How International Media Covered The Terror Attack At Quetta’s Serena Hotel
The Wednesday night car bombing at Quetta’s five-star Serena hotel brought Pakistan back into the global spotlight. The attack exposed the gaps in even the strongest of security mechanisms aimed at preventing asymmetric attacks with a hundred percent efficiency. Even though Pakistan has made solid efforts to counter terrorism, the forces of anarchy and chaos still capitalize on any opportunity to inflict death and destruction. From nationwide protests inspired by a religious-political movement and its confrontational ideology, to this latest terrorist attack, the world continues to observe Pakistan with ever-increasing concern.
BBC News was the first to publish a report on the incident: it conceded that the Chinese ambassador was purported initially to be the target of the attack, but quoted the perpetrator TTP’s claim which did not mention the envoy. The news article also reported on casualties, while noting that the guests at the Serena hotel as well as all members of the Chinese delegation were safe. In providing a background to the incident, the report stated that the Balochistan province is proximate to the Afghan border and is “home to several armed groups, including separatists”. It also offers insight into the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s history of terror, while acknowledging that “the group’s influence and activities dramatically declined following a military offensive in 2014”. Nevertheless, it includes the caveat that the TTP’s militant activity has resumed in Pakistan’s tribal areas since 2018, which coincides “with the rise of a non-violent nationalist movement” – an oblique reference to the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement or PTM.
Al Jazeera News published a succinct report on the attack, reporting the initial number of casualties and referring to the alleged presence of the Chinese ambassador at the hotel. The Washington Post also published a brief article on the terror attack, noting that the TTP’s claim of responsibility was not elaborate, and that Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Sheikh Rasheed, informed the media that 60-to-70 kilograms of explosives were used in the vehicle-borne bombing attack. Other media outlets such as CNN, New York Times, India Today, and even RT (albeit in its initial reporting) made reference to the Chinese ambassador in the headlines they carried for their news reporting on the incident. CNN referred to the TTP claim, its history of attacks across Pakistan, the decades-long insurgency in Balochistan spurred by a sense of marginalization and exploitation among the natives, attacks by Baloch separatists in 2018 and 2020, and Chinese investment in Balochistan’s Gwadar port. The New York Times focused mainly on how the Chinese ambassador was “only minutes away” from Serena hotel when the explosion occurred, as told to them by an unnamed intelligence source.
TIME fixated more on the Chinese aspect of the entire incident; it carried an analytical commentary on how China’s growing global presence generates its own risks, and called the terror attack “a fiery riposte” to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s speech at the Boao Forum on Tuesday. According to reporter Charlie Campbell, “the bombing spotlights the harsh reality of a grand global engineering project across some of the world’s most restive territory. Balochistan is home to a bevy of insurgent groups—including Islamists and separatists—who fiercely oppose Chinese infrastructure projects”. In its reportage, Reuters has noted that “Chinese nationals and their interests in the region have been attacked before by Taliban militants and nationalist insurgents”; a line mentioned in CNN’s coverage as well. Reuters mentions that the Serena hotel is next to the Iranian consulate as well as the provincial parliament building, that mineral-rich Balochistan has been subject to a long-running low intensity insurgent movement, and is also the site of the Gwadar deepwater port that is key to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Coverage by Chinese outlet CGTN focused on strong Chinese condemnation of the terror attack, and statements from the Chinese foreign ministry that it had received no reports of Chinese citizens being hurt in the attack. It also carried confirmations from the Chinese embassy in Pakistan that the ambassador along with his delegation was in the city but not at the hotel when the attack took place. RT’s reportage referred to Chinese support for Pakistan and their confidence in Pakistan bringing the perpetrators of the attack to justice. It referenced the statement of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, who condemned the attack but added “I believe Pakistan will be able to find out the truth, bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure the safety of Chinese personnel and institutions in Pakistan”. RT also mentioned that a spate of attacks on Chinese officials and interests in Pakistan have took place in recent years, that the Serena hotels have been targeted by the Taliban in Kabul as well, and Islamist groups such as IS have labelled China as one of its top targets.
While global news media analysis is quick to reference the connections between the Afghan Taliban and TTP, it has been found wanting in terms of linkages between rising levels of insecurity and uncertainty as well as increasing momentum of attacks on Afghan security forces, and the possible fallout on Afghanistan’s neighbors. Furthermore, the impact that a resurgent – or, as some would say, dominant – Taliban would have on a nascent yet potentially deadly TTP merits careful scrutiny and meticulous examination. Islamist extremism that afflicts Pakistan as a whole, and separatist violence that particularly plagues Balochistan, are indeed conditions that must be insinuated upon, but sadly, no extrapolation towards the recent TLP-led protests – or even the protests across Baloch cities in the wake of Karima Baloch’s suspicious death – has been lucidly undertaken. The frequency of activities and choice of targets during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, especially by terror groups active in South Asia, could have also been cited for a slightly more nuanced insight into the undercurrents of insecurity and sociopolitical fragility in this volatile region.
Shemrez is a research analyst specialising in the political economy of terrorism, extremism and identity. He most recently served as an intelligence officer at NACTA, Government of Pakistan, where he helped establish the Joint Intelligence Directorate (JID). He tweets at @shemreznauman.