SHANGLA: Rescue workers and security officials examine the site of the attack, on Tuesday.—PPI
SHANGLA: Rescue workers and security officials examine the site of the attack, on Tuesday.—PPI

• Suicide bomber rams into bus on Karakoram Highway; work on Dasu dam suspended
• PM says enemy’s designs will not succeed; army blames ‘foreign elements’, vows to prevail
• Cabinet members visit Chinese embassy to offer condolences; US says no country should suffer from acts of terror

SHANGLA / ISLAMABAD: China has demanded a thorough probe into the deadly blast and security for its citizens after five Chinese nationals working on the Dasu dam project perished in a suicide bombing in Bisham on Tuesday.

In response, Islamabad has announced a swift probe to hold the “perpetrators and accomplices” accountable for the attack.

Besides five Chinese citizens, one Pakistani national — the driver — was also killed after a suicide bomber rammed into the bus transporting staff of the Dasu dam project in Bisham, Shangla district, on Tuesday afternoon.

According to police, the bus was travelling from Islamabad to Kohistan when it came under the attack on Karakoram Highway. “It was a suicide attack on the Chinese convoy and an explosive-laden vehicle approaching from Kohistan hit the bus,” Bisham Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Juma Rehman told Dawn. SDPO Rehman said that following the attack, the bus caught fire and fell into the ravine.

“A huge amount of explosives were used in the attack, the force of which threw the bus into the ravine,” he said. The officer said that police cordoned off the area to collect evidence. “We have also collected body parts of the suspected suicide bomber from the site,” SDPO Rehman said.

‘Chaotic scenes’

Hayat Khan, an eyewitness, told Dawn that he was preparing for noon prayers at his home when two loud explosions were heard. “I came out of the house and saw a thick plume of smoke with everyone rushing towards the nearby nullah,” Mr Khan said.

Sheraz Khan, the official in charge of Rescue 1122 station in Bisham, described chaotic scenes after the rescuers reached the site of the attack. “The area was engulfed in smoke as the bus that had fallen into the ravine was on fire,” he said. The rescuers had to climb down the ravine to put out the flames and retrieve the bodies. The bodies were later shifted to the tehsil headquarters hospital in Bisham.

Bisham SHO Bakht Zahir Khan said that the blast was so intense that it completely destroyed the bus. “We found some of its part on nearby trees which showed the intensity of the blast,” he said. He said the Chinese nationals travelling in other buses were shifted to safer places from the site.

Dr Rehmat Ali, who works at the Dasu hydropower project, told Dawn at the THQ hospital in Bisham that five Chinese nationals, including a woman, were killed in the blast. Mr Ali said the victims’ bodies had been dispatched to Islamabad and the driver’s body to his town, Pattan area of Kohistan district.

In response to a similar attack in 2021, Pakistan had increased the security of the Chinese nationals and it was decided that the Chinese nationals would travel in the form of a convoy. On July 14, 2021, nine Chinese and four Pakistanis were killed after a suicide explosion targeted their vehicle.

Work on dam suspended

Meanwhile, work on the Dasu project was suspended following the attack, as colleagues expressed grief over the tragic fate of the five engineers and their driver.

The official sources confirmed to Dawn that the Chinese engineers and their Pakistani counterparts did not attend follow-up duty shifts, and night shifts to express sorrow for the killing of their co-workers in an attack earlier in the day.

“The multilayer security of the Chinese national executing the Dasu dam, and the residential campus has further been enhanced following the suicidal attack on engineers of one of the flagship energy projects of Sino-Pak friendship,” Irfanullah Mehsud, deputy commissioner of Upper Kohistan, told Dawn.

‘Punish the perpetrators’

The suicide attack evoked a strong response from Beijing, which asked Islamabad to punish the perpetrators. ’The Chinese Embassy and Consulates General in Pakistan strongly condemn this terrorist attack, express deep condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the bereaved families, and are making every effort to handle the aftermath together with the Pakistani side,“ a statement by the embassy said.

It said an “emergency plan” had been launched immediately, requesting the Pakistani side to thoroughly investigate the attack and severely punish the perpetrators. The statement said the Chinese mission in Pakistan was taking “all necessary measures to protect” the Chinese citizens, institutions and projects in Pakistan.

PM visits embassy

Soon after the bombing, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif along with his cabinet members visited the Chinese embassy to assure Beijing about security for its citizens and promise a comprehensive probe into the suicide bombing.

As he arrived at the embassy to offer condolences, PM Shehbaz asked the Chinese envoy to relay his condolences to the China president, the premier, and the families of the deceased. He, however, assured the envoy of a high-level probe into the explosion.

“We will not let such nefarious attempts to undermine the Pak-China friendship succeed. The enemies of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have again tried to interrupt it through such cowardly attempt but the enemy will never succeed in its evil designs.”

The Chinese ambassador thanked the prime minister for visiting the embassy and showing personal interest in the investigation of the incident. Mohsin Naqvi, the interior minister who was accompanying the PM, also vowed a comprehensive probe into the explosion.

Army blames ‘foreign elements’

In a similar statement, the media wing of the Pakistan Army said that the incident was aimed at hurting the Sino-Pak ties. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that the series of incidents over the past few days, including the Gwadar and Turbat attacks, were aimed at destabilising the country.

“Strategic projects and sensitive sites vital for Pakistan’s economic progress and the well-being of its people are being targeted as a conscious effort to retard our progress and sow discord between Pakistan and its strategic allies and partners, most notably China,” the statement read.

The army, without naming any country, blamed ‘foreign elements’ for aiding and abetting terrorism in Pakistan. It, however, pointed out that the “elements patronising terrorism in Pakistan were being continuously exposed”.

“With the unwavering support of the resilient nation and our iron-clad ally China, we will ensure that all those involved in aiding terrorism, directly or indirectly, are held accountable and find their due comeuppance. Together we will prevail over adversity and evil,” it maintained.

Condemnations

President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attack on the Chinese nationals in Bisham and expressed his deep grief and sorrow over the casualties.

The Foreign Office also expressed commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice. “Today’s attack was orchestrated by the enemies of Pakistan-China friendship. We will resolutely act against all such forces and defeat them,” FO said.

During a press briefing, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller also condemned the attack on the Chinese convoy. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries sustained. We share our heartfelt condolences with those affected by the attack. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists. I note that PRC nationals in Pakistan have also been the victims of terrorist attacks and no country should suffer the acts of terror,” he said.

Syed Irfan Raza and Iftikhar A. Khan in Islamabad, Nisar Ahmed Khan in Mansehra also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2024

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