appears that a recent counterterrorism breakthrough has greatly helped restore Chinese confidence in Pakistan’s security apparatus and paved the way for the restoration of bilateral ties as well as CPEC-related activities, which had been on ice since late April.
Work has reportedly resumed on the Main Line 1 (ML-1) upgradation project, the largest component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan and the centrepiece of the second phase of CPEC.
The importance of what this breakthrough represents cannot be overstated.
Beijing — an all-weather friend and one of our strongest allies — had all but pulled the plug on its development activities in Pakistan after a brazen terrorist attack on the grounds of Karachi University left three Chinese teachers dead. It was well known that Beijing had been quite upset for some time at the impunity with which its people were being attacked on Pakistani soil. After the KU attack, it simply suspended all work on the CPEC front till the time those responsible were nabbed and security for its personnel in Pakistan assured.
The gravity of the situation can be judged from the fact that recently army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa himself had to travel to Beijing with guarantees in a bid to win the Chinese over.
It is unclear what the army chief offered to the Chinese authorities, and what terms were set for the future.
The recent busting of a terrorist cell linked to Baloch extremists BLA and BLF, however, has thawed the ice considerably. The operation reportedly came in coordination with a group of Chinese investigators who had arrived here and were working with the Pakistani team tasked with the case.
This unusual arrangement reflects a lack of faith on the Chinese side. It would have been much better had there been more clarity about the role of this team and whether we should expect similar arrangements in the future, as has been rumoured in some quarters.
Be that as it may, it appears that Chinese authorities are for now satisfied with the progress made and wish to resume their work. It is now up to our government and security forces to make sure there is no further incident which may imperil goodwill between the two countries again. However, there also needs to be greater transparency in our dealings with Beijing so that there is greater visibility of the progress being made under CPEC and how the project may affect the security of both foreigners working in Pakistan and the Pakistanis living here.
It is irregular for so much to continue to be negotiated behind closed doors while such a major, transformational project is being executed on our soil. Bilateral relations between Pakistan and China are not the exclusive domain of just one branch of the state that terms continue to be negotiated by it at the exclusion of all others.
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2022