Pakistanis fight for a living in Gwadar

In the name of securing shipping lanes and port development, rich fishing grounds owned by locals were confiscated and given to the Chinese.

New Delhi: For more than a month, residents of Balochistan demonstrated in large numbers in Gwadar before Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi sent his ministers to negotiate a peace deal. Eventually, the protests were called off on December 16, Thursday. People were not protesting for special privileges, but for basic conveniences and livelihoods due to the grim shadows of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which not only took away their livelihoods, but their very right. fundamental to live. The peaceful protests have been called “Gwadar Ko Huqooq Do Tehreek”, which means “give Gwadar his rights”. The city that was promised to become Pakistan’s Dubai was in the doldrums, with locals struggling for even basic needs. They had good reason to protest. When Chinese companies were given more than 2,000 acres of land to develop a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), pink promises were made by the Pakistani government. The Chinese were not only expected to employ over 40,000 residents in the project, but also had to provide drinking water and other basic amenities to over 2.5 lakh of people living in and around the city. port of Gwadar. None of this materialized.

The Gwadar Special Economic Zone (GSEZ) was scheduled to start operations by 2019 and all of its phases were to be completed by 2025, but today’s picture is gruesome. They are struggling to cope with the work and barely 20% of their planned work has been completed until August 2021. There is not even a single functional manufacturing plant in the whole of GSEZ, and the drinking water plant which was supposed to supply water to all of Gwadar. city ​​was limited to a Chinese colony. Road projects in the port area are progressing at a very slow pace, rail projects have not yet started and the construction of six large container posts as well as six freight terminals (one for bulk, haulage, traffic, LNG and two for oil) are only visible on the maps and in the masterplans.

This airport was supposed to be completed in 2017 but the work has been at a standstill for more than three years. As a result, it is still a dirt runway where only turboprop planes can land. Recently, the Pakistani government increased the cost of the project from $ 22.2 billion to $ 51.3 billion, more than double in just five years. Interestingly, the main contractor is a Chinese company, which will be the ultimate beneficiary; the subcontractors are the companies owned by the retired generals of the Pakistani army.

All the projects in Gwadar are not only slow, but also instead of employing local labor as per the promises made by the Pakistani government, they have started to employ outside labor. , ignoring the locals. In the name of securing their navigation routes and developing the port, rich fishing grounds belonging to the inhabitants were washed away; they were forbidden to go into the same waters where they had fished for so many generations. The same fishing grounds are now allocated to Chinese companies which employ huge Chinese trawlers and not only are depleting marine resources at an alarming rate, but are eating away at the livelihoods of local fishermen. This laid off more than 5 lakh families linked to the fishing industry, struggling to make ends meet. If you rip off one person’s livelihood and give it to another, he will naturally protest and that’s what happened in Gwadar. There have been protests in this area earlier as well, but this protest was special in many ways. We have noticed some unique characteristics in these manifestations. Here are some key points to remember.

  1. Livelihood Struggle: This protest was unique in that people were fighting for their livelihoods and their basic right to survival, which was snatched away and given to Chinese companies. The Pakistani government, which is responsible for its own citizen, has knelt down so much in front of Chinese companies that it has wrested fishing grounds, drinking water resources and other basic amenities from the locals and donated them to the Chinese.
  2. The long duration of the protests: While other protests lasted a few days, this time the protests lasted more than a month, which shows the determination of the inhabitants and their organized struggle for justice. Interestingly, throughout the duration of the protests, the number of people on the streets did not decrease but steadily increased, forcing the Pakistani government to announce that it would accept the protesters’ demands.
  3. Participation of women: Among the demonstrators, there were many women who protested for their fundamental right to life. It is unprecedented in Pakistani history that so many female protesters have come out in the open. In an Islamic country, where women are not treated equally with men, such a backlash from the local public against the government has sounded many alarm bells.
  4. Peaceful protest: Unlike past protests in the region which have turned ugly, this protest was largely peaceful and protesters did not cross their line of dignity. People blocked highways, railroads and communication points, but nowhere did they confront the police or create a disturbance. This is unique in a country where almost all protests turn violent and result in loss of life. Due to the peaceful nature of the protests, residents did not give the government the opportunity to use force against them.
  5. Involvement of people from all communities: This event not only included people from Gwadar or neighboring towns, but many people from all over Balochistan and parts of Sindh province including the Turbat coastal belt, Pishkan, Zamran, Buleda, Ormara and Pasni. Not only the fishermen but people from different communities united to fight against the government. It was because of the large number of demonstrators that Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi was forced to send large contingents of police and paramilitary forces to Gwadar to control a peaceful movement.
  6. Religious angle of the protests: There is also a religious angle and the protests were led by Maulana Hidayat-ur Rehman, who is a local leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan. Traditionally, the Jamaat has been close to Pakistan’s military establishment, but this time they were openly against them. Moreover, the story of Pakistan is that every time a protest takes a religious turn, things get more and more difficult for the government. The Lal Masjid episode and the recent actions of Tehreek-e-Labbaik are living examples. To prevent such an unknown event the government acted quickly.

AND NOW?

Although Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi promised the people the moon, after which they agreed to call off the protests, the question of how he will implement these promises is very difficult.

Does he have the courage to wrest fishing rights from Chinese companies and give them back to the locals? Can he force China to speed up work on Gwadar, especially when Pakistan is struggling to repay even the interest on previous loans? Can the Pakistani government itself invest huge sums of money to raise the standard of living of the people? Can a country that has been ruled by Punjabis all the time, ignoring other provinces in the past, support a state where Punjabis have limited interests?

Similar rosy promises were made when the Pakistani government forcibly acquired land from the local poor to establish GSEZ, but what people got over the past decade was “Sifar” which means zero. In light of the same, to what extent the new promises will be implemented is no longer a question now. We all know the answers.

Major Amit Bansal is a retired military officer.


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