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March of ‘terror’: Pakistan grapples with deadly attacks on China interests

Attacks on strategic facilities linked to China surge, as the killings of Chinese nationals test Pakistan’s new government.

Islamabad, Pakistan: In the 10 days between March 16 and March 26, Pakistan witnessed five different attacks, three in its northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and two in its southwestern Balochistan province, resulting in the deaths of at least 18 people.

All five attacks were suicide bombings, in which at least 12 military personnel, five Chinese nationals and one Pakistani citizen died.

While the country has experienced a dramatic surge in violence during the last year, the latest series of attacks, their targets, and the audacity with which they were carried out could signal a new chapter in Pakistan’s fight against armed groups, say analysts.

The last three attacks, coming so quickly in succession, appear to target Chinese interests in Pakistan. First, armed fighters attacked Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan, which was built with Chinese help. Then, an armed group attacked one of Pakistan’s largest naval bases, also in Balochistan, citing Chinese investment in the region as their motivation. And finally, fighters targeted Chinese engineers working on a Chinese-funded hydropower project in the country’s north, near Besham city.

That pattern has prompted concerns within Pakistan’s security establishment, which believes that attacks on the Chinese in Pakistan is part of a “larger plan” to hurt the economic interests of the country, as well as sabotage ties between the countries, said Iftikhar Firdous, a security analyst and researcher on armed groups.

China is one of Pakistan’s closest allies and has invested $62bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an infrastructure