A day after Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed “deep concern over the attacks on its citizens in Pakistan”, Sindh Police arrested a suspected terrorist in Karachi Thursday. The suspect, identified as Afzal Lund, alias Aafi, had allegedly planned to kill a Chinese doctor in Hyderabad, according to a news report in Dawn. The arrest came in the backdrop of Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent two-day visit to Beijing.
The safety of Chinese nationals and investments in Pakistan was one of the issues on the agenda of the prime minister. At least four Chinese nationals have been killed in targeted attacks in Karachi this year. And it’s not gone down well in Beijing.
Xi sought a “reliable and safe environment” during his talks with Sharif. There’s a lot riding on the safety of Chinese nationals in Pakistan and the projects backed by Beijing, including a $10 billion rail project.
A string of attacks
Aafi was arrested by the Counter Terrorism Department of the Sindh Police. According to reports, he had completed the recce mission in Hyderabad but was arrested before he could carry out the attack.
He is also associated with an attack on three Chinese nationals in Karachi in September. In the same month, a man, posing as a patient, had opened fire on a dental clinic in Karachi, leaving two Chinese citizens injured and one dead.
It wasn’t the first targeted attack in Pakistan to send alarm bells ringing in both countries. In April 2022, three Chinese teachers were killed in a suicide attack outside the Confucius Institute at University of Karachi. According to reports, the attack by a highly educated female suicide bomber aimed to undermine a $65 billon-project involving roads, railways, and ports in Pakistan.
CCTV footage of the attack showed a woman detonating herself outside the entrance of the institute when a van carrying staff members reached the area. The banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility for the attack. They also released a video warning China to leave Pakistan.
In 2020, a suicide bomber attacked a luxury hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador in Quetta. While the ambassador was unharmed, four people were killed. In July 2020, 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, were killed when the bus they were travelling in was hit by a bomb.
Stakes are high
The attacks can have large repercussions. The targeting of nationals from Pakistan’s most important partner is threatening a relationship that Islamabad depends on for its financial survival. According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan owes nearly $30 billion —or 23 per cent of its total external debt—to China.
China-Pakistan relations extend to loans, post-flood recovery and Xi’s investment in energy and economic projects in Pakistan as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).