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After Xi Jinping’s ‘snub’ in Astana, Pakistan scrambles to please China

NEW DELHI: Following what appeared to be a pointed snub by China’s President Xi Jinping+ , over the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan, Islamabad is in damage control mode and pulling out all the stops to mollify its ‘all-weather friend’.

Xi last week skipped a customary meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit held in Astana, Kazakhstan. Just days before the summit, two Chinese nationals were kidnapped in restive Balochistan; the Islamic State later claimed it killed them.

China has deployed hundreds of its workers to Pakistan for projects related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The project connects Balochistan’s Gwadar port with China’s Xinjiang through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Even though China said last week that the murders of the Chinese nationals were not connected to the $50 billion CPEC, the fact that its President met with several other of the region’s leaders in Astana and not with Pakistan’s Sharif, raised a lot of eyebrows.

After the seeming snub in Astana, the government in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government said it has raised a special, dedicated, 4,200-strong force for the security of foreigners, reported The News International.

In addition, Pakistani officials told Reuters about extensive plans to boost security arrangements across the country and specifically in restive Balochistan, from where  the two Chinese nationals were abducted. Baloch nationalists are opposed to CPEC.

Pakistan already has a 15,000-strong army division set up specifically to safeguard CPEC projects. But now, huge ‘protection forces’ – comprising over a thousand people – will bolster the 15,000-strong army division, Reuters said.

As well, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has decided to collect details on all Chinese nationals working in the province so security could be provided to them, The News reported

 “We held a meeting with the chief minister and decided to collect the data of Chinese nationals working in our province. The KP government has signed several agreements with the Chinese government and many Chinese have arrived here. We need to think about their security,” said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home and Tribal Affairs Secretary Siraj Ahmad Khan, to The News.

“This special force equipped with brand new vehicles and sophisticated arms will provide them foolproof security,” he said.

 Pakistani officials also told Reuters that Sindh is raising a protection unit of about 2,600 police officers to help safeguard 4,000 Chinese working  on CPEC projects, and another 1,000 working in other businesses.

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