The terrorist attack at a hotel in Gwadar, the Balochistan port city in which China is invested heavily, is sure to have sent tremors in both Pakistan and China. The Gwadar port is a flagship project of the US $62 billion-China Pakistan Economic Corridor. The hotel is where Chinese visitors and Pakistani officials stay on a regular basis. Five people were killed in the attack, including one Pakistan Navy seaman, a hotel employee and three security guards. Reports point to three or four terrorists gaining entry into the hotel all too easily on May 11, Saturday, and keeping up gunfire and rocket attacks into the early hours of Sunday, until the assailants were themselves killed.
This is the second attack in Gwadar within a month. On April 18, gunmen pulled out 14 passengers from a bus on a highway in the district, and shot them dead. Eleven of them were security personnel. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army. Last November, the BLA also claimed an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, in which four people were killed. If there was any doubt that the BLA is targeting Pakistani-Chinese interests in the region with a new determination, after the hotel attack, a video claiming to be from the group’s “official media chanel” accused China of exploiting the Baloch people for its own “evil designs” in the name of the CPEC, and said the “Majeed Group” of the BLA would not allow this to continue.
Questions are being asked in Pakistan about how such a major breach occurred at Gwadar, where the Pakistan security establishment goes all out to guard Chinese interests. What the attack has highlighted once again are long-held grievances among the Baloch which the flurry of infrastructure development in Gwadar, financed by China’s deep pockets, has done nothing to allay. Balochistan remains the least developed of Pakistan’s provinces even though it is the richest in terms of its natural resources. In recent years, the heavy hand of the Pakistan Army in dealing with the restiveness in the province has led to more alienation. In this period, Islamist extremist groups have set up camp in the province, unleashing sectarian violence and adding to its volatility. Pakistan alleges the BLA is an Indian proxy, but has not provided any evidence to back the claim. Many of Pakistan’s systemic problems are blamed routinely on India by the country’s security establishment. This can only delay or prevent Pakistan from addressing the causes of its Balochistan problem.