China has been secretly holding talks with Baloch militants in Pakistan for more than five years to secure protection for its $60 billion worth China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), reported British newspaper Financial Times (FT) on Monday.
Three people with knowledge of the talks told FT that Beijing had been in direct contact with militants in Balochistan, the restive province where several key CPEC projects are located.
“The Chinese have softly made a lot of progress,” a Pakistani official was quoted as saying by FT.
If true, it would explain an inquisitive statement by China’s envoy to Pakistan earlier this month. Yao Jing affirmed without proof or explanation that Baloch militant organisations are no longer a threat to CPEC.
Activists in Balochistan cite China and Pakistan are aiming to change the demography of Balochistan. They also allege Pakistan has illegally occupied Balochistan and that it has been committing atrocities against Baloch people.
Last year, 10 Pakistanis were killed by unidentified gunmen while the former were working near Gwadar port, a key part of the economic corridor.
“Even though separatists occasionally try to carry out the odd attack, they are not making a forceful push,” said the Pakistani official.
More than one Pakistani official told FT the powers-that-be in Pakistan welcomed the talks between Baloch rebels and the Chinese.
“Basically, if there’s peace in Balochistan, that will advantages both of us,” said one official in Islamabad.
What could explain Pakistan not being unduly worried about China’s interference in its internal matters is the fact that US-Pakistan relations are possibly at the worst they’ve ever been. Last month the US suspended as much as $2 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, saying it isn’t doing enough to end terror safe havens.
Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’ China has been very supportive of Islamabad through its crisis with Washington. Beijing’s direct dialogue with separatist militants in Pakistan might be seen as little price to pay for that support.