UNTIL recently, mass protests in Balochistan — other than in Quetta by the beleaguered Hazara community — were unheard of. Decades of wilful neglect and political machinations by the state have seemingly left the people of the province resigned to their fate. But there is a tipping point for everything. For people living in Gwadar, that moment has arrived. On Tuesday, thousands of them staged a sit-in to protest the authorities’ indifference towards the provision of basic facilities for residents in the area. Remarkably enough, this was the second such mass protest in the port city within a span of a few weeks. Thousands of residents of Gwadar and Turbat had also gathered there in early October to demonstrate against the non-availability of drinking water, health and education facilities and rising unemployment in Makran division. Tuesday’s protest had been called after the deadline given on the earlier occasion for the acceptance of the people’s demands had passed.
Gwadar port has long been portrayed as the jewel in the CPEC crown, but in the process the city has become the very embodiment of a security state. The authorities’ priorities are geared towards securing the port and its ancillary interests; the welfare of those for whom the area is home counts for little. Far from the port being a harbinger of an economic boom, the opposite has happened. Existing privations have deepened; people’s mobility is restricted by security forces and there is unwarranted questioning of their activities. Many say they are made to feel like strangers in their own land. Adding to the miseries of the large number of fishermen among the populace, the government, they complain, has issued licences to Chinese trawlers to fish in the waters off the coast. Their small boats cannot possibly compete, as a result of which their livelihoods are being squeezed. This is the petri dish of discontent from which have sprung the recent protests. What will it take for the authorities to take notice of their citizens’ voices?
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2021