China, Iran and Pakistan held their first trilateral counterterrorism and regional security consultations on Wednesday in Beijing but Islamabad accused Tehran of providing sanctuaries to insurgents for orchestrating cross-border attacks in a bid to subvert CPEC while Tehran alleged Islamabad of not doing enough to prevent terrorists from conducting cross-border terrorism into Iran, Voice of America (VOA) reported.
Baluch insurgency a big concern for Pakistan
Baluch insurgents oppose CPEC, alleging it is helping Pakistan's efforts to deprive the local population of the region's natural resources. "The delegations held detailed discussions on the regional security situation, particularly the threat of terrorism faced by the region," said a post-meeting statement in Islamabad, which shared no further details, Voice of America (VOA) reported.
The Pakistani and Chinese foreign ministries said the three nations had decided to institutionalize and hold the meeting regularly, VOA reported. Senior Chinese, Pakistani and Iranian counterterrorism officials, each from their respective foreign ministries, led their teams at Wednesday's dialogue.
Region central to CPEC
Analysts said Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province was likely an essential agenda item. The natural resources-rich but impoverished region is central to a multibillion-dollar Chinese-funded program, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), VOA reported. "The establishment of a trilateral security mechanism between China, Pakistan and Iran reflects their shared concerns regarding security in Baluchistan," observed Baqir Sajjad, a Pakistan fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Sajjad said stability in Baluchistan was crucial to successfully implementing CPEC projects there, VOA reported. "Collaboration among these countries can potentially contribute to improved regional security and counter the activities of insurgents who find refuge in Iran," he said.
Baluchistan, a Pakistani province bordering Iran, has long experienced a low-level insurgency, led by outlawed ethnic Baluch groups. Islamabad alleges insurgents use sanctuaries on Iranian soil to orchestrate cross-border attacks in their bid to subvert CPEC, an extension of China's global Belt and Road Initiative. Iranian authorities deny the presence of Baluch militants on their soil, VOA reported.
What is the issue with CPEC passing through Baluchistan?
CPEC has built road networks and power plants across Pakistan and to the Arabian Sea deep-water Gwadar port in Baluchistan. Baluch insurgents oppose CPEC, alleging it is helping Pakistan's efforts to deprive the local population of the region's natural resources. They have carried out deadly attacks against Chinese nationals working on the projects in Baluchistan.
China and Pakistan reject the charges as baseless and maintain the mega development project is bringing economic prosperity to the poverty-stricken province and Pakistan at large, VOA reported. Baluchistan abuts Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province, where Iranian security forces are battling domestic Sunni-based militants blamed for deadly attacks in the predominantly Shiite Muslim country.
Tehran blames Islamabad for attacks
Tehran alleges Islamabad is not doing enough to prevent militants from conducting cross-border terrorism into Iran, charges that Pakistani officials reject. Last month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif travelled to the nearly 900-kilometre border between the two countries, where they jointly inaugurated a rare marketplace and power transmission line.
While speaking at the ceremony, both leaders vowed to expand bilateral economic and border security cooperation, VOA reported. China has also boosted economic collaboration with Iran. The countries signed a 25-year strategic partnership agreement in March 2021. However, according to Iranian officials, the document contained no specific commitments on investment or security.
Pakistan, Iran and China are also concerned about growing terrorist attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan. The violence is mostly claimed by Islamic State's regional affiliate, Islamic State Khorasan, VOA reported. The three countries have stepped up diplomatic engagement with the conflict-ravaged country's Taliban rulers to help them tackle the threat and bring economic stability to Afghanistan.