(Bloomberg) -- A blast in a bus carrying workers in Pakistan’s northern Kohistan region killed 12 people including nine Chinese citizens, as concerns mount an advance by the Taliban in Afghanistan may disturb peace in across the region.
Pakistan authorities said Wednesday the blast was caused by a gas leak, however China condemned the explosion and called on Pakistan to strengthen the security of Chinese companies operating in the South Asian nation.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a briefing in Beijing that Islamabad should investigate the blast and hold those responsible to account, while an editorial in the Communist Party-backed Global Times was more explicit. “Although Pakistani officials have not yet determined the nature of the incident, this is clearly an act of terrorism that is both carefully planned and supported by information.”
The bus plunged into a ravine after a “mechanical failure resulting in leakage of gas that caused a blast,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “Further investigations are underway. Pakistan attaches great importance to safety and security of Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in Pakistan.”
Two security officials were among the dead, Fazal-e-Rabi, an assistant to deputy commissioner of Kohistan, said by phone. The bus was carrying a total of 32 people to a dam and hydro-electric project in Dasu, near the border with China, he said without giving details of the blast.
If this was the work of a terrorist group, it’s the worst attack in Pakistan’s mountainous north since the 2013 shooting by gunmen that killed nine foreign climbers on Nanga Parbat, the second-highest peak in the country and located in the Himalayas. Recently, Pakistan has seen a resurgence in terrorist attacks, increasing worries of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is already trying to overcome an economic crisis with the help of Chinese investment under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Pakistan’s military has reported 11 such incidents in the north and southwest region since June that have killed 22 soldiers.
The South Asian nation is likely to be among the countries most impacted by the U.S. troops withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban continue to capture key districts amid a retreat by the Afghan soldiers. The nation suffered from terrorism for more than a decade after its support to the U.S. following the September 11 attacks.
(Updates with map of the area)
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