ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — China will send investigators to Pakistan, Beijing said Thursday, after an explosion this week claimed the lives of Chinese citizens in Pakistan the biggest loss in recent years.
China described the explosion as an attack when it happened on Wednesday, killing at least nine of its citizens as well as four Pakistanis. But Islamabad had said it was the result of an accidental natural gas leak, a claim he started to come back to on Thursday.
At China’s request, the two countries canceled an important meeting scheduled for Friday that had been called to consider new Chinese projects to be carried out in Pakistan, Pakistani officials said.
The vehicle was carrying Chinese workers to a dam construction site in the northern mountains when it was forcefully blasted off the road, falling into the ravine below.
The dispatch of Chinese officials to investigate the incident shows Beijing’s level of concern and doubts over Pakistan’s initial claim that the blast was an accident and not a terrorist attack, experts said.
China’s investment in Pakistan is part of its flagship Belt and Road initiative to build infrastructure around the world. As in other countries, Beijing relies on local security forces for its protection. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers and police guard the Chinese presence, which is spread across the country. Pakistan also hopes to attract the Chinese private sector to establish factories in the country in the future.
“The Chinese have a lot to do with Pakistan, and they need to know what they are dealing with, especially since they fear the fallout from Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, director of analytical development at Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a think tank. in Washington.
Pakistani Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said initial investigations into the incident have now confirmed traces of explosives.
“Terrorism cannot be ruled out,” Hussain said on Twitter. “The government is in close coordination with the Chinese Embassy, we are committed to fighting together against the threat of terrorism. “
Pakistani officials said privately on Wednesday that the bus was bombed. An official said the bomb was planted on the vehicle, suggesting that internal help would have been needed, a possibility of particular concern to the Chinese.
There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the explosion. The threat in Pakistan comes from separatist insurgents in the western province of Balochistan, who say China is exploiting resources in their regions, and jihadist groups who seek to destabilize and harm Pakistan.
Insurgents have repeatedly hit Chinese projects and citizens in Pakistan in recent years. Most of the attacks on Chinese interests in recent years have been carried out by Baloch groups.
But this week’s attack came across the country, where Baloch groups were previously not known to operate, prompting experts to suggest jihadist groups seemed more likely to be. the authors. The scale of the losses suffered this week is also far greater than previous incidents. China has not announced that it is sending its own team to investigate these other attacks.
“If it is a terrorist attack, the criminals must be immediately arrested and severely punished,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Pakistani counterpart on Wednesday at a regional conference in Tajikistan, according to the report. a statement from Beijing. “Lessons should be learned from the incident, and security measures for Sino-Pakistani cooperation projects should be further strengthened to ensure the smooth operation and safety of all projects. “
Mr Bokhari, the think tank’s director, said the growing chaos in Afghanistan that followed the departure of most US troops is a concern for Beijing, which is seeking to invest in countries surrounding Afghanistan, from Pakistan to Iran, passing through the republics of Asia.
Islamabad says that insurgents organizing attacks in Pakistan have taken refuge in Afghanistan.
China will send an inter-ministerial team to Pakistan to help investigate the attack, Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday. He said they should “quickly find out what happened, conduct a thorough security risk assessment and do everything possible to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel.”
—Qianwei Zhang contributed to this article.
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