“The Crown Jewel of Pakistan”, as the term was coined for Gwadar by politicians in Pakistan and Balochistan, implied that Gwadar would be the jewel in the CPEC. The region is still living in absolute destitution. Pakistan is a beneficiary of Balochistan except for its residents who still await the benefits from the resource surplus.
The livelihood sources for the people of Gwadar are limited and constrained. The two major options for everyone in Gwadar are border trade with Iran and fishing. Unlike Karachi, there is no private industry, there is no banking sector in Gwadar and on top of it, the land of Gwadar is not fertile for agriculture purposes. Crony capitalists have hijacked the only two sources of income of these impoverished families.
It is important to understand why these protests have erupted in Gwadar. Even though It was Gwadar that brought more than $60 billion in investments from China in the form of CPEC, the people of Gwadar have not received much when it comes to development. It can still not “change the fate of the people of Gwadar” as it was repeatedly promised by the state establishment.
The people in Gwadar who are already living in massive destitution are being fooled and local fishermen are thrown into serious economic impediments. The massive trawlers, which have been banned in many countries worldwide for their unethical fishing mechanisms, have put the local fisherman at an absolute disadvantage. These mega trawlers have been known to endanger marine life.
With mounting anger and frustration, the people came out on the streets for peaceful protests which culminated in arrests and suppression of dissent.
The demands of the protesters included better access to electricity and education, the removal of unnecessary check posts, and action against the ‘trawler mafia’ which ruined the livelihood of the local fishermen in the coastal city. Locals complained that the regime treats protests differently; there had been protests by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, who had been highly successful in extracting concessions from the state through their extremist actions including killings, vandalism of public property, and holding the government hostage until their radical demands were met. The Pakistan government remains consistent in its policy of appeasing groups, violent or peaceful, that they fear will either hurt their relationship with China (like the Gwadar protestors) or damage their association with the ultra-orthodox far-right groups (like the TLP).
The Pashtuns have also held peaceful protests under the banner of the Pashtun Tahafuz movement demanding rights and reparations for the tribal areas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. They have been the victims of repression, with the government labelling the protests as anti-national. This is similar to how the state has dealt with certain Baloch groups, including the peaceful ones, labelling them as treasonous and repressing them further with military might.
The exclusion of the local population from the development projects is what made the matter worse leading to some rebellious activities by fringe extremist groups, one of them being the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) waging multiple attacks on security forces in Panjgur and Nushki districts. The assault lasted four days and left 20 militants and nine Pakistani soldiers dead. The Pakistani military said in a statement it was the biggest separatist attack in recent years. The BLA is the largest insurgent group in Balochistan and has been active for decades. It, and other groups, have stepped up its activities targeting Chinese interests in the province after CPEC projects began to expand.
The provincial government, the PTI government, and most importantly, the military must realize that the local population must be the first and the foremost to reap the benefits of Balochistan’s resources and inclusively designed projects.
Image – Asia News