Islamabad: China has been quietly holding talks with Baloch militants in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province for over five years to protect its $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, according to a media report.
The 3,000-km-long CPEC is aimed at connecting China and Pakistan with rail, road, pipelines and optical cable fiber network. It connects China’s Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, providing access to China to the Arabian Sea.
The project, when completed, would enable China to pump its oil supplies from the Middle East through pipelines to Xinjiang cutting considerable distance for Chinese ships to travel to China.
“China had been in direct contact with militants in the south-western province, where many of the scheme’s most important projects are located," three officials were quoted as saying by the Financial Times.
For more than half a century, Beijing has maintained a policy of non-interference in the domestic politics of other countries. But that has been tested by its desire to protect the billions of dollars it is investing around the world under its Belt and Road Initiative to create a ‘new Silk road’ of trade routes in Europe, Asia and Africa.
“China’s willingness to get involved in Pakistani politics has fuelled concerns in New Delhi, which is worried about China’s growing political influence in neighbouring countries, including Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka," the report said.
As it seeks to boost the Chinese economy, China’s plans for a new Silk Road has pitched China into some of the world’s most complex conflict zones, the report said.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), over which India has conveyed its protests to China.
Pakistan, which is set to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the infrastructure initiative, is one of the riskiest parts of the world in which to do business.
Last year, 10 local workers were killed by unidentified gunmen while working near Gwadar port, the linchpin of the economic corridor.
Pakistani officials have welcomed the talks between Baluch rebels and Chinese envoys, even if they do not know the details of what has been discussed.
“Ultimately, if there’s peace in Baluchistan, that will benefit both of us," the paper quoted a Pakistani official as saying.
Another said the recent decision by the US to suspend security assistance to Pakistan had convinced many in Islamabad that China was a more genuine partner. One provincial tribal leader who was not identified in the report said many young men had been persuaded to lay down their weapons by the promise of financial benefits. “Today, young men are not getting attracted to join the insurgents as they did some 10 years ago," he said. “Many people see prosperity" as a result of the China-Pakistan corridor, he said.