Strengthening security

April 14, 2024

Security of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan is paramount

Strengthening  security


The federal government has beefed up security for Chinese experts working in Pakistan following last month’s suicide attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shangla district.

Though no outfit has claimed responsibility for the attack, initial investigation suggests that the operation was likely carried out by militants from the Malakand division who were once part of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan under Mullah Fazlullah alias Mullah Radio. The TTP has denied responsibility. The dynamics of militancy in this region have changed since August 2021. After the withdrawal of American coalition forces from Afghanistan, a new war has started, with new objectives and agendas. After the governments and people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, the ISIS has recently targeted Russia. There have been several incidents in Pakistan where responsibility for the same incident was simultaneously claimed on social media accounts linked to the ISIS and the TTP.

After the concept of ‘lone wolf,’ now the idea of militant freelancers is emerging. In these cases, the central organisation does not claim responsibility for the attacks carried out by some of tis affiliates. However, it appears that fighters associated with the TTP or other organisations were involved in the incident. The same thing had happened following the Dasu suicide attack on Chinese engineers in July 2021. Initially, none of the militant outfits had claimed responsibility for the attack. However, subsequent investigation had uncovered evidence that Tariq alias Bitan Kharab, a former commander of Swati Taliban and a close associate of Mullah Fazlullah, had masterminded the attack. While he remains a fugitive, most of the other perpetrators of the Dasu attack are currently serving prison terms.

Once again, investigation teams have identified the main characters involved in the incident. It seems that unaffiliated/ freelancer terrorists were used in this attack. Where do they come from?

In 1990, Kunar-based Sheikh Jameel-ur Rehman had founded the Islamic State. In 1994, three years after his murder in Bajaur, his close associate Maulana Sufi Muhammad launched a movement in Malakand. It was called Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi. The TNSM had forced the closure of the Karakoram Highway near Shangla. The organisation had also established training centres in Darail Tangir areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. With the support of this organisation, Mullah Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, had founded the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan-Malakand after the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad. He had orchestrated suicide attacks across the country and was also behind the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in 2008. In 2009, a military operation in Swat and Malakand had forced Fazlullah and his fighters to flee to Afghanistan’s Kunar province where he was later killed.

Strengthening  security

According to a CTD report sent to the federal government, the Shangla incident is similar to the 2023 attack. So far, 10 terrorists and facilitators involved in the attack have been arrested. The arrests have been made using mobile phone data of the suicide bomber.

Some of Fazlullah’s associates are still operating sleeper cells in Pakistan from Kunar. Their influence has been increasing recently. It should be noted that before the arrival of the Taliban, the Afghan province of Kunar was considered a stronghold of the ISIS. The Afghan Taliban had conducted an operation to clear out the area. The Afghan Taliban still consider the bISIS a serious threat. This has forced Afghan Taliban’s intelligence department, the General Directorate of Intelligence, to establish a separate cell to counter the ISIS.

Following the Shangla attack, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Counter Terrorism Department sent an inquiry report to the federal government. It said, “So far, more than 10 terrorists and facilitators involved in the attack have been arrested. The arrests have been made using mobile phone data of the suicide bomber.” The CTD said that the terrorist commander who brought the suicide bomber to Pakistan from Afghanistan had been arrested. It said the investigation had shown that the explosive-laden vehicle used in the attack was prepared in Afghanistan and brought to Dera Ismail Khan’s Darazinda area via Chaman border crossing.

From there, the vehicle was taken to Chakdara in Lower Dir. For this the driver was paid Rs 250,000. Security forces have arrested the facilitator who organized transport from Chaman to Chakdara. The car used in 2023 for the suicide attack against the Chinese had been bought from Chakdara. Investigators say the car remained at a commercial parking lot for 10 days prior to the attack. “The mastermind of the Shangla attack is Hazrat Bilal, also wanted for his role in the Dasu attack,” security sources say. “With two accomplices of the suicide bomber already in custody, the CTD expects to arrest Bilal as well.”

Strengthening  security

The report says that the vehicle transporting Chinese nationals lacked both bulletproof and bomb-resistant features. “The targeted bus, part of a convoy, was approximately 15 feet away from another bus. It plunged into a 300-feet-deep ditch after the explosion triggered by the suicide bomber’s vehicle on the Karakoram Highway. Other buses in the convoy were equipped with closed-circuit television cameras. The Besham police station is situated approximately six kilometers from the site of the attack. The Dasu Dam site is about 77 kilometers away,” the report says.

On April 5, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered disciplinary action against five senior police officials. The PM also said that he would personally review the security situation, particularly the security of Chinese citizens working on development projects in Pakistan. After chairing a meeting in Islamabad, the PM directed the security agencies to ensure foolproof security arrangements for Chinese nationals working on various projects. “We will continue the war against the spectre of terrorism until it is eradicated from the country,” he said.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer. He also works for the digital media platform The Khorasan Diary

Strengthening security