China presses Pakistan, says “must bring terror attackers to justice”

China on Friday (July 16) demanded that Pakistan bring the masterminds of this week’s “terrorist attack” in the neighboring country to justice. The attack left at least nine Chinese workers and three of their Pakistani colleagues dead.

Premier Li Keqiang raised the matter during a phone conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to Chinese official media. Li stressed the need for Pakistan to “use all necessary means” to investigate the incident and hold the perpetrators accountable.

In a statement, Imran Khan’s office said he assured Li that his government would spare no effort to fully investigate the incident. “No hostile force will be allowed to harm the fraternal relations between Pakistan and China,” he added in the statement.

The suspected suicide attack on Wednesday was the deadliest in recent years for Chinese nationals in Pakistan. The attack targeted a convoy of two buses that was transporting Chinese and Pakistani workers to the site of the Dasu hydroelectric project, which is being built with Chinese funding. The project, which is currently under construction, is located in Pakistan’s Kohistan district.

Chinese officials quickly blamed the deadly incident on an “explosion.

“China expresses its shock and condemnation of the bomb attack in Pakistan’s Cape Province. We express our condolences to the Chinese and Pakistani personnel who died in the attack, and express our sympathy to their families and those injured,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing hours after the attack.

Pakistani officials initially described the incident as an accident, saying a “mechanical failure” triggered an explosion that caused one of the commuter buses to plunge into a ravine.

However, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chowdhury said Thursday that traces of explosives were found at the scene and that “it cannot be ruled out that this incident was a terrorist attack.”

The inconsistent judgment was caused by the fact that previous autopsies on the victims did not find any explosives-related marks or wounds, Voice of America has learned.

Pakistani investigators later recovered a car and the body parts of the suspected driver of that car, suggesting it was a suicide car bombing, the sources said.

The bomber tried to ram his explosives-laden car into the first bus, but the ensuing explosion did not go off at maximum intensity due to a technical glitch, shattering windows but causing no harm to passengers.

The explosion, however, prompted the driver of the second bus to make a sharp turn to avoid a collision, causing the bus to plunge into the canyon. That led to all the casualties in the accident, the sources said.

This is not the first time Chinese citizens have been attacked in Pakistan.

Beijing and Islamabad have traditionally been close allies. In recent years, China has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan to build roads, communications networks, ports and power plants under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

The bilateral cooperation, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has brought more than $25 billion in Chinese investment to Pakistan over the past six years, as well as thousands of Chinese workers and engineers working on the massive project.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

Pakistani officials often suspect separatists are operating in the southwestern province of Balochistan, the heart of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. The separatists often claim responsibility for planning attacks against the Chinese.

Islamabad accuses its rival India of funding Baloch militants to subvert its deepening economic partnership with Beijing, but New Delhi denies the charge.

Pakistan has deployed tens of thousands of regular and paramilitary troops to protect China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects and the Chinese nationals working on them.

Officials also suspect the attack may have been carried out by the banned Islamic “Pakistani Taliban” militant group.

“The current international and regional situation is complicated and profoundly changing,” Li told Imran Khan. “China attaches great importance to China-Pakistan relations, we are all-weather strategic partners, and we are willing to strengthen strategic communication and coordination with the Pakistani side, deepen practical cooperation, maintain regional peace and security and better benefit the people of both countries.”

Pakistani officials said the Dasu Dam project, which was attacked Wednesday, is not part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, but Chinese nationals live and work in facilities that are guarded in the area.

Local media reported Friday that this latest attack on Chinese nationals prompted Beijing to abruptly postpone a long-awaited meeting with Islamabad to review the progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project and related issues facing Chinese companies in Pakistan.

The meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Joint Cooperation Committee, which aims to speed up work on the project, had been scheduled for Friday after a gap of nearly two years.

“The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Joint Cooperation Committee meeting, originally scheduled for July 16, 2021, has been postponed to a date after Eid al-Fitr,” Asim Salim Bajwa, chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority, tweeted Thursday.