For the last couple of weeks, men, women and children have paraded on the roads of Gwadar, the hub city of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), demanding their rights under the “Gwadar ko haq do” (Give Rights to Gwadar) movement. This is led by the provincial General Secretary of Jamaat-i-Islami, Maulana Hidayat Ur Rehman.
Securing the confidence of the people of Gwadar, the Maulana has expanded the movement provincially. However, this endeavor of the Maulana was the target of severe denunciation by local and exiled Baloch activists. This happened during the visit of the Central ameer of Jamaat-i-Islam Siraj ul Haq who termed India “the biggest enemy” of Pakistan and the cause of growing unrest in the region.
Maulana, on the other hand, vows to be “the voice” of the Baloch. He said people can cease supporting the protest, if they find him in indulging in party promotion.
There are several reasons most Baloch do not have a good relationship with Jamaat-e-Islam. Firstly, the student wing of the party has repeated conflicts with Baloch students in universities across Punjab. Secondly, Baloch are historically a secular nation and they believe in individual and social freedoms rather than religious bonding. Thirdly, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has always opposed the Baloch nationalism.
While the ongoing protest in Gwadar has reached no conclusion, the spokesperson of Foreign Ministry of China, Zhao Lijian said in his statement (November 30) that he did not find the protest in Gwadar to be “against China”. The Maulana rejected Western propaganda that tried to paint the 23-day-long sit-in as hostile towards China. “Let me tell you categorically that we are demonstrating only to reclaim our basic rights enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan,” he said.
The China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) Pakistan, which deals with the Gwadar port, stated that the Maulana had cleared on day one that they were not “against CPEC” or China. In fact, the protestors did not block Eastbay Expressway, the road being constructed by Gwadar Port Authority under China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Nonetheless, the recently emerged movement, which is a ray of hope for many in Balochistan, is an attempt to deal with the anger of the Baloch for being deprived of their rights for years.
The Maulana, who is a leader of true path for some, is deemed a political agent by the others. But, all he is doing now is in favor of the local residents.
Demands of the Protest
Protestors in Gwadar put forward 13 demands, but then added 6 more during the sit-in. They have two leading demands; one, to halt the trawler mafia from coming within the legal boundary of the sea. This makes it difficult for the local fishermen to carry on with their living. The second demand is to refurbish trade on the Pakistan-Iran border which is the source of income for several families of the district.
Other demands include the free movement of fishermen in the sea, the removal of unnecessary check-posts in Gwadar, Makran Coastal Highway and other routes, banning wine stores in Gwadar, the establishment of a university in Gwadar, recruitment on vacant posts of non-teaching staff of education sector, check and balance on counterfeit medications, arrears on utility bills should be waived while special subsidy should be given by declaring Gwadar city a natural disaster area, recovery of cars and boats seized by coastguards. They also demand clean drinking water, prioritizing the residents of Gwadar on posts under Gwadar port and CPEC, for the district administration to act accordingly with victims of Tarbela dam. They demand expelling charges against Maulana Hidayat Ur Rehman and removing his name from fourth schedule list, ratification of damage to victims of hurricane and fishermen’s nets etcetera by trawlers, immediate transfer of DG GDA, Deputy Commissioner Gwadar and Assistant Commissioner Gwadar, quotas for persons with disabilities should be implemented in federal and provincial departments.
Public Reaction to the Protest
In a short span of time, the Maulana’s “Give Rights to Gwadar” movement has gained an audience across the country. Residents of Makran – from various towns and villages – have joined the protest to show solidarity with the inhabitants of Gwadar. The protest has illustrated to the authorities that it’s not just Gwadar but the whole province that is affected with such anguishes. The Maulana has announced to expand the movement to the whole province in order to reclaim the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan.
Furthermore, numerous rallies have taken place in Balochistan and the other provinces showing solidarity with Gwadar’s movement. Rallies comprising women and children in Gwadar proved support from people of all walks of life. Local film actors have been participating and staging dramas and plays in the evenings to garner attention from the higher authorities.
In other words, the movement has become public. From local to the exiled Baloch, everyone has shown up, and deemed the Maulana’s demands wholly legal and important. The movement has gained sympathy from across the country and this has increased pressure on the newly established government of Mir Quddos Bezinjo.
Government Response to the Protest
The provincial government of Balochistan has had negotiations with Maulana Hidayat Ur Rehman to end the protest. They said his demands would be met, but they failed to satisfy the protestors. Led by Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, the provincial minister for planning and development, the government team asked for more time. Senator Kahuda Babar Baloch claimed in a tweet that measures have been taken the “demands are almost met.” He requested the Maulana to finish the protest.
Zahoor Buledi also said that they have had “meaningful negotiations” with the Maulana and his team and would bring about “positive implementation” soon.
In a meeting, the chief minister of Balochistan, Mir Abdul Quddos Bizenjo said that doors were always open for a peaceful solution.
Where the Protestors Stand Today
On one hand, where Maulana has vowed to keep protesting until their demands are officially met. On the other hand, the government is following the protest to lead it to a conclusion either way. The government claims they are listening to the demands, but protestors complain of still witnessing trawlers in the sea in the Jiwani tehsil of Gwadar.
Various local administrative orders have been issued on some of the protestor’s demands such as banning wine stores, putting checks and balances on medical stores and trawlers, opening the border, removing unnecessary check-posts and so forth. However, all this pales in comparison when the protestors see the large number of military deployed to Gwadar. The military is threatening the protestors to end their protests.
Balochistan is resource rich province of Pakistan but it lacks ‘deserved’ developments. Such movements can ensure that Balochistan prospers. However, if staging such a demonstration can bring reforms in Balochistan, why couldn’t previous protest achieve similar reforms? We have seen many protests and demonstrations in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, but they merely worsened the circumstances of the province.
We are yet to see if the “Give rights to Gwadar” movement will have a positive outcome. The people of Balochistan have always expressed their grievances to the state, such long sit-ins help them gain state attention.
The coming few days can be decisive for the fate of Gwadar and Balochistan. In fact, a lot of military personnel have been deployed to Gwadar. The military in Gwadar are threatening the protestors to end their protests or face serious consequences.