China has condemned a blast targeting a bus in a remote region of northwestern Pakistan that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals, calling on Islamabad to thoroughly investigate the attack and punish the perpetrators.
In a statement on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged Pakistan to "severely punish" the attackers "and earnestly protect the safety of Chinese nationals, organizations and projects" in the country, following the deadly blast, which occurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
At least 13 people, including the nine Chinese nationals and two Pakistani soldiers, were killed after the explosion caused the bus to fall into a ravine.
A senior administrative officer of the Hazara region in the northeastern part of the province told Reuters that the bus was carrying Chinese engineers, surveyors, and mechanical staff to the site of the Dasu dam in Upper Kohistan, which is under construction.
"The bus plunged into a deep ravine after the blast and caused heavy losses. One Chinese engineer and one soldier are missing. The rescue operation is launched and the entire government machinery has been mobilized to rescue the injured by air ambulance," the senior official said on the condition of anonymity.
It was not immediately clear whether the blast was the result of a roadside device or something planted inside the bus.
Senior local police official, Inspector General Moazzam Jah Ansari, said the incident "looks like sabotage," adding that police were investigating.
Following the incident, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan posted a statement, saying that "a certain project of a Chinese firm in Pakistan suffered an attack, which caused the deaths of Chinese nationals."
It further urged Chinese firms to strengthen their security procedures.
China is building up a nearly 3,000-kilometer-long network of roads and railway lines and is investing tens of billions of dollars in Pakistan's energy and infrastructure projects under its mega Belt and Road Initiative.
Large numbers of Chinese nationals are now based in Pakistan to supervise and build infrastructure projects and their security has long been an issue of concern in the country.
The Dasu hydroelectric project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a 65-billion-dollar investment plan under the Belt and Road Initiative that is aimed at connecting western China to the Gwadar sea port in southern Pakistan.
Chinese engineers and Pakistani construction workers have been working on the Dasu hydroelectric project and several others for several years in the region where the latest blast took place.