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News

Bus blast probe likely to figure in China-Pakistan talks

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (Photo by SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

PAKISTAN foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to discuss several bilateral issues, including the security of thousands of Chinese workers in Pakistan.

The meeting has assumed significance after a blast in a bus in northwest Pakistan killed nine Chinese engineers and jolted the ties between the two all-weather allies.

Qureshi will hold talks with Wang in western China’s Chengdu city during his two-day visit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a media briefing in Beijing on Friday (23).

China rushed a special team to Pakistan to probe the July 14 blast in a shuttle bus at Dasu area of Upper Kohistan district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where a Chinese company is building a 4320-MW dam on the Indus river. Thirteen people, including nine Chinese engineers, were killed in the incident.

Differing perceptions between the two close allies on whether it was a terrorist attack or a gas explosion that hit the vehicle added to Beijing’s anxieties.

Initially, it was said that an explosion occurred before the bus fell into a ravine. Later, Pakistan announced that the bus fell first due to some technical issue and later on an explosion was caused due to a gas leakage.

But the Chinese side called it an explosion and sent a 15-member team of experts to probe the nature of the blast.

The blast and deaths of Chinese engineers caused a sense of unease and concern in Beijing as thousands of workers from China are employed in a host of projects of the $60 billion (£43.6b) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

For Islamabad, ties with China are crucial due to its increasing economic dependence on Beijing. The CPEC, launched in 2015, is considered a game-changer by many in Pakistan.

The talks are also taking place amid Beijing’s concern over the offensive by the Taliban in Afghanistan which included the capture of China-Afghanistan border point in Badakhshan province and the reports of a large number of militants of separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) consisting of Uyghur militants from China’s volatile Xinjiang province.

China, which wants the Taliban to sever links with terrorist groups in Afghanistan, has stepped up its diplomacy to reduce frictions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The two foreign ministers will also exchange views on deepening anti-terrorism and security cooperation and assuring the security of Chinese institutions and projects in Pakistan,” Zhao said, elaborating on the issues to be discussed by Qureshi and Wang.

Asked about any updates about the joint probe into the bus blast, Zhao said, “China and Pakistan are still looking into the terrorist case” and he had no further information to offer.

Qureshi and Wang will hold the third strategic dialogue between the two countries, which are celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Eastern Eye

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