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Massive Protest in Pakistan's Gwadar

What's Happening?
  • Since the second week of November, there have been continuous protests in Gwadar, Balochistan against the mega development plans of the port city as a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
  • The protesters, rallying under the "Gwadar Ko Huqooq Do Tehreek" (Give Rights to Gwadar Movement), have sought to draw attention to marginalisation of the local people in the development of the port.
  • They are angry that not only are they being excluded, their present livelihood too has been endangered.
  • They are from Gwadar and nearby areas of the coastal Balochistan including Turbat, Pishkan, Zamran, Buleda, Ormara and Pasni.
  • This is not the first time Gwadar is seeing protests, but this one has become the longest running protest.
  • Despite the severe conservatism of Balochistan, women protesters have come out in large numbers.
  • Another significant aspect of the protest is that it is led by a Jamaat-e-Islami leader of the area, Malauna Hidayat ur Rehman.
  • The Jamaat-e-Islami has traditionally been an ally of Pakistan's military establishment.
  • The national leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Siraj Ul Haq also visited Gwadar in the show of solidarity with the protesters.

What are the local concerns:
  • Balochistan is among the least developed even though it is the most resource - rich of Pakistan's four provinces.
  • The main means of livelihood for people in the region is fishing.
  • Balochistan has the lowest access to drinking water, electricity and even the gas that is the main resource of the region.
  • The protesters have made 19 demands, according to Dawn Newspaper of Pakistan.
  • One is that more people from Gwadar should be employed by the Chinese Company for developing the port.
  • One top of this list is that the Government should crack down on foreign "trawler mafia" who are stripping the Gwadar Sea of marine resources.
  • This demand was first raised in June, when hundreds of fishermen, political workers and members of civil society had staged a protest against the Government's grant of licenses to Chinese fishing trawlers.
  • Protesters pointed out that Gwadar fishermen had given up their fishing spots for development of the port after assurances that it would greatly improve their economic condition.
  • Their existing condition was only worsening because of the unequal competition with the Chinese fishing vessels, which were also harming the ecosystem.
  • They expressed anger and disappointment that Pakistani Government officials including the federal Fisheries Minister were not supporting their case and giving statements in favour of the Chinese fisherman and demanded that the licences be cancelled.

Importance of the port to China

  • The port development at Gwadar is perhaps the single most strategically important project of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and Chinese involvement there predates the CPEC by at least a decade.
  • Work there began during the 10- year rule of General Parvez Msharraf, who pitched it as a strategic energy corridor that would provide the Chinese an alternative to the sea route for its oil imports from the Middle east.
  • Now it is integral to President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Ever since, Baloch nationalists have been angry at their exclusion and separatist insurgent groups like the Baloch Liberation Army and others have targeted Chinese interests in and around Gwadar.
  • The attacks have only risen after the CPEC took off.
  • An attack on Serena in 2019 took place during a visit by an official Chinese delegation.
  • In response, more Pakistani troops have flooded the port city.
India's Concerns
India has been concerned that Gwadar, which gives China strategic access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, is not just being developed as a trade entrepot.

Written by: Shashwata Sahu, Advocate, LL.M., KIIT School of Law

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