Beijing, Jul 15 (PTI) China on Thursday said it is rushing a special team to Pakistan to probe a blast in a shuttle bus in which 13 people, including nine Chinese engineers, were killed, amid differing perceptions between the two close allies whether it was a terrorist attack or a gas explosion that hit the vehicle.
The incident took place on Wednesday in Dasu area of Upper Kohistan district of the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where Chinese engineers and construction workers are helping Pakistan build a dam, which is part of the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
At least 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals and two Frontier Corps soldiers, died and 39 others injured when the bus carrying Chinese engineers and workers to the site of the under construction Dassu Dam exploded. The bus fell into a deep ravine after the explosion.
The explosion in the bus has shocked Beijing, considering the number of Chinese casualties. It also resulted in confusion and rare differing views aired in public by the two all-weather allies.
“China will send a joint working group today to Pakistan to coordinate the relevant work,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in reply to a question.
China is shocked by severe casualties of Chinese nationals in the incident, he said.
“The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government paid high attention to this incident and the leaders immediately made important instructions to save the injured and solve the following problems” in a quick manner and have an in-depth assessment of the risk of security of the Chinese personnel working on various projects in Pakistan, Zhao said.
When asked about the differing views -- China terming the mishap as a bomb attack, while Pakistan stating that the blast was caused by a gas leak -- and whether Beijing is satisfied with the level of protection being given by Pakistan to Chinese citizens, Zhao said, “We noted the remarks by the spokesperson of the foreign ministry in Pakistan.” “Now the incident is still under investigation and China will cooperate closely with the Pakistan side and jointly investigate this incident,” he said, adding that China and Pakistan share “all-weather strategic cooperation partnership with unbreakable traditional friendship and political trust”.
“We appreciate Pakistan's emphasis on the issue in the security of Chinese projects personnel and institutions and will work with Pakistan to enhance our security measures to ensure the safety of our people, institutions and projects,” Zhao said.
The incident also figured in Wednesday’s talks between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers meeting at Dushanbe in Tajikistan.
Wang told Qureshi that the Chinese side was shocked by the incident, hoping that the Pakistani side could quickly find out its cause, conduct rescue and treatment work at all costs, deal with the aftermath in time, and prevent similar incidents from happening again.
If it is a terrorist attack, the criminals must be immediately arrested and severely punished, Wang was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.
Lessons should be learned from the incident and the security measures for China-Pakistan cooperation projects should be further strengthened to ensure the safe and smooth operation of the projects, Wang said.
Qureshi, on behalf of the government and the people of Pakistan, expressed sincere condolences to the Chinese side, the Xinhua report said.
Preliminary investigation showed that it was an accident and no background of terrorist attacks has been found, Qureshi said.
China is Pakistan's most important friend and most reliable partner, and China's loss is Pakistan's loss, he said.
Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that media reports in China are pushing the incident as a “bombing”, reflecting long-held concerns about the security of Chinese workers in Pakistan, where large numbers are now based to supervise and build infrastructure projects under CPEC.
The projects have sparked resentment, particularly among separatist groups who say there have been few benefits for local people, along with the jobs they create being lost to foreigners, the report said.
It also noted that there have been previous attacks on Chinese national in Pakistan, including a deadly suicide blast in April at a luxury hotel in Balochistan where the Chinese ambassador was staying for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
Du Youkang, a former diplomat and international affairs researcher at Fudan University in Shanghai, said while the casualties from the explosion made it the most serious since CPEC construction began, it was unlikely to have an overall adverse impact to such a “carefully derived bilateral development strategy”.
“Whether it was an accident or terrorist attack which the Pakistani authorities are still investigating, this was the worst casualty for Chinese nationals since the construction of the corridor,” Du was quoted as saying by the Post.
'Authorities from both sides are expected to be on high alert over safety and security issues from now on but it will not deter implementation progress of the Dasu hydropower plant, nor the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” he said.
Du noted that terrorist attacks were uncommon in the northern region and the Pakistani authorities had been offering military protection to the transport of Chinese engineers.
Thousands of Chinese engineers and workers are working in CPEC projects in Pakistan and the Pakistan Army has formed a special brigade to ensure their security. PTI KJV SCY AKJ SCY