Pakistan deploys force of 15,000 to protect Chinese nationals

Move follows abduction and likely murder of couple in Quetta, and amid heavy investment in China Pakistan Economic Corridor

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 11:28pm

Pakistan has deployed a 15,000-strong military force to protect Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure projects in the country, the president said on Sunday, after the abduction of a Chinese couple raised safety concerns.

President Mamnoon Hussain told visiting Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Islamabad that the protection of Chinese citizens working in Pakistan was the “top priority” of the government, according to a statement issued by the presidency.

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Beijing is investing about US$50 billion in its South Asian neighbour as part of a plan unveiled in 2015 to link its far-western Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Balochistan with a series of infrastructure, power and transport upgrades.

But fears over safety arose last month when two Chinese workers were abducted in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, which is at the heart of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project but racked by separatist and Islamist insurgencies.

Authorities were going to all possible efforts to arrest those responsible for the kidnapping, Hussain said.

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China has said it would cooperate with Pakistani authorities to investigate whether the couple – who were allegedly killed by the Islamic State group in the country – had been illegally preaching.

So far there has been no official confirmation of the pair’s fate.

Pakistan has been battling Islamist and nationalist insurgencies in mineral-rich Balochistan since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed in the fighting.

Islamic State has been making inroads in the country through alliances with local militant outfits, although its presence is generally downplayed by the government.