Terrorist suspect nabbed . . .
On Tuesday, Pakistan announced it had arrested the mastermind behind an April 2022 suicide bombing that killed three Chinese teachers near a university in Karachi. The incident was the latest in a series of attacks in recent years on Chinese assets and personnel. Many of the targets have been linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and, for Pakistan, a major source of foreign investment and infrastructure financing. Much of CPEC’s activity has been concentrated in the country’s impoverished and violence-prone southwest, where insurgent groups are increasingly assertive in confronting the Pakistani state and taking aim at Chinese interests. Among them, the Balochistan Liberation Army, as well as many locals, resent what they view as Chinese and Pakistani elites profiting from CPEC while others fail to benefit.
Threading the needle . . .
Islamabad may be hoping that Tuesday’s arrest will help placate China’s concerns about growing insecurity. Last month, Beijing reportedly renewed its request to deploy its own private security companies (PSCs) to protect assets and personnel in Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took office three months ago and inherited a deeply troubled economy, finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He is eager to get the relationship with Beijing back on solid footing after the setbacks CPEC suffered during the tenure of his predecessor, Imran Khan. However, allowing Chinese PSCs to operate within Pakistan’s borders would almost certainly inflame relations with locals even further.
Taking matters into its own hands . . .
As China’s global reach expands through the BRI and other international activities, it has increasingly come to rely on PSCs for protection in potentially volatile parts of the world, especially Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. But a 2018 investigation warned that these PSCs’ relative inexperience in operationally- and politically-challenging environments could lead to missteps or worse, ultimately provoking backlashes among local populations. PM Sharif is certainly sensitive to that possibility and has so far resisted Beijing’s requests, hoping instead to assure his Chinese partners that he can keep the targeted violence under control.