Pakistani army officials have sought to reassure China that thousands of Chinese workers and engineers building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be kept safe in the terror-plagued country.
A special force of 15,000 troops, in nine battalions, has been assembled to guard infrastructure projects being carried out by an estimated 13,000 Chinese now in Pakistan.
They are working on the $46bn corridor, which comprises roads, pipelines and power stations linking western China to Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
An "equally sizeable" security division comprising local paramilitary forces is also being put together for the restive Balochistan region in the south of country, where Gwadar is located, Pakistan’s military spokesperson Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa told Chinese media this week.
More than 3,600 people were killed in terror-related attacks in Pakistan last year, of which 940 were civilians, while the majority, more than 2,400, were terrorists or insurgents, according to the South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR).
The terror death toll has been falling since a grisly peak of 11,700 in 2009, and a government crackdown on Islamist terrorism launched in 2014 appears to be working. So far in 2016, 917 people have been killed in terror attacks, 253 of them civilians, according to SAIR.
"For all CPEC-related projects, the first responder will be the army itself," said Lt General Asim Saleem Bajwa, Pakistan’s military spokesman, during a two-day visit to China by Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, reports the South China Morning Post.
Sharif held talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
The corridor is intended to speed the flow of goods between China and the rest of the world by providing an overland alternative to the lengthy sea route running from China’s east coast through the Strait of Malacca and into the Indian Ocean.
CPEC, said spokesman Bajwa, "is a project which brings a lot of hope and light for bringing prosperity to Pakistan. Therefore, every Pakistani has an obligation to participate in the development of CPEC."
As many as 17,000 more Chinese workers are expected in Pakistan as the CPEC project progresses, media said.
Earlier this month China State Construction Engineering Corp broke ground on the $2.9bn Karachi-Peshawar expressway, a key part of the CPEC.
Photograph:A Pakistan Army military transport helicopter (Asuspine/Wikimedia Commons)