At least 12 people, including nine Chinese, were killed Wednesday in the explosion of a bus that poured into a ravine in northwest Pakistan, Beijing denouncing an attack while Islamabad spoke of a mechanical incident .
The vehicle was carrying around 40 Chinese engineers, surveyors and mechanical maintenance personnel working on the construction of the Dasu hydroelectric dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Attack or accident?
China and Pakistan, two close allies, have separately reported that 12 people including nine Chinese nationals were killed in the explosion at around 7 a.m. local time (4 a.m. KST) in the Kohistan district, but strongly differ on their interpretation. events.
Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement that the bus "plunged into a ravine after a mechanical incident, which resulted in a gas leak that caused the explosion."
He stressed that an investigation had been opened.
In Beijing, a spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Zhao Lijian, condemned an "attack". He urged Pakistan to "severely punish" its perpetrators and "seriously protect" the security of the Chinese in the country. The Chinese Embassy in Pakistan also referred to an "attack" and called on all Chinese companies in the country to strengthen their security measures. A senior local administrative official, Arif Khan Yousafzai, said 28 Chinese were also injured. They were transported to military hospitals.
The safety of Chinese employees working on various infrastructure projects in Pakistan, such as the Dasu Dam on the Indus River, whose construction began in 2017 and was expected to take five years, has long been a concern for Beijing, which has invested billions of dollars in recent years in this country.
In April, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack on a luxury hotel in Quetta (west), capital of Balochistan province, where the Chinese ambassador was staying, who had not been injured.
Several attacks against Chinese nationals
The TTP has also recently claimed responsibility for several smaller attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, in the north-west of the country, on the border with Afghanistan, but also in a few cities, including the capital Islamabad. The Chinese-funded projects have often created strong resentment in Pakistan, especially among separatist groups, who feel that the local population does not benefit from them, with most of the jobs going to Chinese labor.
In May 2019, the luxury hotel overlooking the deep-water port of Gwadar, a flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing was to spend more than $ 50 billion (€ 42 billion), had been attacked, killing at least eight people. Six months earlier, an assault on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and economic and financial capital, claimed the lives of at least four people. And in June 2020, the Karachi Stock Exchange, partly owned by Chinese companies, was targeted (at least 4 dead).
These attacks were claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which justified itself by invoking the stranglehold on local resources by Islamabad and China.
In the early 2010s, the TTP carried out several deadly attacks in major Pakistani cities, from its stronghold in the tribal areas, where it housed other jihadist groups, including Al-Qaeda.
But a large military operation launched in 2014 destroyed the TTP's command structure, which, until recently, had resulted in a marked improvement in the security situation throughout the country.
There are signs, however, that the Pakistani Taliban have regrouped in recent months on the border with Afghanistan, where they frequently claim armed clashes with Pakistani security forces.
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