Pakistan: Beijing demands stern action after terrorist slays Chinese academics in Karachi

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) separatist group has warned of more attacks to come.

 A police officer stands guard near a passenger van, cordoned after a blast at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University of Karachi, Pakistan, April 26, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)
A police officer stands guard near a passenger van, cordoned after a blast at the entrance of the Confucius Institute University of Karachi, Pakistan, April 26, 2022.

[Islamabad] China has demanded that Pakistan punish those responsible for the terrorist attack that killed three of its citizens and wounded another at the University of Karachi last week.

Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Jianghao made an urgent call to the Pakistani ambassador to China to express “extremely grave concern,” the ministry said in a note to the press.

Wu demanded that Pakistan immediately conduct a thorough investigation of the suicide attack, apprehend and punish the perpetrators to the full extent of the law, and take all possible measures to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in Pakistan and to prevent such incidents from happening again.

“The blood of the Chinese people should not be shed in vain, and those behind this incident will surely pay the price. Chinese officials will continue to urge relevant Pakistani departments to follow up matters and resolutely crack down on the terrorist organization involved,” the statement further read.

The Majeed Brigade of the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack.

 Flowers, and a wreath, left by students in memory of their Chinese teachers, near the wreckage of a passenger van after a blast, are seen during what they call a peaceful protest, outside the Confucius Institute at University of Karachi, in Karachi Pakistan April 29, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO) Flowers, and a wreath, left by students in memory of their Chinese teachers, near the wreckage of a passenger van after a blast, are seen during what they call a peaceful protest, outside the Confucius Institute at University of Karachi, in Karachi Pakistan April 29, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO)

Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon said video footage showed a person dressed in a burka walking up to a van carrying faculty members from China’s Confucius Institute at the university, followed by an explosion.

Professor Huang Guiping, director of the institute, died along with two female teachers, Chen Sai and Ding Mupeng, and their Pakistani driver.

A Chinese male teacher and three Pakistani security officials were critically wounded. 

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who entered office on April 11, visited the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad.

He assured officials there, “The Pakistani government will conduct an in-depth probe into the incident, give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators, and strengthen the security of Chinese personnel, projects, and institutions in Pakistan in an all-round way.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftekhar termed the incident a “direct attack” on Pakistan-China relations.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also visited the embassy. He called the incident “yet another attack with a specific agenda of trying to undermine the Pakistan-China strategic relationship.”

The Confucius Institute was established in 2013 as part of a partnership between the University of Karachi and Sichuan Normal University in China.

It aims to “deepen international understanding of Chinese language and culture, and promote people-to-people exchanges between China and Pakistan.”

Video footage showed a burqa-clad woman approaching the van and detonating herself.

A BLA statement said, “Shari Baloch, 30, a mother of two, and a post-graduate degree holder in zoology, volunteered for the suicide attack. She was married to a doctor.” The Confucius Institute was targeted because it is a “symbol of Chinese economic, cultural and political expansionism,” media outlets reported.

BLA spokesperson Jeeyand Baloch in a statement threatened Beijing with “even harsher” attacks unless China halted its “exploitation projects” and “occupying of the Pakistani state.” 

Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan and the 12th-largest in the world, is the country’s trade and financial hub.

A senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Media Line, “Law enforcement agencies have traced the family of a lady bomber.

“Law enforcement agencies conducted late-night raids in various housing estates of the city. Security officials seized some important documents, including a laptop, during a raid on a suspected house,” he continued.

“Significant progress has been made to reach the mastermind of the horrible incident,” the official added, without further details due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Bushra Rind, a member of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly and a parliamentary secretary for information, told The Media Line, “The husband of the female suicide bomber responsible for the Karachi University explosion has been arrested by the security forces, and during the interrogation, he revealed that his wife was mentally ill and that she was taking medication for it.”

Rind added, “Some external elements are trying to involve the Baloch youth in anti-national activities, but they will never succeed in their nefarious aims.”

Balochistan Province, which extends across 44% of the country’s landmass, is rich in natural gas as well as oil, copper, and gold. It borders Afghanistan and Iran.

The province is at the center of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, part of Beijing’s massive Belt-and-Road infrastructure project.

CPEC is developing the Balochistan deep-water port of Gwadar, which will be linked by land to China’s Xinjiang Province.

CPEC projects also cover energy generation, transportation infrastructure, and industrial economic zones throughout the country but mainly in Balochistan.

Hundreds of Chinese engineers and workers are in Pakistan to complete these projects.

The BLA has waged a violent insurgency against security forces and state-owned targets, mainly in Balochistan, for nearly two decades. Its leadership is believed to be located in Afghanistan and Iran as well.

It also carries out terrorist attacks against non-Baloch civilians and Chinese nationals.

Initially, the organization was of the view that Balochistan’s natural resources were being exploited by the Pakistani state, and that Balochistan was not getting its fair share.

Since the CPEC projects began, the group started saying that China is going to seize the resources of Balochistan, and it has been targeting Chinese personnel.

Pakistani officials believe that India is backing and funding BLA terrorists to counter Chinese influence in the region.

The United States designated the BLA as a global terrorist organization in July 2019, with the State Department calling it an “armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan.”

In August 2018, the BLA targeted a passenger bus carrying 18 Chinese engineers who were working on a joint venture between Pakistan and China to extract gold, copper and silver from an area close to the Iranian border, killing several persons.

In November 2018, BLA terrorists attacked the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, killing four persons. 

In May 2019, it smashed into a luxury hotel in Gwadar where senior Chinese CPEC officials stay.

In the last few years, the BLA has carried out 17 terrorist attacks on security forces, killing at least 100 people and wounding more than 50.

Adeeb Ul Zaman Safvi, a Karachi-based seasoned defense analyst, retired Pakistan Navy captain and graduate of the US Naval War College, told The Media Line that the “Indian-sponsored militancy network remains alive despite numerous intelligence-based operations against them.”

“The United States and its major ally India are deeply concerned by China’s growing influence in the region, and both countries see China as their archrival,” he said.

“It is evidenced that BLA has the full financial support of India, and keeping the US-India nexus in view, it may be assumed that the United States and India are now jointly supporting the BLA militancy to the detriment of Chinese interests in the region,” Safvi claimed.

He noted, “The US-Pakistan relationship took a nosedive during the prime ministership of Imran Khan.

“Khan has repeatedly alleged that after its withdrawal from Afghanistan the United States asked Pakistan to provide air bases, but he flatly refused, and that’s why, Khan claims, the United States aided the opposition to overthrow his government as punishment,” Safvi said.

“Now, with the change of regime in Pakistan, relations between the two countries may be warming up again, but in the meantime, it is possible that the CIA, along with RAW [India’s Research and Analysis Wing foreign intelligence agency], could aid the separatists to put more pressure on Pakistan,” he added. 

“This time China’s response has been very severe, announcing its intention to employ Chinese forces against the BLA, to secure its interest in the region,” Safvi said.

Umar Karim, a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, focuses on Pakistan’s political and security environment within the region.

“Chinese citizens have gradually become the prime target of the BLA and other Baloch insurgent groups,” Karim told The Media Line.

“Baloch rebels consider broader CPEC projects as politically damaging to their cause. In a way, they also consider and are framing China as a new hegemon in the region,” he said.

“Inadvertently, this justifies the rhetoric of the Pakistani state that Baloch insurgents are working alongside Indian intelligence operatives to create instability and chaos within Pakistan and also to undermine the smooth development of CPEC projects, particularly in Balochistan,” he continued.

“China is observing this situation, but it is a matter of fact that the bases or camps of these insurgents are not in Pakistan, but mainly in Iran, and thus if China has to respond against these groups it will need to not only engage with Pakistan but also with Iran,” Karim said.