China, Pakistan confirm terrorist attack; who is the most likely perpetrator?
Published: Jul 16, 2021 11:27 PM
Pakistani soldiers guard as stranded people gather near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing following fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban in Pakistan on Friday. Photo: AP

Pakistani soldiers guard as stranded people gather near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing following fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban in Pakistan on Friday. Photo: AP

The shuttle bus blast in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan which killed nine Chinese and four Pakistanis was confirmed to be a terrorist attack, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to justice in a phone call with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday, marking the first time for both sides to confirm the blast as a terror attack after it happened two days ago.  

Experts on security and counter-terrorism work said Balochistan terrorists and the Pakistani Taliban were possible sponsors of the attack. But since no group has claimed responsibility, it is possible that forces from a third country may be involved.

Khan as head of the Pakistani government called Chinese Premier Li on the incident, which showed the mutual trust of the two countries and also Pakistan's giving importance to the incident, hoping to get China's support and understanding.

When inviting Li for the phone call on behalf of the Pakistan government and people, Khan expressed his sincere condolences to the Chinese government and families of the victims in the terrorist attack that had caused great casualties to Chinese personnel. He also reported the progress of the current investigation and follow-up work. 

Premier Li stressed the Chinese government pays high attention to the security of Chinese citizens and organizations overseas. The current urgent work is to rescue injured people to decrease casualties and the remedial work.  

The bus was attacked in northern Pakistan on Wednesday morning on its way to the China-invested Dasu hydropower project. After the incident, there were some "twists-and-turns" on whether it was a terror attack.

Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that Balochistan terrorists and the Pakistani Taliban were possible sponsors of the bomb attack. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is the most restless region in Pakistan, as it borders Afghanistan and is home to the Pakistani Taliban. Although it is not certain whether it was the Pakistani Taliban who committed the attack, it fitted their modus operandi.

Qian said the Pakistani Taliban gained notoriety by attacking the Pakistani government, civilians and army. In recent years, the terrorist group has targeted Chinese projects in the country, and launched attacks on Chinese tourists, as well as businesspeople, as they know that Pakistan attaches great importance to China-Pakistan ties, and they aim to use such attacks to sabotage bilateral relations, said Qian.

The Pakistani Taliban's activities had been subdued during the Pakistani government's continuous efforts against terrorism, yet they have been on the rise recently in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Qian pointed out.

The incident happened in Kohistan region in northern Pakistan, near Kashmir. Due the high mountains and precipitous paths, terrorist organizations scattered in the region are hard to crack down. The Pakistani government also has weak control in the province with the Pakistani Taliban based here and using their own legal systems to control the region. The Dasu Hydropower Project is located in the Kohistan region and with the security department's protection, the situation is under control. But to get into the place, people need to pass mountainous areas, with safety not ensured. 

Wang Shida, deputy director of the South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania Research Institute of Contemporary International Relations Research Academy of China, pointed out that while the security situation in Pakistan has been improving and the number of violent attacks have been decreasing, there has been an increasing trend of attacks against Chinese targets in the past two years. 

This is mainly due to the smooth progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Wang explained. Some people inside and outside Pakistan do not want to see this and always attempt to create vicious incidents to delay the progress, Wang said.

The "East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)" terrorists who flee from Afghanistan to Pakistan may also conduct the terror attacks targeting Chinese, Cao Wei, an expert on security studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times.

Cao noted that the Afghanistan Taliban, who used to provide shelter for the ETIM terrorists scattered in the country, is working to improve ties with neighboring countries, especially China, for preparation of domestic political change. With their living room being squeezed in Afghanistan, some ETIM terrorists may flee to join in the Pakistani Taliban.

Qian pointed out that since there is no terrorist group come to claim the responsibility, it is possible the attack was committed by a third-party force - intelligence agency from a third country. Evidence has been seized on a third-country trying to mess up with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

There are some "twist-and-turns" on whether the blast is a terror attack with some media speculating on disputes between China and Pakistan. Hours after the incident, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan issued a statement, referring to the accident as an "attack." Then the Pakistani foreign ministry issued a statement, calling the incident an accident caused by a mechanical failure. Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry, Pakistan's federal minister for information and broadcasting, tweeted on Thursday night that terrorism could not be ruled out

Cao said that these twists and turns would not hurt bilateral ties as some Western countries expected. It takes time to confirm whether it is terror attacks. Pakistani prime minister offered to have the phone call to report to Premier Li on the blast, which showed their sincerity and the high-level interaction as well as mutual trust.

Qian noted that the incident may affect some Chinese companies' confidence in investing in Pakistan, which needs Pakistan to make more efforts in protecting Chinese and Chinese companies.

On the phone call on Friday, Li and Khan also stressed the solid ties between the two countries.  Li also noted that there are complicated and deep changes in the global and regional situations. China attaches high attention to China-Pakistan relations and is willing to enhance strategic communications and coordination, deepen practical cooperation, safeguard regional peace and security and bring benefits to both peoples.