It has been indeed for many years since China launched its onslaught into the free-market economy and now Beijing can easily boast about its aggressive rise as a superpower and probably outmatching the United States. Therefore, the Chinese leaders sought to maintain their distinctive niche in the international arena by mounting ambitious projects and set of steady investments in rather poor countries like Pakistan. At the core of the Chinese Communist Party’s hegemonic agenda lays the massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); which relentlessly pursues reinvigorating the ancient Silk Road. Delivering a state speech in 2013 at Nazarbayev University in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, President Xi Jinping promulgated the commencement of the gigantic BRI; Hence sending a strong tremor through the Western block.
The BRI aims to finance directly in infrastructure projects, such as building railways, highways, bridges and ports…etc., within the Chinese territories and abroad, as far as Africa. BRI incorporates two major strategies: a colossal trans-continental land corridor which connects China with South-East Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Russia and ultimately Europe (Belt); whereas (Road) refers to the sea routes, or better to say “the 21st century maritime Silk Road. Among the BRI’s key projects, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) can be considered as the centrepiece of China’s determined efforts to defeat U.S. in the New Great Game. On 20 April 2015, Islamabad and Beijing formally signed an agreement, starting the work on the $46 billion deal.
The 3,000-km-long CPEC has been consisted of a complex network of superhighways, railroads, gas and oil pipelines and optical cables, connecting China’s Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, thus circumventing Malacca Strait, Beijing’s perpetual geostrophic vulnerability. According to many experts, China can gain two substantial benefits from CPEC; not only obtaining access into the Middle East’s lucrative markets but also promising a safe and easy flow of crude oil. In return for its share, impoverished Pakistan tries to reap the benefits of the bilateral cooperation with its strong northern neighbour. According to the Pakistani Planning and Management Commission, CPEC would create thousands of jobs for the Pakistani labour force. In addition, The Chinese government and private companies sector have promised Islamabad to invest $20 billion in energy sectors and over $30 billion in other aspects.
Linking Xinjiang to Gwadar through vast swathes of barren lands and the snow-capped Himalayas, CPEC branches out into three separate channels in Islamabad. Each corridor leads through Pakistan’s vital cities such as Lahore, Punjab, Peshawar, Quetta, Sind, Karachi and finally ending their journey in Gwadar Port, located in the southern province of Baluchistan.
But to the chagrin of China’s communist state, CPEC couldn’t escape unscathed from the notorious activities of Baloch extremist and separatist movements. As a matter of fact, Baloch militias attacked vehemently Chinese personnel and installations in the restless Balochistan province in order to grind to a halt CPEC, Beijing’s megaproject. One can deem the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as the CPEC’s “number one enemy”. BLA has waged a bloody campaign against the central government in Islamabad to achieve independence for Baluchistan. Although BLA officially appeared into the stage in 2000, a number of security analysts believe that BLA is the natural continuation of Balochi insurgency, back in the 1970s.
There are myriad of intelligence reports regarding the founder of BLA, though BLA’s anonymous leader remains a shadow figure until this very day. In a video clip released by BLA, speaking in vernacular and broken Balochi language, one of the militants addresses the Chinese government, saying: “We sacrifice our lives…(Mjeed Brigade) has founded BLA…Pakistani regime is an accomplice in China’s atrocities.” It is purported that BLA terrorists owe allegiance to an anonymous warlord nicknamed “Mjeed Brigade”.
It has been reported that till 2007, BLA was led by the so-called “Mari Baloch” but since his assassination in the same year, his brother “Harbyar Mari” took his position. In other video footages, one BLA terrorist called “Aslam Baloch” took responsibility for commanding BLA squads attacking Chinese consulate in Karachi. Aslam has been allegedly killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan’s Qandahar province in 2018.
Regarding Chinese plans in Gawadar, BLA believes CPEC doesn’t serve the indigenous Balochi population, rather blaming Chinese for the plunder of Balochistan’s natural resources and annihilating its people and culture. Concurrently, BLA attempted to oppose the central government in a double-edged strategy:
1- Conducting deadly attacks against Chinese targets. In a brief video clip, one of BLA members took responsibly for the so-called “Zir Pahazag” operation, adding that BLA has established a special unit for targeting Chinese interests in Balochistan. In the same line, BLA carried out an ambush, targeting a 22-person Chinese convoy in Karachi, killing and injuring a number of Chinese engineers and workers. Earlier in 2017, BLA assume responsibility for staging a surprise attack in Gawadar, killing ten Chinese workers and injuring two. In the same direction, in 23rd November 2018, BLA spokesperson announced his organization was responsible for raiding Chinese diplomatic office.
2- In its crusade against China and by adopting a nationalist discourse, BLA tries to use efficiently social media platforms to reach the maximum audience inside and outside Pakistan. Apparently, by conjuring Balochistan’s historic past, reviving the Balochi heroic figures who fought against British colonialists in the 19th century and inciting Balochistanis’ sense of family dignity and status, BLA, as a small player in the New Great Game, is determined to deracinate China from southern Pakistan.