Islamabad: China has put pressure on Islamabad in various ways, to ensure the safety and security of its citizens living and working in Pakistan on CPEC-related projects.

More recently, China has told Pakistan that it wants its own Private Security Company (PSC) to protect its citizens and assets, in Pakistan after the targeted killing of Chinese language teachers at the University of Karachi, reported The HK Post.

China has been consistently asking Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa and PM Shehbaz Sharif to tighten the screws to ensure the safety and security of Chinese nationals and projects in Pakistan.

That CPEC security remains a priority for China is evident, but its latest request is also a sign of the spreading tentacles of Chinese PSCs overseas, which act as extensions of the Chinese state.

Nikkei Asia reports (28 June 2022) that the Shahbaz Sharif government has turned down a Chinese request for its PSCs to operate on Pakistani soil, but it is likely that China will continue pushing for such an arrangement.

When the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) began in 2015, the primary concern was security. This remains an issue even today, almost a decade after China initiated CPEC, as the flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative, reported The HK Post.

In early June, China’s Ministry of State Security had reportedly asked the Pakistani government to allow a Chinese PSC to operate inside the country.

The Interior Ministry, however, objected and offered assurances that Pakistan’s security forces would protect Chinese nationals and assets.

Pakistan Army has a Special Security Division (SSD, raised in 2016) whose sole task is to protect CPEC assets. There are two SSDs — the 34 and 44 Light Infantry Divisions — with 15,000 troops each. While the 34 Light Infantry Division was created in September 2016, the 44 Light Infantry Division was developed in 2020.

A private security consulting firm official in Pakistan working with the Chinese told Nikkei Asia that the killing of ten Chinese nationals last year in an attack on a bus in Dasu and this year’s attack on Chinese instructors at the Confucius Institute in Karachi led to China asking Pakistan to allow operations of Chinese PSCs.

In the aftermath of the Dasu killings and the TTP’s increasing influence in Pakistan, Chinese workers had reportedly started arming to protect themselves, while carrying out maintenance works, reported The HK Post.

Ahsan Iqbal, then Pakistan’s Planning Minister had told the local media in 2016 that tension could arise between Chinese security companies and the local population.

There is no doubt that resentment against China will increase if Chinese security companies are allowed to guard Chinese interests in Pakistan, reported The HK Post.

This is especially true in Baluchistan, where anti-Chinese sentiment is already very high. Baloch insurgents see China as agents of colonization of Baluchistan and primary exploiters of the province’s natural resources in the name of the CPEC.

The basic Chinese idea is to replicate the model of using private security agencies, already active in Africa and Central Asia, in Pakistan.

Moreover, the very notion that China wants to bring in its own security to protect CPEC leads to the conclusion that it has completely lost trust in Pakistan’s capacity to protect its interests.

Also, the anti-China sentiment in Pakistan is quite high. The Chinese strategy of land grab and providing employment to its own people at the cost of the local population has created new set of challenges.

The instance of Gwadar fishermen protesting the presence of Chinese trawlers and marching with the slogan “Gwadar ko hak do” towards the end of last year.

Pakistan may well manage to avoid, at least for now, an invitation to Chinese PSCs to operate on their soil. In the long run, however, circumstances may well force Islamabad to change its stance, reported The HK Post.

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