Two policemen were killed and a bystander left critically injured in an attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi on Friday morning. Law enforcement officials said they had successfully foiled the raid by three militants, who were all shot dead.
The attack, allegedly staged by separatists from Balochistan province who regard the Chinese as “oppressors”, occurred at around 9.30am local time.
Local police said that arms, ammunition and suicide jackets had been recovered from the trio involved in the raid and the area was being checked by a bomb disposal squad.
“At the time of the attack the police and rangers were all on duty. They didn’t let the attackers enter the Chinese embassy [sic],” Additional Inspector General of Police Dr Amir Ahmed Shaikh said shortly after the attack.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi condemned the attack and ordered an inquiry. They praised the security forces for preventing more serious carnage.
Second bomb, ‘plan to create unrest’
A separate attack took place in the Lower Orakzai district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, leaving at least 25 dead and 35 injured. The explosion, which officials said was a suicide bombing, took place near an imambargah (Shia mosque) in Kalaya Nazara.
Observers said the second bombing wasn’t linked to the raid on the Consulate and another Islamist militant group was likely to have been responsible. The prime minister said in his condemnation it was “clear both these attacks are part of a planned campaign to create unrest in the country.” Khan said the attack on the Consulate “was clearly a reaction to the unprecedented trade agreements that resulted from our trip to China.”
Beijing also condemned the attack in Karachi and urged its ally to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said all consular staff and their families were safe following the shooting.
“We highly appreciate the efforts of the Pakistani side,” Geng said, adding that the raid would not affect their commitment to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which seeks to connect its western province of Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, in Balochistan.
Balochistan group opposes ‘Chinese corridor’
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement to the media and gave details about the attackers through its Twitter account.
“Fidayeen Sarbaz of BLA Majeed Brigade, Azal Khan Baloch, Raziq Baloch and Raees Baloch embraced martyrdom in a Fidayee attack on Chinese consulate in #Karachi. #Balochistan #Pakistan #China” the message said, with pictures of the alleged perpetrators of the attack. Twitter then banned the account after the group’s tweets on the Karachi attack.
A spokesman of the BLA damned Beijing as “an oppressor” along with Pakistani forces, saying they were “destroying the future of Balochistan” and denying local people jobs and proper economic dividends.
The BLA is a separatist militant organization that has taken up arms against Pakistan demanding secession for the southwestern province. It is listed as a terrorist group by Pakistan and in the UK.
The group has launched several prominent attacks, mainly in Balochistan, targeting security officials and Punjabis, who they accuse of colonizing their land. The province is also the center of one of China’s biggest overseas investment projects.
In June 2013, the group demolished the residence of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in the Balochistan city of Ziarat. And it recently launched attacks targeting the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Last year, the BLA shot dead 10 Pakistani laborers in Gwadar, the port at the end of the Economic Corridor. The Chinese investment includes infrastructure, transport and energy projects such as an LNG terminal and gas pipeline, plus a special economic zone at the port, a mass of projects allegedly costing $62 billion in total.
Second attack in Karachi in a week
The raid at the Chinese consulate is the second attack in a week in Karachi, after two people were killed and 10 injured in a blast near Quaidabad Bridge.
The port city is the business hub of Pakistan and has enjoyed relative peace since a Rangers operation targeted militancy in the capital of easternmost Sindh province in 2014-15. The city, however, remains a hotbed of ethnic, political and Islamist militancy.
In September, Karachi police’s Anti-Violent Crime Cell busted an Islamic State (ISIS) group running a kidnap-and-ransom scam that relayed funds for cross-border militant attacks by the Islamic State’s Khorasan faction ISKP.
Before the Rangers crackdown, several deadly attacks had targeted Karachi. Prominent among these was a joint Taliban and Al-Qaeda raid on PNS Mehran, the Pakistan Navy Headquarters, in 2011 and the 2014 attack on Jinnah International Airport, launched by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Karachi airport attack prompted a nationwide military operation called Zarb-e-Azb in 2014.
The BLA claimed attack on the Chinese consulate comes after Beijing reiterated security concerns about CPEC.
In August, a BLA suicide bomber targeted a bus ferrying Chinese mine workers in the Balochistan city of Dalbandin, which injured five people. And in February, a Chinese official working for a local shipping firm was shot dead in Karachi.
In December last year, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad posted an official notice on its website to warn its citizens about a “series of terror attacks” in Pakistan. Currently, thousands of Chinese nationals work in the country as part of CPEC and other projects linked to China’s ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative.
Concern about China’s treatment of Uyghurs
Diplomatic sources have confirmed that Chinese officials regularly express concern about security for their workers to their Pakistani counterparts.
In addition to Baloch separatists bidding to target CPEC and nationalists warning against Chinese influence in the region, there have been growing concerns in Pakistan in regard to treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Earlier this year, protests started brewing among Pakistani nationals because of alleged Chinese mistreatment of their Uyghur wives.
The attack on the consulate comes as Pakistan’s new government under Imran Khan seeks to renegotiate the terms of CPEC and trade deals with China.
Analysts believe that despite the foiling of raid, it will put Islamabad further on the back foot in its upcoming negotiations with Beijing about control and downsizing elements of the huge bilateral scheme.