Since December, local protestors have taken to the streets of the port city of Gwadar, demanding rights for the city and in turn the entire volatility province of Balochistan. The long list of demands of the locals include addressing illegal fishing activities, easing trade restrictions with Iran and undoing the draconian measures taken by local security checkposts.
A total of 19 demands have been put forward by the sit-in and protest being organized by the ‘Haq Do’ movement in Gwadar. The most important of these demands are the removal of illegal fishing by trawlers from Balochistan’s territorial waters and the lifting of restrictions on border trade with Iran.
While a sit-in has been going on since November 15 in connection with these demands, three rallies were held in the city, in which besides the shrouded procession of men, there were also rallies of women and children.
According to observers, the rallies of children and women were not only the largest in the history of Gwadar but also in the history of Balochistan.
There have been several rounds of talks between the government ministers and the organizers of the sit-in and notifications have been issued for the approval of some of the demands.
Hidayat-ur-Rehman, the central leader of the sit-in, has announced that he will no longer hold talks with any provincial minister but the will only be held with Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Qadoos Bizenjo, Chief Secretary and Corps Commander Balochistan.
“Protests are taking place on Coastal Highway and other areas of Gwadar including Gwadar, Panjgur,” he says. The coastal highway is blocked while there is a shutter down strike in Gwadar.
Hidayat-ur-Rehman claims the government’s negotiating committee had issued four notifications but could not implement them.
“During the talks, a request was made for a week on our demand on border issues and three months on other issues but we will not give any respite now and the sit-in will continue,” he adds.
Hidayat-ur-Rehman continues: “We will issue a report on the check posts of the security forces throughout Makran.” We will not end the sit-in until our major demands are fully implemented.
Zahoor Ahmad Baledi, the provincial Minister for Planning and Development claimed that immediately after Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s sit-in announcement, the Balochistan government began working on the demands.
Baledia said he had had multiple rounds of talks with Hidayat-ur-Rehman. The minister confessed that the locals’ demands are in public interest, adding that the Balochistan government is addressing the protests and working on performing its services.
“We have just formed a new government, all the members of the provincial assembly of Makran division had tried for a new government,” Baledi adds, saying he had told Rehman that eight trawlers had been seized by taking action on the issue of trawlers and asked Maulana to send a representative if he was not sure.
The provincial minister stresses the government will also talk to the Sindh government regarding the issue of trawlers. The token system has also been abolished and we are working on the check-posts even before the demand of Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman. There has been a lot of improvement in terms of check posts.
The protests and sit-ins are a clear sign that all is not well in Gwadar. People have come out on the streets to show their anger against the highhandedness of the authorities.
Gwadar holds critical value in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as the port that offers Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative the outlet. The city has been targeted by Baloch separatist militia, with nationalists accusing China of being another imperial power taking away their rights.
While Balochistan has been the hub of military operations for decades, the CPEC inauguration in 2015 saw a further increase in the security forces in the province. The state has attempted to fence Gwadar in order to secure CPEC’s outlet.
Gwadar is critical to China’s geoeconomic and geostrategic interests because of its direct access to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. As a result, the Chinese are keeping a careful eye on events in Balochistan, particularly in Gwadar. The city has the potential to make China’s Belt and Road Initiative a success in the area, but it might potentially backfire if things don’t go as planned.