People of Gwadar are proud of their Baloch identity but they have been disgruntled by the latest developments in their area.
The political and security situation in their coastal city has deteriorated in the past few years, mainly because of the CPEC developments — such as the China-operated port, Coastal Highway that links Gwadar with Karachi and another link road that connects the port on the eastern coast of the city with the coastal highway.
Fishing is the main profession in Gwadar. Almost 70 percent of the people here are associated with fisheries. It is generally believed among the natives of Gwadar that development works are impacting their traditional livelihood adversely. “We have been fishermen for generations. These development works, especially the Link Road and the port facility are damaging our livelihood,” said Adam Qadarbakhsh, a businessman and a political activist associated with the Balochistan National Party (BNP).
The link Road runs parallel to the coastline, from the Port facility on the Eastern Coast of the city and the Coastal Highway that links Gwadar with Karachi. Ironically, the strictly fenced Link Road has become an obstacle between the sea and the habitats of fishermen. “We have no way to cross the road and reach the sea for our fishing activity,” said Majeed Baloch, another political activist associated with the nationalist party and a fisherman by profession.
“When we complained to the authorities that the link road makes it impossible for us to continue our fishing activity, we were told that fishing in the vicinity of the port would otherwise become impossible in the coming years as port is a high security zone and we cannot allow fishing boats close to the high security zone,” added Baloch.
This would put some 80,000 fishermen out of job in the Gwadar city, which at present shows little signs of economic development and progress, and jobs in the private sector, apart from fisheries, are non-existent.
Therefore, the people of Gwadar are against the Link Road and Port Facility. The new developments are not offering jobs to locals, where, according to Majeed, mostly non-locals are employed with Chinese companies.
In November 2021, the people of Gwadar were on the roads protesting against myriads of problems, primarily caused by the ongoing development projects in the city.
The protest leader, Maulana Hedayat-ur-Rehman is a middle-aged man. “My father was a fisherman and my brother is still engaged with the fishing industry. I own a boat,” said Maulana Hedayat.
Rehman joined Jamaat-e-Islami-run madrassah in Karachi at an early age and became a member of Jamiat-ul-Arabia — a Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing for madrassah students. “I was trained in organizational work during my days in Jamiat-ul-Arabia,” he added.
In November 2021, protests began in Gwadar. The local population started demanding better rights and livelihood. The Gwadar Ko Haq Do (or Give Gwadar its rights) movement saw tens of thousands of women, men, and young children marching on the main roads of the city, chanting slogans against the provincial government. Protestors had a long list of demands, including better access to electricity and education, the removal of unnecessary check posts, and action against the trawler mafia, which has ruined the livelihood of local fishermen in the coastal city.
The Gwadar Ko Haq Do (or Give Gwadar its rights) movement saw tens of thousands of women, men, and young children marching on the main roads of the city, chanting slogans against the provincial government.
Contrary to the expectations, the development projects in Gwadar have not produced the required results for the local population. “We are not getting the jobs in the port… it’s the non-locals who are getting most of the jobs” said Adam Qadarbakhsh. Besides, the development projects are ruining the existing livelihood of the local population.
“A majority of the local population is fishermen. There are no other jobs in Gwadar, apart from a few in the public sector,” said Nasir Rahim, who is a journalist as well as an educationist. Chinese companies started fishing in the waters close to the port after they arrived at Gwadar. There is a general perception among the local population that Chinese are depleting the fishing resources of Gwadar. “They [Chinese] do fishing with electricity currents and are depleting the fishing resources,” said a local fisherman.
The locals also have complaints against fishing trawlers coming from Sindh after the construction of the port at Gwadar. “Trawlers from Sindh are using a type of net for fishing which is causing damage to the ecology of the sea,” said another local fisherman.
Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman said that they would resume their protest in the coming weeks — “This time we will stage a dharna in front of the Port facility,” and demand removal of all obstacles that hinder fishing activity in the sea.
Rehman is assisted by many seasoned political activists. One of them is Hussein Wadhela, a secular Baloch nationalist.
Wadhela thinks the delicate situation in Gwadar cannot be delinked from the larger political and security problems that exist in Balochistan. “This is my country. I am ready to work with the government of Pakistan but not as a second class citizen. I am ready to work with them as an equal citizen of this country, if I’m given full political freedom and civil rights.” he said.
Like every other citizen of Gwadar, Wadhela was extremely bitter about the presence of a high number of security check posts in the city. The people of Gwadar have to face humiliation at the hands of security officials who man the security check posts. Every time you cross the check post you have to show your Identity and register with the officials manning the check post. And this is no minor issue as far as people of Gwadar are concerned. “This is a serious problem,” said Wadhela.
The people of Gwadar are on the verge of starting another long protest movement.
Maulana Hedayat-ur-Rehman has a following in Gwadar. “There are two good things about Maulana — he is not using violence as a political tool and he is ready to work with law and constitution,” said a senior government official posted in Gwadar, on the condition of anonymity.
He said that in the concluding days of the November protests, Rehman had a meeting with the deputy commissioner of Gwadar. He asked him to define development. “The DC resisted. Maulana told him that there could be no concept of development if it doesn’t benefit the local population,” informed the government official.
This left the DC speechless, according to government officials.