ISLAMABAD, July 19: Chinese citizens in Pakistan have been regularly targeted by militants in an apparent campaign to drive a wedge between President Pervez Musharraf and his closest ally.
Around 5,000 Chinese people live and work in Pakistan where they are engaged in several Beijing-funded development and engineering projects, many of which are opposed by various militant groups.
A suicide attack aimed at Chinese workers in southwestern Balochistan province on Thursday, which killed at least 24 Pakistanis, was the deadliest in a series of such incidents.
“Relations with the Chinese are vital for Pakistan but it appears that somebody wants to damage them,” Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told AFP after the blast in the industrial town of Hub.
China told Pakistan earlier this month to beef up security for its citizens after three Chinese workers were shot dead in Peshawar apparently in retaliation for a government operation against a radical mosque in Islamabad.
The crackdown on the mosque was itself sparked by the kidnapping of seven Chinese people from an acupuncture clinic in the capital by madressah students who accused them of prostitution.
It was unclear who was behind Thursday’s attack but police said they were investigating whether it was linked to a wave of other blasts and ambushes across the country following the bloody operation in Islamabad.
Earlier attacks on Chinese nationals in Balochistan have been claimed by separatist, non-Islamic tribal militants fighting for greater autonomy and a share of profits from the proceeds of the province’s natural gas reserves.
A May 2004 car bomb blamed on the militants killed three Chinese engineers developing a Beijing-funded deep sea port in Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. In February 2006 three more Chinese engineers were shot dead in the same region.
But there have also been Islamic attacks elsewhere in the country.
In October 2004 Al Qaeda-linked militants led by a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on a dam in the troubled tribal region of South Waziristan. One died in a botched rescue bid.
As usual in Pakistan, there has also been speculation about the involvement of the intelligence services of the country’s bitter rival India in several of the attacks.—AFP