This past week reports surfaced that Indian intelligence was planning attacks on CPEC projects in Pakistan. Today, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal amped up those allegations. Iqbal claims New Delhi is not only plotting CPEC sabotage, but is also responsible for the recent death of a Chinese executive. The Chinese killing in Karachi, Pakistan has only increased tension between regional rivals India and Pakistan.
Monday, a Chinese shipping executive was shot and killed in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Although police are still investigating the incident, Pakistan has quickly pointed the finger at India.
Falling in line with similar accusations against India earlier this week, Iqbal publicly blamed the “nefarious designs of the enemy,” i.e. India, for sabotaging Pakistani interests along with the Chinese killing in Karachi. In an interview with the BBC Iqbal said:
New Delhi continues to dedicate a sizeable amount of money towards covert operations that aim to sabotage CPEC projects. Representatives of our neighbour country have gone on record to say that India is against the deepening trade partnership between Pakistan and China. The recent target killing of the Chinese national is another link of this espionage chain.
According to Iqbal, Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national arrested on terrorism and espionage charges, has admitted that India plans to sabotage CPEC. Jadhav currently sits on death row in Pakistan.
Pakistan has been blamed for not providing enough security to Chinese workers, however Islamabad points out that they have deployed 15,000 security forces in an effort to protect Chinese workers. Last year two Chinese teachers were kidnapped and later killed by ISIS militants, leading the Chinese embassy in Pakistan to issue a warning to its citizens living and working in the region.
The victim of the latest Chinese killing in Pakistan was Chen Zhu, a managing director of Cosco Shipping Lines Co. Chen was shot in the head while sitting in the front seat of a car. Police believe the murder was targeted. Although evidence suggests the murder was planned and targeted, police have said the investigation is too fresh to yet identify a motive.
Cosco Shipping plans to utilize Pakistan’s port of Gwadar in the future, a part of the CPEC project, but Pakistani officials have confirmed that Chen was not directly involved in any CPEC projects at the time of his death.
Chen was parked in the driver’s seat of a car with a fellow Cosco employee, a Chinese trainee. According to reports collected by the police, the shooter opened fire on the vehicle from the front and shot through the windshield. The unidentified shooted fired at least 9 times, but the passenger was unharmed. Pictures of the car show that bullet holes are concentrated in front of the driver’s seat, implying a targeted kill.
Chen and his trainee were without their Pakistani security at the time of the killing. Not only was this against protocol, but it raises questions about what the two men were doing and why they would shirk their security detail. Local security footage shows the two Chinese men walking around the car and taking pictures on a cell phone just before the shooting.
According to statements, the two men had just been lunching at a local restaurant when they decided to stop at a produce seller in the upscale area where the shooting occurred. It is still unclear why they left without appropriate security.
Although Chinese and Pakistani officials have touted CPEC as an economic game changer in Pakistan, the multi billion dollar project is hardly without its critics. Some have questioned why so many workers and materials are being imported from China instead of being sourced locally to bolster the Pakistani economy.
Local nationalist militants have also picked up on this criticism and threatened to attack Chinese people in the region. The nationalist insurgents claim the Chinese are exploiting Pakistan’s resources, making them a potential suspect in the Chinese killing. But the fact that the other Chinese worker was left unharmed throws a wrench in this theory.
A Pakistani security official told the Wall Street Journal that police are looking into the Pakistani Taliban as the main suspect in the killing. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are also known to operate in the area, although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
India has long objected to CPEC based on the fact that one of the CPEC highways cuts through Pakistan administered Kashmir, Azad Jammu & Kashmir or just Azad Kashmir. Kashmir has been a contested territory between Pakistan and India since their 1947 divorce.
New Delhi has been vocal in their objections to the project, claiming that the highway violates India’s territorial sovereignty.
Chinese authorities evoke their neutrality in the Kashmir debate and continue to insist the issue must be resolved through a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan alone. Beijing has, however, repeatedly indicated they are willing to hold talks with India to discuss CPEC. Chinese officials have even said they would be willing to rename the project to appease India.
Last week, Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, announced:
Regarding the CPEC, China has repeatedly reiterated its position. As to the differences between China and India, China stands ready to communicate and hold talks with India to seek a proper solution so that these differences will not affect our general national interests. This best serves the interests of the two countries… CPEC is merely an economic cooperation project. It has not targeted any third party. We hope the Indian side can put this in perspective and we stand ready to strengthen cooperation with the Indian side.
According to the the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India’s objections to CPEC aren’t just about Kashmir and territorial sovereignty. In a report discussing CPEC, “Silk Road Economic Belt – considering security implications and the EU-China cooperation prospects,” the Swedish think tank claims CPEC has “intensified historic competition over influence in South Asia.” Pakistan and India have faced economic and cultural rivalry since 1947 when they split into two separate nations.
With reports surfacing this week indicating potential attacks to CPEC projects orchestrated by New Delhi and Monday’s targeted Chinese killing , Pakistan has allegedly increased security measures on major CPEC projects.