China To ‘Outnumber’ Balochistan Populace By 2048; Locals Pick-Up Guns To Counter Beijing’s Expansion

Their friendship has been touted to be higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Pacific. But of late, Chinese personnel and assets have come under attack in Pakistan as anti-China sentiments spike in the Islamic country. 

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The terrorist attack on the PNS Siddique naval base seems to have the Chinese drones deployed there as a possible target. Pakistan forces have deployed these Chinese combat drones to curtail the Baloch rebellion in the region.

The PNS Siddique boasts a modern runway capable of accommodating large aircraft. The Pakistan Navy operates maritime patrol aircraft like the Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion from this strategically located base.

The Chinese drones stationed at PNS Siddique, one of Pakistan’s four naval air bases, play a crucial role in surveillance and security operations.

The CH-4B UCAV was inducted into the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps in 2021. The first batch of four CH-4B UCAVs arrived in Pakistan in early 2021 and was deployed to Bahawalpur Airport, home to a Pakistan Army Aviation segment.

Google Earth imagery confirmed the presence of 4 CH-4Bs. The setup at Bhawalpur consisted of two sets of line-of-sight (LOS) ground control stations (GCS) and 1 SATCOM dish module for beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations.

At the beginning of 2022, two of the four UAV containers, along with 1 set of GCS (2 modules per set), disappeared from the airbase. Around the same time, the same equipment was seen at the Pakistan Navy’s Air station at Turbat.

While the UAVs were not visible in newer imagery, the GCS vehicles were seen along the runway. This underscored that the UAVs were used in active operations.

This relocation came around the same time reports emerged that the CH-4Bs were conducting strikes in Balochistan. It meant that Pakistan Army Aviation had deployed its CH-4Bs on their first combat deployment. The use of Chinese arms to quell the dissent and the broader context of Chinese investment in the region has riled up Baloch insurgents.

Besides attacking the PNS Siddique on March 26, 2024, a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of Chinese engineers working on a hydroelectric dam project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The attack occurred near Besham City as the convoy was traveling from Islamabad to Dasu.

Five Chinese nationals and a Pakistani driver were killed in the attack. This was the third major attack on Chinese interests in Pakistan within a week. On January 29, the separatist group launched an assault on Mach city, and on March 20, they attacked the Gwadar port, leading to the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers and eight assailants.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populated province, bordering Afghanistan and Iran. It is considered a centerpiece of the $62 billion CPEC, China’s ambitious project. The Gwadar Port is planned to give China alternate access should a conflict with India lead to the blocking of choke points like the Malacca Strait.

Since 2007, the terrorist attacks in Balochistan have registered a steady uptick. The number of total attacks increased by an average factor of 1.5 per year between 2007 (with 35 attacks) and 2015 (with 483 attacks). Many of these attacks have been claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army and have targeted the infrastructure projects and Chinese workers around the Gwadar area.

This has resulted in an increased military presence in conjunction with development projects. Gwadar has been effectively turned into a militarized zone with security forces ubiquitous.

Pakistan has deployed 15,000 military troops to protect Chinese workers and the convoys of trucks carrying goods through the province. In addition to this security division, Chinese firms working in Pakistan have also hired private security guards.

Chinese Militarising Balochistan

Chinese troops are also contributing to the militarization of the area, with the present Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood referring to CPEC as a “Chinese military project.”

In November 2016, following a bomb attack on a Sufi Shrine in Balochistan’s Khuzdar District that killed 52 and wounded 106, China dispatched its warships, in coordination with the Pakistan Navy, to safeguard the Gwadar Port.

With Baloch rebels targeting Chinese assets in the region, Beijing started to aid the Pakistan Army to curb dissent in Balochistan. Pakistan Army launched Operation ‘Bolan,’ a large-scale military operation in the mountain ranges of Bolan, Balochistan, at the end of October 2022.

China had been pressuring the Pakistani government about the safety and security of Chinese personnel working in Balochistan. While the Pakistani Army has used fighter jets and armed helicopters against Baloch rebels for several years, a new development of note has been the use of combat UAVs.

Baloch leaders have repeatedly accused China of assisting Pakistan. They even alleged that Beijing is complicit in the Baloch genocide and helps Islamabad in tracing the locations of Baloch fighters.

Chinese CH-4B UAVs have been spotted over Bolan. Pakistan also received five Cai Hong 4 (Rainbow 4, or CH-4) multirole medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs from China in January 2021. Chinese PLA troops are also deployed in Pasni, Gwadar, to help the Pakistani military operate these CH-4B drones.

CH-4 Drones Pakistan China
CH-4 Drones

Pakistan’s government has taken a slew of steps to ensure the security of Chinese nationals since they started coming to the country in the late 2000s. However, of late, Chinese officials and workers on the economic projects have been victims of terrorist attacks.

China had a close brush with the Baloch insurgents as they planned an attack at the consulate in Karachi and an attack in Quetta. In 2018, the BLA claimed another attack in which gunmen tried to storm the Chinese consulate in Karachi, killing four people. It said it would not tolerate any Chinese military expansionist endeavors.

Following the attack in Dasu in 2021 that resulted in the death of 9 Chinese workers along with four others and the targeting of the Confucius Institute attack, China took matters of security into its own hands.

In the Confucius Institute attack in 2022, three Chinese language teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide bombing. The blast ripped through their minibus in the University.

The BLA claimed the responsibility, and the suicide bomber was a woman. It was the first instance of a suicide attack being carried out by a female militant.

Furthering Chinese Interests At The Cost Of Balochs

The BLA has opposed Chinese investment in Pakistan, contending that it doesn’t benefit the locals.

Gwadar Port has been built and developed as one of the most strategic deep-sea ports in the region. Construction began in 2007, at the same time as the Baloch rebellion was raging after Baloch leader Akbar Bugti’s assassination.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is believed to be China’s biggest-ever investment overseas to build a 3,218 km route by 2030, consisting of highways, railways, airports, and pipelines that will connect Pakistan’s Gwadar Port to Xinjiang province of China. Gwadar, where the huge international port is being constructed, is located in Balochistan and is at the center of the tensions in the region.

The development of CPEC resulted in an influx of outsiders. Chinese workers increasingly filled much of the need for both skilled and unskilled labor, as well as serving in senior management positions.

The number of Chinese who entered Pakistan in 2016, for example, is estimated at 71,000. According to a report by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Chinese nationals could outnumber Baloch natives by 2048, given the current influx rate.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • The author can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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