Beijing’s ambassador may have been a target . . .
On Wednesday, a car bomb exploded at a luxury hotel in Quetta, Pakistan, killing at least four and injuring 12. Although Chinese nationals were not among the casualties, it has been widely speculated that the Chinese ambassador, who was minutes away from arriving at the hotel, may have been an intended target. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or Pakistani Taliban) claimed responsibility but sent mixed messages, first saying it took aim at “Pakistani and foreign officials,” but later removed the reference to “foreign officials.” An unnamed Pakistani official stated that while the group may not have wanted to declare a front against Chinese interests in Pakistan, he had no doubt the Chinese ambassador was the target.
Insurgents resurgent . . .
This latest bombing is by no means an isolated incident of insurgent groups committing violence against Chinese nationals in Balochistan Province, a key node in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, past attacks have mostly been carried out by Baloch separatists. An attack by the TTP would mark a worrying development. In August, it was reported that the TTP had reunified after splitting into several factions in 2014. The reunification alarmed Beijing, which anticipated its various CPEC projects could become more vulnerable to TTP attacks. The Chinese government has been urging Islamabad to crack down on such groups.
The Afghanistan wild card . . .
China and Pakistan are also looking over the horizon at the impending U.S. military drawdown in neighbouring Afghanistan. Both countries have good reason to be concerned about possible spillover effects in border areas like Balochistan, especially if the Afghanistan Taliban continues to gain the upper hand in its assault on the Afghan government. Last week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson expressed alarm that “terrorist forces” could take advantage of the chaos left in the wake of an American withdrawal. However, the Chinese government is unlikely to get an assist from Washington, which recently confirmed that it would once and for all end its “Forever War” by early September.