ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday said that the recent Bisham attack would not impact the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and other aspects of bilateral cooperation between China and Pakistan.

Re-emphasising both countries’ commitment to their strategic partnership and ongoing projects and highlighting the resilience of their collaboration, FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch at the weekly media briefing said: “Pakistan and China are close friends and brothers and we will continue to work together to develop CPEC and to promote our cooperation.”

Six people, including five Chinese workers, were killed in a suicide attack on their van in Bisham on Tuesday, renewing concerns about the safety and security of Chinese personnel and projects in Pakistan.

Notably, this attack was part of a series of assaults in a span of a few days specifically targeting Chinese interests, including previous incidents at the Gwadar Port Authority Complex and the Turbat naval base, both of which are integral to CPEC. These consecutive attacks underlined the escalating security challenges facing Chinese projects and personnel in Pakistan.

Spokesperson confirms proposal for revival of trade with India being reviewed

The subsequent suspension of work on Tarbela Hydropower Extension project and the advisory from the Chinese embassy to Chinese businesses in Pakistan to “closely follow the local security situation and take extra safety precautions” further prompted fears that the Chinese companies could halt their activities on the pretext of security threat.

Pakistani optimism about CPEC not being affected comes from the assurances received from Beijing after the attack.

“Our two countries are all-weather strategic cooperative partners. Our iron-clad friendship is deeply rooted in the two peoples. No attempt to sabotage China-Pakistan cooperation will ever succeed,” Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson Lin Jian had earlier said in his comments on Bisham incident.

China, Jian had further said, “will continue supporting Pakistan’s socioeconomic development and efforts to make lives better for its people, and we remain firm in our commitment to working with Pakistan in various fields and delivering more benefit to the two peoples”.

Noting the Chinese statement, Ms Baloch said Beijing’s reaction highlights the strong bond and mutual understanding between the two countries, while acknowledging the efforts of malevolent forces to undermine CPEC and attack the symbols of China-Pakistani collaboration.

The spokesperson indicated that discussions regarding the safety and security of Chinese nationals, as well as the investigations into the Bisham attack, were being conducted at a “senior level” between the two countries.

Resumption of trade with India

Ms Baloch confirmed that the FO was reviewing a proposal for resumption of trade with India.

Recalling a statement by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar about the business community expressing interest in review of restrictions on trade with India, the spokesperson said: “Examination of such proposals is a regular exercise in the government of Pakistan, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we continue to consider all such requests and assess our policy.”

Trade between the two countries was suspended after India in 2019 illegally annexed occupied Kashmir.

The spokesperson emphasised that so far there was no change in Pakistan’s position on the issue.

Trade with Afghanistan

The spokesperson expressed optimism over the progress achieved in trade discussions with Afghanistan. These talks, held from March 24 to 27, 2024 were led by Commerce Secretary Khurrum Agha, who visited Afghanistan to engage with his counterpart, Minister for Commerce of Afghanistan Nooruddin Azizi.

The agenda of these crucial discussions encompassed a range of trade-related issues, including the potential establishment of a bilateral Preferential Trade Agreement, the implementation of the Temporary Admission Document (TAD) for trade vehicle drivers, enhancements in multimodal air transit, and addressing the existing challenges in transit trade.

This progress in trade talks comes against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the two countries, primarily over concerns related to terrorist sanctuaries within Afghanistan. Islamabad recently took assertive measures, including the deployment of air force jets to target these sanctuaries, prompting retaliatory shelling of border areas by Taliban.

Israeli war on Gaza

Ms Baloch urged Israel’s international supporters to press Israel to adhere to the recently adopted UN Security Council resolution that demands an immediate ceasefire in Palestine.

Despite the resolution, the spokesperson pointed out, the conflict in Gaza was persisting, with the Israeli offensive continuing unabated.

She highlighted the dire situation faced by the Palestinian people, including genocide and starvation.

Her statement underscored the critical need for international intervention to halt the suffering of the Palestinians and emphasised the necessity for an end to the violence, the lifting of inhumane siege, and the permission for humanitarian aid to reach all areas of Gaza.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2024

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