Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How killing of Chinese couple prompted Pakistan's offensive against Islamic State

Hamza Ameer

Even as Pakistan government denies presence of Islamic State militants in its territory, the killing of a Chinese couple in Balochistan not only raise brows but also prompted Army's offensive in the region. 

Pakistan government has been in complete denial over the presence of the dreaded militant group Islamic State (IS) on its ground, claiming that IS does not hold any foot on ground in Pakistan.
But that was negated recently after a Chinese couple, working at teachers on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, a multi-billion dollar investment by China, aimed at rejuvenating Pakistan's 300 billion dollar economy, were abducted and killed.
They were abducted from Pakistan's Balochistan province's provincial capital Quetta in broad day light and later claimed to have been killed by the Islamic State militants.
The abduction alarmed authorities and law-enforcement agencies to launch major operations in various parts of the province.
It was not long when Pakistan Army got intelligence reports of the whereabouts of the Chinese couple and launched a key operation in Mastung area of Balochistan.
The operation carried importance as reports indicated presence of Daesh group militants, a local faction of Islamic State operating in Pakistan, housed alongside another banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in the caves near Isplingi (Koh-e-Siah/Koh-e-Maran), about 36 kilometers south-east of Mastung.
A press release from Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated:
"The successful operation by security forces in Mastung denied establishment of any direct/indirect ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) organized infrastructure in Balochistan. Based on actionable intelligence, Security Forces conducted an operation in Mastung from 1-3 June. There were reports of 10-15 terrorists of a banned outfit Lashrake-Jhangivi Al-Almi (LeJA) hiding in caves near Isplingi ( Koh-i-Siah/Koh-i- Maran) 36 Kilometer South East of Mastung."ISPR also confirmed about ISIS, trying to establish itself in Pakistan.
"The said organization was reportedly making efforts for communication with ISIS (Daish) and intended to facilitate establishment of ISIS foothold in Balochistan."
What happened between June 1-3
Operation for physical clearance of target area, spread over 10km, started early morning  June 1 by landing of heliborne force. The operation continued for three days.
250 Meter long gorge with steep heights and multiple caves made the clearance operation difficult and challenging. Terrorists who were hiding in caves offered stiff resistance.
During exchange of fire, 12 hardcore terrorists including two suicide bombers were killed.
During the operation security forces destroyed IED making facility inside cave and recovered cache of arms and ammunition which included 50 kilograms of explosive,  three suicide bomber jackets, 18 Grenades, six rocket launchers, four light machine guns,18 small machine guns,  four sniper rifles, 38 communication sets and huge ammunition of various types.
During the operation, at least five security forces personnel including two officers got injured.
The operation by Security Forces besides denying establishing of any direct or indirect ISIS organized infrastructure in Balochistan, also foiled terrorist incidents in Pakistan.
The authorities also found the vehicle, that was used in the kidnapping of the Chinese couple from the area but there was no sign of them.
Pakistan Army also released a video showing installations of IS militants inside the caves of Isplingi.
A day after the operation, Islamic State announced and claimed that they had killed the Chinese couple, raising serious concerns of security parameters, put in place to ensure security of Chinese nationals working on the CPEC-OBOR project.
Pakistan beefs up security around OBOR and Chinese nationals
This prompted Pakistan to take immediate steps towards beefing up security around the OBOR, primarily focused on the monitoring and safety of Chinese nationals.
Sources say, Pakistan is going to be deploying at least 15,000 additional troops to ensure security of Chinese nationals in Balochistan, ensuring tight monitoring and swift progress of $57 billion Chinese investment on CPEC-OBOR.
Chalking out the revised security plan, Pakistan has outlined security that includes thousands of police protection forces, monitoring of Chinese nationals and establishment of an Army division, comprising of at least 15,000 troops, engaged specifically to safeguard projects in the CPEC initiative.
The initiative will ensure security around power plants, railway tracks and road that will cross the Himalayas to connect western China with Pakistan's Arabian Sea port of Gawadar.
For this, all provinces including Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa have been taken on board with specified duties assigned for immediate implementation.
"We are already alert, but this incident has made us extra vigilant over Chinese security," said Amin Yousafzai, deputy inspector-general of police of Sindh.
Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province is in process of carrying out a census of Chinese nationals in the province and is raising a security force of about 4,200 officers to protect foreigners.
Punjab's Special Protection Unit (SPU), is also increasing the number of officers from 6,000 to 10,000. SPU officers are dedicated to safeguarding Chinese and other foreigners in the province.
"SPU chiefs hold daily meetings with the intelligence agencies and police chiefs to ensure Chinese nationals stay safe. A database has also been setup to track foreigners from their arrival, to their lodging and departure", said Raja Jahangir, Punjab's secretary for Information.
Balochistan government is reviewing and revamping the overall security arrangements of the province.
"Chinese nationals who come in a private capacity should inform the authorities about their activities" said AnwaarulHaqKakar, spokesperson for the provincial government.
Miftah Ismail, a state minister involved in CPEC planning said, "Pakistan had devoted huge resources to improving security and Chinese investors should not be put off by a one-off attack.The country's security situation has improved."
The increasing Chinese business presence in Pakistan
While the kidnapping of Chinese couple, whose killing later claimed by Islamic State is a major concern, it also highlights the fact that there is an increasing number of Chinese businessmen, who are coming to Pakistan and exploring investment opportunities in relation with the CPEC initiative.
Most of the arriving Chinese nationals stay in bigger cities like Karachi, Lahore and the capital Islamabad, but many also venture into riskier areas like Balochistan itself.
Going forward, the challenges of security will further increase as Pakistan plans on making CPEC operational during the year 2018 as remote areas of Balochistan, which constitute about 1,000 kilometers of the CPEC, will be opened to back-and-forth movement of trucks, carrying good from and to China. The area will also be then opened to foreigners, who are barred to access them currently.


No comments: