Two Chinese teachers were kidnapped on Wednesday, 24 May in the volatile Baluchistan province of Pakistan which is an important part of China’s new Silk Road to prosperity.
The couple taught Chinese language at Jinnah town in Quetta. Media reports say that armed militants dragged them out of their teaching centre into a waiting vehicle and escaped at about noon. Why they were targeted remains a mystery with no group claiming responsibility for the kidnapping. Also unclear is whether the ISIS, which has established its presence in Pakistan is involved in this targeted action to settle scores as much with Pakistan as with China.
According to Quetta Police Chief, Razza Cheema, the kidnappers also tried to take away another Chinese out outside the language centre but she managed to evade them though narrowly.
The kidnapping comes just two weeks after President Xi Jinping convened a summit with 29 heads of state and government, ¬including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Beijing to promote China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” for reviving ancient trade routes along the Silk Road.
The $46 billion China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC) is the first major project under the OBOR initiative. And Baluchistan is in the centre of the corridor with its port at Gwadar connected to Kashgar in Xinjiang province in North-Western China with rail, road and pipe lines.
The region is witnessing frequent violence by Islamic militants. Only last Friday, suspected militants had gunned down three Pakistani workers building a Chinese- funded highway in Baluchistan, just days after a similar attack on May 12 that killed 10.
Beijing heavily relies on Pakistan government for security of its personnel and China funded projects. At China’s behest, Nawaz Sharif government has raised a para-military force for protecting the Chinese. Nevertheless, in places like Quetta, which is close to the border of Afghanistan, the protection provided by Islamabad is ¬often limited, South China Morning Post reports.
In 2004, two Chinese hydro engineers were kidnapped by local militants and one was killed. In 2014, Taliban kidnapped a Chinese tourist held him as hostage for a year.
The latest kidnapping saga highlights the limitations of Islamabad’s writ, and the red lines ahead for China as it pushes ahead with CPEC, which, as Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at London’s King’s College, says is a strategic project with little economic underpinnings.
During Musharraf regime, China arm-twisted Pakistan to act against the clerics of Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad as Chinese women working in nearby beauty parlours were whisked away into the mosque’s seminary after accusing them of indulging in illicit activities. It is possible that China may exert similar pressure on Pakistan now too to secure the release of its teacher couple.
Last time around the Chinese insistence for action against Lal Masjid resulted in hastening the exit of Gen Musharraf first from the helm of army and then as President. Will China risk such an adventure again more so since it counts upon both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Army chief Gen Bajwa to push ahead with Silk Road dreams? Jury is out.