The Islamic State militant group has claimed the killing of two Chinese nationals, a boy and a girl, after kidnapping them from Quetta on May 24. Announced through Amaq, the militants’ official news agency, the murders raise significant questions about the security situation in restive Balochistan and its neighboring regions.
According to Afghan commentators, I.S. in South Asia is primarily based in two districts of Afghanistan as compared to the Taliban, who now control nearly half of the country. The militants have been making inroads into Balochistan province, which has been a ‘no-go’ area for non-Baloch for decades, and has lately become a playground for global and regional forces opposed to Pakistan. I.S.’s recruitment in Pakistan has tended to focus on forming alliances with established militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Using these links, I.S. has claimed several brutal attacks across Pakistan, even as Islamabad downplays or remains uncertain about its penetration into the country. The militants primarily target the Shia minority and so-called secularists, and reportedly use money and ideology to attract Pakistani recruits.
The killing of the two Chinese nationals appears linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project and should provoke alarm as its $54 billion program includes an unprecedented infrastructure spread in Balochistan. Why were the two teachers allowed to refuse guards while going out for a cup of a tea in Quetta? Given that the Balochistan capital has been a killing field for a variety of terror groups for years, it is even harder to justify how such a security lapse was allowed to occur. Not helping matters is the likely funding of extremist forces by Pakistan’s enemies who are out to defeat Islamabad’s strategic partnership with Beijing. An Indian spy in Pakistan’s custody has allegedly confessed to India hiring terrorists to destabilize Pakistan.
Unfortunately, economically neglected Balochistan has also been subject to a local Baloch insurgency since 1947. Pakistan has been unable to disarm the rebellion through economic development. Perennial political instability coupled with politicians devoted to toppling elected governments has not helped. Nor has a weak writ of the state, which allows offended neighboring states to intervene. Chinese projects in Balochistan have always been under attack; the recent killing of 10 laborers in Gwadar was a signal that Pakistan shouldn’t have ignored.