Gunmen have kidnapped two Chinese citizens in southwestern Pakistan, where Beijing is investing billions of dollars to help build a trade route linking the two countries.
Authorities said the assailants intercepted a car carrying three Chinese, including two women, Wednesday in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province
A provincial government spokesman, Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, told VOA the armed men seized the foreigners and tried to force them into their own vehicle when a scuffle broke out.
“The resistance enabled a Chinese woman to escape the kidnapping, while their personal security guard was shot and wounded before the assailants took away the hostages,” Kakar added.
He said that police and paramilitary forces have launched a major operation in the provincial capital to safely recover the Chinese nationals who were based in Quetta to teach Mandarin and learn the local language.
Baluchistan, particularly its newly-expanded deep water port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, is at the heart of a $60-billion Chinese-funded "Belt and Road" trade and development initiative.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, consists of a network of roads, rail links and power plants. It will ultimately link China’s western Xinjiang region to Gwadar, giving Beijing the shortest trade access to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Increase in violence
But as the work on CPEC-related projects has picked up, the Pakistani province is encountering an uptick in militant and separatist violence.
A suicide bombing near Quetta earlier this month killed at least 25 people. The attack wounded the deputy chairman of the Pakistani Senate, apparently the target of the violence. Days later, unknown attackers killed more than a dozen laborers working on CPEC projects near Gwadar.
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing, while separatist Baluch militants took credit for killing the construction workers.
On Tuesday, authorities announced in Quetta that security forces have arrested a “mastermind” behind three suicide bombings in Baluchistan last year that claimed the lives of more than 200 Pakistanis. IS claimed all three attacks.
Officials identified the detained man as Saeed Ahmed Badani, saying he has confessed to have planned the bloodshed.
The Pakistan military has trained and deployed a special security force of thousands of troops to protect CPEC projects and Chinese nationals working on them. But critics are questioning the effectiveness of the special force following a recent surge in deadly violence in Baluchistan.