On July 14, nine Chinese nationals and three Pakistanis were killed and 28 others injured when a bus carrying them to a construction site plunged into a ravine in the Upper Kohistan area of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The bus had picked up workers and Chinese engineers from a camp in Barseen, and was heading to an under-construction tunnel site of the $4.2 billion Dasu hydropower project – a 233-meter-high dam being built on the Indus River, seven kilometers upstream of Dasu town.
Initially, Pakistan’s foreign ministry wrote it off as an accident caused by “mechanical failure,” but its Chinese counterpart described it as a bomb attack.
A high-powered Chinese delegation has arrived in Islamabad to join the ongoing investigation into the Dasu bus explosion, which reportedly targeted employees of a Chinese construction company.
The 15-member team, led by Wu Wei, deputy director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of External Security Affairs, was given a tour of the explosion site, briefed on the investigation, and given a presentation of the new security plan by Pakistan’s military in the past two days.
An intelligence officer told a group of journalists that a convoy of four vehicles had left the gated compound on the morning of July 14. When it came onto the main road, an explosive-laden vehicle maneuvered itself into the convoy and rammed into the first bus. There was an explosion but no bullet holes were found on the vehicles or IED remnants located at the site.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry initial perception of the incident was apparently based on first impressions. The terrorists had used homemade explosives with no ball bearings or shrapnel, which caused only a blast effect, forcing the vehicle to lose its balance and plunge into the ravine. It was therefore perceived as an accident.
The intelligence official said that CCTV footage recovered from the Barseen Camp captured the attacker’s vehicle. He said there are only two such vehicles registered in Kohistan, neither of which were used in the attack. So, the car came from outside the district.
The investigation team has also recovered the body of the attacker and sent his DNA for identification.
The Dasu hydropower project, which will generate over 4,300 megawatts of electricity when completed, is part of the $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) investment plan, which includes construction of a network of railways, roads, and pipelines between the two countries, and is helmed by the China Gezhouba Group Corporation.
This isn’t the first time that China-funded projects in Pakistan have been targeted. In April, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed a suicide bombing at Quetta’s Serena Hotel where the Chinese Ambassador was staying. He was unhurt in the attack.
Interestingly, the TTP has denied responsibility for the Dasu incident. However, the militant outfit, which is banned in Pakistan, has said that it is probing the involvement of any of its factions.
In the aftermath of the most recent terror incident, the Chinese construction giant behind the Dasu project suspended the contracts of local hires. The decision, however, was retracted after an uproar on social media, and a fresh notification was issued declaring the July 16 directives to be null and void.
The intelligence source said security at the hydropower plant is being strengthened and may lead to contractual changes.
Although Beijing’s Global Times published an editorial strongly backing Islamabad, the recent uptick in attacks targeting security personnel and foreigners is concerning, particularly for China’s Belt and Road Initiative and investment in Pakistan.
Pakistan Army spokesperson Major-General Babar Iftikhar has linked the growing number of terror incidents and attacks on security forces and foreigners to deepening conflict in Afghanistan. In an interview, he denied the presence of organized terrorist infrastructure in the country and insisted that “the leadership of all these [terrorist] networks is sitting across the border [in Afghanistan] and have the support of [India’s spy agency] Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)”.
The ISPR spokesperson said the country has witnessed at least 167 terror incidents since May 1 of this year. He added that the security forces have arrested 42 militants in over 7,000 intelligence-based operations, cordon and search operations, and area-dominating operations in the aftermath of these attacks.
With the U.S. and NATO wrapping up their ground presence in Afghanistan and the Taliban capturing more territory, fighting in the country is intensifying by the day. Amid the chaos, Pakistan has an uphill task to manage the spillover of the violence.