Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan

Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan
Pakistan Army and the Royal Saudi Land Forces soldiers photographed during a joint military training exercise in Multan, Pakistan on February 27, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Military's media wing)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan

Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan
  • The exercise continued from Jan. 15 to Feb. 26 with a view to foster joint employment techniques, exchange expertise
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and regularly engage in joint air, ground and sea military exercises

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army and the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF) this week concluded a joint military training exercise in the eastern city of Multan that was aimed at enhancing their military capabilities and exchanging expertise, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday.

The exercise continued from January 15 to February 26 with a view to foster joint employment techniques and benefiting from each other’s experiences, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing.

“The training, which encompassed conventional as well as sub-conventional operations, culminated with field maneuver and battle inoculation exercise, employing air and ground forces,” the ISPR said in a statement.

The commander of Pakistan Army’s Multan Corps witnessed the exercise as the chief guest and expressed his satisfaction over mutual understanding and the training standards achieved, according to the ISPR.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and bilateral security cooperation. The two nations regularly engage in joint air, ground, and sea military exercises, while several cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, annually visit Pakistan to undergo specialized military training.

The joint exercise that concluded in Multan further consolidated longstanding fraternal relations between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the ISPR added.


Lightning, heavy rains kill 57 across Pakistan in five days

Lightning, heavy rains kill 57 across Pakistan in five days
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Lightning, heavy rains kill 57 across Pakistan in five days

Lightning, heavy rains kill 57 across Pakistan in five days
  • Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province reports highest casualties in five days, 21
  • Punjab’s disaster management authority predicts heavy rains in province from April 18-21

PESHAWAR: Heavy rains and lightning strikes have killed at least 57 and wounded dozens of others across Pakistan during the last five days, the country’s national and provincial disaster management authorities said on Tuesday.
The downpours, which began on Friday, have damaged several homes across the South Asian country while more showers are expected across Pakistan this week, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement this week.
Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has reported the highest death toll in the country from rains during the last five days, 21, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) KP said. In Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan areas, 36 people died in the last five days in rain-related incidents, the NDMA added.
“In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province 21 people have been killed and 34 injured in the last five days due to accidents caused by heavy rain,” the PDMA said in a report. 
Due to continuous downpours in different parts of the northwestern province, 344 houses have been damaged due to the rain, the report said. 
The PDMA said KP’s districts of Lower and Upper Dir, Khyber, Chitral Lower, Swat, Shangla, Mansehra, Malakand, Tank, Mardan and Karak were the province’s worst-affected by the rains. 
It said KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur had directed all the district administrations and departments concerned to provide medical assistance and relief to families affected by the rains.


Ex-PM Khan’s wife alleges violation of privacy, dignity under house arrest in Islamabad

Ex-PM Khan’s wife alleges violation of privacy, dignity under house arrest in Islamabad
Updated 16 April 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s wife alleges violation of privacy, dignity under house arrest in Islamabad

Ex-PM Khan’s wife alleges violation of privacy, dignity under house arrest in Islamabad
  • Bushra Bibi petitions court that room she has been confined to is bugged, hidden cameras installed in room and bathroom
  • Tells court she is being subjected to “mental and physical torture which is becoming a serious threat to her health and life”

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi has filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court this week alleging that authorities were violating her fundamental rights during her incarceration at the Islamabad home of her husband where she has been jailed since being convicted in January for graft. 

Bushra has been living under house arrest at her husband’s sprawling Bani Gala mansion, declared a sub-jail, in Islamabad since Jan. 31 when both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in a case that relates to accusations they undervalued gifts from a state repository and gained profits from selling them while Khan was prime minister from 2018-22. Khan is jailed at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail. 

In February, Khan and his wife were also sentenced to seven years on charges they violated the country’s marriage law when they wed in 2018 — the fourth sentence so far for Khan and the second for his wife.

In her petition to the court filed on Monday, Bushar, a deeply religious woman widely believed to be Khan’s spiritual guide, alleged she was being poisoned through contaminated food and subjected to “mental and physical torture which is becoming a serious threat to her health and life.”

“She experienced severe gut pain and a burning sensation in her throat and mouth. She suspects that she has been given some sort of acid in her meal,” the petition read.

“That the sub-jail is predominantly male heavy, with only one female associate at her disposal … It is clearly a form of mental harassment. She has voiced this concern, but it hasn’t been given much attention.”

She also alleged that her room and bathroom had been bugged and multiple hidden cameras installed. 

“It is a blatant violation of her privacy, dignity and honor,” the plea said. 

The petition said Bushra was only given ten minutes for meetings with family members and lawyers, with five jail staff supervising at all times. 

The petitioner requested the court to allow Bushra’s medical check-up and treatment from Shaukat Khanam Memorial Hospital, or any other private medical specialist or lab of her own choice. She also urged the court to order authorities to ensure the protection of her fundamental rights.

Khan was first jailed after being handed a three-year prison sentence in August 2023 by the Election Commission for not declaring assets earned from selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his premiership. In January, Khan and Bushra were handed 14-year jail terms following a separate investigation by the country’s top anti-graft body into the same charges involving state gifts. 

An anti-graft court in Islamabad also handed Khan a 10-year jail term in January for revealing state secrets, a week before national elections on Feb. 8. The ruling on his marriage to Bushra and a seven-year sentence each for both also came ahead of the polls.

Khan has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with violence against the military that erupted following his brief arrest related to the Al-Qadir case on May 9. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges under the anti-terrorism law, saying he was in detention when the violence took place. 

Khan’s convictions mean he is banned from holding public office and ruled the 71-year-old out of general elections earlier this year. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics. 


Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF

Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF
Updated 16 April 2024
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Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF

Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF
  • Finance minister Aurangzeb is in Washington for spring meetings organized by International Monetary Fund, World Bank
  • Meets Pakistan Business Council, Climate Vulnerable Forum chief, Pak-US businessmen and tech entrepreneurs

KARACHI: Pakistan has initiated discussions with the IMF over a new multi-billion dollar loan agreement to support its economic reform program, its new finance minister told AFP on Monday, during a visit to Washington for spring meetings organized by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

An ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the IMF designed to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis which brought Pakistan to the brink of default last summer will expire this month. 

With the final $1.1 billion tranche of that deal likely to be approved later this month, Pakistan has begun negotiations for a new multi-year IMF loan program worth “billions” of dollars, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said during an interview in Washington.

“The market confidence, the market sentiment is in much, much better shape this fiscal year,” said Aurangzeb, a former banker who took up his post last month.

“It’s really for that purpose that, during the course of this week, we have initiated the discussion with the Fund to get into a larger and an extended program,” he added.

An IMF spokesperson told AFP that the Fund is “currently focused on the completion of the current Stand-by Agreement program,” referring to the ongoing nine-month program scheduled for completion shortly.

“The new government has expressed interest in a new program, and Fund staff stands ready to engage in initial discussions on a successor program,” the spokesperson added.

During his visit to Washington, Aurangzeb will also attend the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, which kick off in earnest Tuesday, with two clear objectives: to help countries combat climate change, and to assist the world’s most indebted nations.

The meetings, which bring central bankers together with finance and development ministers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to discuss the state of the global economy, will kick off with the IMF’s publication of its updated World Economic Outlook.

“US VS. CHINA”

Pakistan held elections in February this year which were marred by allegations of rigging, with opposition leader Imran Khan jailed and barred from running, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a crackdown.

The shaky coalition that emerged, led by Shehbaz Sharif, is now tasked with engineering an economic turnaround by implementing a raft of unpopular belt-tightening measures.

“I do think that we will at least be requesting for a three year program,” Aurangzeb said. “Because that’s what we need, as I see it, to help execute the structural reform agenda.”

“By the time we get to the second or third week of May, I do think we’ll start getting into the contours of that discussion,” he added.

Pakistan has close economic ties to both the United States and China, which has put it in a tricky position as the two countries have embarked upon a costly trade war.

“From our perspective it has to be an and-and discussion,” Aurangzeb said when asked how the Sharif government plans to conduct its trading relationships with the world’s two largest economies.

“[The] US is our largest trading partner, and it has always supported us, always helped us in terms of the investments,” he said. “So that is always going to be a very, very critical relationship for Pakistan.”

“On the other side, a lot of investment, especially in infrastructure, came through CPEC,” he said, referring to the roughly 1,860-mile-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor designed to give China access to the Arabian Sea.

Aurangzeb said there was a “very good opportunity” for Pakistan to play a similar role in the trade war as countries like Vietnam, which has been able to dramatically boost its exports to the US following the imposition of tariffs on some Chinese goods.

“We have already a few examples of that already working,” he said. “But what we need to do is to really scale it up.”

As part of the structural reform program agreed to by the previous government, Pakistan is in the middle of a privatization drive to sell off its poorly-performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The first SOE on the list is Pakistan International Airlines, the country’s flag carrier.

“We will get to know in the next month or so with respect to interest from prospective bidders,” Aurangzeb said.

“Our desire is to go through with that privatization and take it through the finishing line by the end of June,” he added.

If the PIA privatization goes well for the government, other companies could soon follow.

“We’re creating an entire pipeline,” he said, adding: “Over the next couple of years we want to really accelerate that.”

“MEETINGS WITH BUSINESS COMMUNITY”

In a meeting with members of the Pakistan Business Council (USPBC) on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings, the finance minister appreciated the important role of the US corporate sector in strengthening Pak-US economic ties. 

“Despite the challenges, the government was committed to implementing difficult but necessary reforms to ensure long-term economic growth and macro-economic stability,” Aurangzeb said. 

He highlighted key initiatives, including the Investment Policy 2023, aimed at attracting more foreign investments to enhance investor confidence and streamline project implementation, particularly in priority sectors such as agriculture, IT, energy, minerals and mining. 

“The new policy would simplify business regulations, provide foreign investors freedom to repatriate their profits abroad in their own currency and receive special protection,” the finance minister informed USPBC.

“He also apprised them of the government’s efforts to digitalize the economy and expand the tax base to ensure sustainable economic growth.”

Separately, in a meeting with the secretary general of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Mohamed Nasheed, who is a former president of the Maldives, Aurangzeb highlighted Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate-induced disasters, drawing attention to 2022 floods that affected 33 million people and caused losses of approximately $15.2 billion. 

“He emphasized the need for developed economies to scale up their efforts to provide additional financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building assistance to developing countries, including Pakistan,” a statement from the finance ministry said. 

Aurangzeb also highlighted Pakistan’s pro-active role in mobilizing global support for a Loss and Damage Fund at COP 28. 

Aurangzeb also met influential Pakistani American businessmen and tech entrepreneurs and lauded the important role of the Pakistani diaspora in the socio-economic development of Pakistan, calling them “bridge-builders in deepening trade and investment ties between Pakistan and the United States.”

The Minister highlighted various initiatives taken by the government to improve business-friendly environment and attract foreign investment in Pakistan and specifically highlighted the potential of Pakistan in the IT sector as a host to a community of over a million freelancers, ranked third globally in the freelance market and annually producing over 75,000 IT graduates from 250+ recognized universities. 

The finance minister also attended a seminar on “Opportunities and Challenges for the Pakistani Economy through 2024 and Beyond” hosted by the Atlantic Council. 

In his address, he highlighted the prevailing economic conditions in Pakistan and measures being taken by the government to put the economy on a higher growth trajectory by facilitating exports, increasing remittances, expanding the tax-base, improving ease of doing business, digitalizing economy and attracting FDI into the country. 

“Positive trends in the industrial activity, better agriculture outlook, and improvements in the Composite Leading Indicators (CLI) of Pakistan’s major export markets were all signs that the economy was on a recovery path,” Aurangzeb said, adding that the implementation of reforms under the 9th IMF Stand-By Agreement (SBA) had provided Pakistan with much-needed macro-economic stability. 

He said Pakistan was prioritizing investment in key areas of agriculture, IT, mining and energy to enhance productivity and ensure sustainable growth and invited international stakeholders to become partners in Pakistan’s journey toward economic prosperity and development.

– With inputs from AFP


Pakistan pushes to forge strategic, economic partnership as Saudi FM visits Islamabad 

Pakistan pushes to forge strategic, economic partnership as Saudi FM visits Islamabad 
Updated 16 April 2024
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Pakistan pushes to forge strategic, economic partnership as Saudi FM visits Islamabad 

Pakistan pushes to forge strategic, economic partnership as Saudi FM visits Islamabad 
  • Prince Faisal in Islamabad a week after crown prince reaffirmed commitment to expedite $5 billion Pakistan investments
  • Saudi foreign minister meets Pakistani prime minister and president, attends Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani top leaders, including the prime minister, president and foreign minister, said on Tuesday the ongoing visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan to Islamabad would help transform a longstanding friendship between the two nations into a strategic and commercial partnership.

Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. His trip comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

“We aim to transform our traditionally fraternal ties into a strategic and economic partnership,” Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar said as he addressed a Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference in Islamabad, held under the umbrella of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign investments. 

“Your investments are not just financial commitments but are crucial in nurturing a deeply valued partnership,” Dar told the visiting dignitary. 

“It is through the SIFC platform that we intend to streamline investment processes while ensuring rapid decision making and efficient handling of investments … The SIFC has a central role in augmenting our infrastructure and streamlining our regulatory frameworks to set the stage for a flourishing investment friendly economic environment.”

Saudi and Pakistani officials pose for a group picture after the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Investment Conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 16, 2024. (@KSAMOFA/X)

Dar said SIFC would ensure that investments were “swift and mutually beneficial, embodying our commitment to facilitating foreign direct investment in Pakistan.”

Pakistan was blessed with fertile agricultural lands, minerals and a large and dynamic population, complemented by a flourishing IT sector and abundant prospects for renewable energy creation, the foreign minister added. 

He said Pakistan’s fertile lands and a vast network of water resources presented numerous investment opportunities in agri-tech and food processing, with the South Asian nation having the potential to become the region’s food basket.

“Our mining sector is marked by untapped potential especially in the expansive Tethyan belt known for its abundant deposits of copper, gold and other valuable minerals,” Dar said. “The strategic advancements in these areas are highlighted by projects such as Riko Diq copper [and gold] project which exemplifies our commitment to leveraging our natural resources for mutual benefit.”

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (center) meets Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan who is leading a high-level delegation in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 16, 2024. (PM Office)

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

The foreign minister said Pakistan’s goal was to transform the country into a hub of economic activity, and innovation and create an attractive environment for global investors like Saudi Arabia. 

“Investing in Pakistan is not merely a placement of capital. It would actually be instrumental toward forging a partnership that promises mutual prosperity and progress,” he concluded. 

“Your engagement and investment in Pakistan will be handled with utmost respect and institutionalized commitment from our side, ensuring that together we achieve remarkable success.”

MEETINGS WITH PM AND PRESIDENT

Prince Faisal also met Pakistani PM Sharif on Tuesday who said the Saudi official’s visit would herald a new era of strategic and commercial partnerships between the two long-time allies.

“The visit is the beginning of a new era of strategic and commercial partnership between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a statement from his office after he met Prince Faisal. “Pakistan wants to further promote cooperation in the fields of trade and investment between the two countries.”

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right) meets Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 16, 2024. (PM Office)

The PM said Pakistan was taking steps to promote foreign investment and make partnerships “mutually beneficial” for allies, adding that Islamabad was grateful to the Saudi leadership for increasing investment.

Informing the Saudi delegation about the wide potential of investment in Pakistan, Sharif briefed them about the Special Investment Facilitation Council and measures the body was taking to promote investment. 

Sharif also invited the Saudi crown prince to Islamabad.

“The people of Pakistan are looking forward to the visit of His Highness the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to Pakistan,” the PM’s office said.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prince Faisal also met on Tuesday and reiterated the two nations’ resolve to build a strong partnership and promote mutually beneficial economic cooperation.

Zardari said Pakistan was working to transform its long-standing and decades-old relationship with Riyadh into a “long-term strategic and economic partnership.”

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari meets Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 16, 2024. (President's Office)

The two sides also discussed regional dynamics and recent developments in the Middle East and called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Israeli air and ground offensives there.

INVESTMENT PUSH

In a statement shared with media on Monday, the Pakistan information ministry said the Saudi delegation would consult with Pakistani officials “on the next stages of investment and implementation issues.”

Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would be discussed during the visit, the ministry said, adding that Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan:

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expires this month.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, however, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally and moving toward mutually beneficial investment deals backed by internal economic reforms.

The PM said Pakistan was taking steps to promote foreign investment and make partnerships “mutually beneficial” for allies, adding that Islamabad was grateful to the Saudi leadership for increasing investment.

Informing the Saudi delegation about the wide potential of investment in Pakistan, Sharif briefed them about the Special Investment Facilitation Council and measures the body was taking to promote investment. The body was set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

Sharif also invited the Saudi crown prince to Islamabad.

“The people of Pakistan are looking forward to the visit of His Highness the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to Pakistan,” the PM’s office said. 


China says ready to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation after deadly Pakistan suicide attack

China says ready to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation after deadly Pakistan suicide attack
Updated 16 April 2024
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China says ready to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation after deadly Pakistan suicide attack

China says ready to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation after deadly Pakistan suicide attack
  • On Mar. 26, suicide bomber hit a convoy of Chinese engineers working on Dasu hydropower project 
  • Five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in the attack in northwestern Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong has said Beijing was ready to enhance counter-terrorism and security cooperation between the two nations, Radio Pakistan reported on Tuesday, two weeks after the killing of five Chinese nationals in a suicide attack in Pakistan’s northwest.

On Mar. 26, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into a convoy of Chinese engineers working on a hydropower project at Dasu in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver.

The assault was the third major attack in little over a week on China’s interests in the South Asian nation, where Beijing has invested more than $65 billion in infrastructure projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative. 

“China stands ready to work hand-in-hand with Pakistan to defeat the evil attempt at disrupting our cooperation,” Jiang was quoted as saying in a report published by state-run Radio Pakistan. 

“We are also ready to work with Pakistan to safeguard development with security and to promote security with development … We should take the promotion of international security as a support, and further enhance China-Pakistan counter-terrorism and security cooperation.”

Jiang said all countries needed to “work together in addressing various security challenges for win-win results.”

He expressed hope that Pakistan would speed up the investigation of the Mar. 26 attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. 

“We should take economic security as foundation, and continue to promote the building of an upgraded version of CPEC,” Jiang said. “For this purpose, China stands ready to further strengthen counter-terrorism and security cooperation with Pakistan, to maintain high pressure and rigorous operation, so as to decisively strike the terrorism.”

The Mar. 26 bombing followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.

Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.
 
Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.

Chinese interests are under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan, but that area is far from the site of the Mar. 26 bombing.