Gwadar Sit-In and Facts Behind The Issue

For the last one month, the sociopolitical environment of Gwadar has been a hot topic of debate in and around the national and regional media. The protest was held in the port city of Gwadar by indigenous people and local fishermen who protested against the deprivation of the port city despite having huge strategic and economic importance.

The month-long sit-in was led by the local leader of Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman Baloch, who is leading this movement under his founded platform of Haq Do Tehreek (Give Rights Movement).

The major grievances and demands are of basic health, medical and education facilities to be provided to the people of Gwadar. Removal of unnecessary checkpoints. Ensure the availability of drinking water and electricity. Eviction of big fishing trawlers from the coast of Makran. And opening of the border with Iran from Panjgur to Gwadar.

The issue of trawling has caught the central attention in the 30 day long sit-in. The local fishermen have accused the central authorities of illegally giving the trawling rights to the external fishing companies including national and foreign. The majority of citizens of Gwadar hugely relies on fishing, and according to them after illegal trawling in their sea domain by some big companies, it is slowly snatching away the only available occupation from them.

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The stake holders in the center took strict notice of the whole situation. Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to take ‘strong’ action against illegal fishing by trawlers. He tweeted on 12 this month, “I have taken notice of the very legitimate demands of hardworking fishermen of Gwa­dar. Will be taking strong action against illegal fishing by trawlers and will speak to CM Balochistan.”

However, the issue of border management o not a child’s play rather it is a gateway of state’s safety and security. And as far as the border between Iran and Pakistan from Turbat to Makran Coast is sensitive to the stability of the region. Similarly, the border management issue is the cause of contention between Pak-Iran relations. Therefore, this year in April Pakistan’s Foreign Minister in a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, both stressed that for regional stability and peace effective border management is required.

Let’s understand, why is this whole movement has attracted the international outcry?

Gwadar is not just a city, rather it has one of the world’s strategic deep-sea ports. That gives it prime value as a port city in the region that holds a giant value and importance both strategically and economically. China’s multibillion-dollar BRI project’s flagship initiative is CPEC and deep-sea port of Gwadar is the beginning point of it. From there China can easily get access to Central Asian and Europe for achieving their desired economic goals.

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Some projects have been completed, while, several developmental projects will be completed under CPEC in Gwadar that will directly contribute to the economic and social development of the region. According to Mr. Rafiullah Kakar policy and development specialist from Balochistan, there were certain issues regarding the supply of water and Electricity. Work on connectivity of Swadh and Shadi Kaur dams to Gwadar city has been completed but the electric supply is still major issue and a hurdle in smooth water supply. Funds are allocated for upgradation of existing electric network and connection of Makran belt with national grid station.

Second, the public perception portraying CPEC as a “game-changer” has instilled misleading and unrealistic expectations in ordinary people, who see it as a cure and replacement for domestic economic and development plans. People of Gwadar are of the view that local people are not getting enough employment opportunities out of China’s multibillion-dollar economic project China Pakistan Economic Corridor (commonly known as ‘CPEC’) in Pakistan. This perception is nurturing an anti-state or an anti-Chinese development attitude, if not countered amicably.

This is an age of information warfare very ardently voiced by the country’s most powerful institution Army. But at the same time, it is very hard to inform people about it or distinguish ourselves what is right and wrong in this overflown information space. The role of media in shaping or reshaping the public discourse is very imminent and can’t be ignored.

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The anti-Pakistan Indian Media campaign and anti-China western media campaign has done its job in style to fuel the fire. Like in the Indian news website ‘The Print’ alternatively pronouncing Gwadar protest, Baloch protest. Instead of political movement, the Indian Media is portraying it as the Baloch ethnic issue. In this regard, role of India’s multinational broadcasting media network WION has been so prominent. The said news channel has continuously been covering this issue for the last three weeks.

While the role of Pakistani media has remained not that appreciative. Even today, the state’s, much of the media, and much of mainstream academia are more interested in fabricating a falsely favorable picture of reality than in presenting the truth which in turn causes such political uprisings.

The strategic importance of Gwadar due to CPEC has attracted the anti-Pakistan and anti-Chinese narrative. The immediate adversary of Pakistan, India in the region and capitalist western media has given much coverage to this sit-in due to anti-China narrative. The west is skeptical of Chinese global hegemonic economic designs, while India is anxious towards international investment through this project in Pakistan because CPEC project will have a very positive impact on the country’s economy. Instead of joining hands in development of region India is pushing a false narrative and investing in propaganda campaigns against Pakistan and China to destabilize CPEC.

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The response of the provincial authorities was not timely; therefore, the federal government has stepped in and put its full efforts for resolving this issue. Though the provincial government has fulfilled most of the demands, but some demands were the bone of contention were the demands discussed above. These unresolved demands were taken up by the federal government after PM Khan strongly advised the federal cabinet to ensure the timely resolve.

The issue of Gwadar is not the about the unequal distribution of resources rather it is the gap of delivering the services of these development to the local communities which is increasing resentment among the youth of Gwadar. This protest cum sit-in must be took seriously by the state’s stake holders in order to counter any further anti-Pakistan sentiments in the future.

Such an approach could entail political reconciliation with insurgents, the removal of unnecessary checkpoints, making the government of Balochistan a shareholder in port revenues, establishing job quotas for Makran residents in industries planned in free zones, providing solar home units to all Gwadar residents, upgrading the water transmission network, and establishing a public sector company to harness the potential reverse osmosis for drinking. Moreover, a particular fuel subsidy may be issued in the Gwadar district in order to boost traffic through Gwadar port. Furthermore, to offset the negative impact of fencing, a legitimate trade gateway with all allied facilities and trade logistics may be established in each district along Balochistan’s border with Afghanistan and Iran.

Writer is Islamabad based Freelance Journalist and a researcher with State run Tv. He tweets @zamanbajwaa

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