Thousands of people, including women and children, continued protesting in Gwadar for the 17th day on Wednesday, demanding among other things, access to clean drinking water and an end to "trawler mafia".
Protestors from Gwadar, Turbat, Pishkan, Zamran, Buleda, Ormara and Pasni are taking part in the Gwadar Ko Huqooq Do Tehreek (Give Rights to Gwadar Movement) led by Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, a local leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami. They have vowed to continue their protest till their demands are met.
Balochistan Minister for Planning and Development Mir Zahoor Ahmed Buledi said the provincial government had started working on the demands as soon as the protest was announced by Rehman.
He said he had held three rounds of talks with the protest leader and termed the demands "legitimate and pro-public". The Balochistan government, as soon as it was formed, tried to end deficiencies in service delivery, he added.
Regarding the demand to put an end to illegal fishing/trawler mafia, Buledi said eight trawlers had been seized so far and asked Rehman to send a representative if he did not have trust in the government.
The Balochistan government would also discuss the trawler issue with the Sindh government, he shared.
He said that wine stores had been shut in the district in line with the demand of the protesters.
The minister claimed Rehman had acknowledged that there was an improvement in the situation regarding security check-posts. "The government is serious about the Maulana's demands. When the negotiations with the administration failed, ministers, including me, went to Gwadar."
The team asked Rehman not to close the door on talks, he further said, asking the protest leader to give the government some time as some of the demands required legislation. "We told the Maulana that our purposes are the same — to serve the people."
Meanwhile, Gawadar Deputy Commissioner retired captain Ahmed Jameel Baloch visited the protest site after assuming charge of his office and spoke with Rehman.
Baloch vowed to work for the betterment of the district and ensure that no citizen faced any problems due to district administration.
"The DC office is open to all citizens and everyone will be heard. We will make full efforts to solve the problems in Gwadar," he emphasised.
For his part, Maulana Rehman said he hoped that a common citizen would be heard by the DC Office the same way as an MPA. "When the DC Office transforms into a pro-public office, the people's problems will be solved. We will have to give people more importance than buildings," he added.
People of Balochistan have been 'cheated'
Speaking on Dawn News programme Zara Hat Kay a day earlier, Rehman said when the Gwadar port was inaugurated in 2002, and again when work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) began, the people of Gwadar were told that the projects would transform the province as well as the whole of Pakistan.
"But the residents in Gwadar do not have water, electricity, education, medical treatment or employment nor are they being respected ... not a single penny of CPEC was spent on Balochistan. We got dead bodies instead," he said.
Rehman said the protesters were not asking the Balochistan government for employment opportunities but only protection for the means of livelihood they already had — fishing. "The federal and provincial governments and influential people are patronising the trawler mafia."
"Allow us to earn a livelihood," he demanded. "Give us respect."
Talking about Buledi's statement on action against fishing trawlers, Rehman said, "They (government) are giving us assurances again and again but they are a picture of helplessness and it was apparent that the trawler mafia is more powerful than provincial government. They are driving our marine life to extinction."
He lamented the lack of clean drinking water, observing that in an era of technology, the residents of Balochistan who were living along the coastline could "see the water but can't drink it".
"There was a [desalination] project in an area at some distance from Gwadar. It was said it would provide 20,000 gallons of water daily. By God's grace, not even 20 glasses of water have been desalinated," he quipped, adding that Rs1 billion had been spent on the project.
Rehman noted that people in Balochistan living close to the Pak-Iran border had families in the neighbouring country and imposing restrictions on their movement would be akin to breaking them apart. "We get cheaper items on the border with Iran. We used to get them for 500 per cent reduced price as compared to our own products before restrictions and security checkposts.
"If we are benefiting from a [fluid] border, then it's the government's responsibility to legislate for that. When our Constitution can be amended overnight to benefit one person, then why can't [lawmakers] sit for the benefit of the entire public?" he questioned.
According to a document available with Dawn.com, the protesters have put forth 19 demands which include taking steps to rid the sea of the "trawler mafia" and allowing fishermen to freely go into the waters.
The protesters have also called for getting rid of unnecessary checkposts and to not "insult" citizens in the name of security. They also demanded that all wine stores in Gwadar be shut down, and to allow border with Iran.
The demands also state that a majority of the people employed by the China Overseas Port Holding Company were from outside of Gwadar and called for giving priority to locals.
Official sources had earlier told Dawn the provincial government accepted four demands of the protesters and authorities concerned had issued an official notification in this regard.
One of the key demands accepted by the provincial government was taking over powers of running the Pak-Iran border affairs from the Frontier Corps authorities and handing it over to the district administration.
It was decided that the Maritime Security Agency, the district administration and the fisheries department will conduct joint patrolling in Balochistan waters against illegal fishing of trawlers and drive foreign mafia trawlers out of waters of Gwadar district to protect rights of fishermen of Gwadar and other areas of Balochistan.
Last week, the Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics Department had ordered the closure of all wine stores in Gwadar district with immediate effect in view of the "law and order situation".
'Anti-China protests in Gwadar purely fake news'
Meanwhile, Beijing refuted media reports that the protests in Gwadar were anti-China, calling it "fake news" aimed at smearing ongoing CPEC work in the region.
According to a report carried by CGTN, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the comments at a press conference on Tuesday.
"The report by certain media on anti-China protests in the Gwadar region is completely groundless. It has been verified that there are no Chinese trawlers harboring in the Gwadar Port or fishing in relevant waters," he said.
"I would like to reiterate that the Gwadar Port, a flagship project under CPEC, always focuses on development and is livelihood-oriented. The Chinese side upholds the principle of mutual respect and agreement through consultation in advancing relevant cooperation," he added.
The official said that "Beijing firmly opposed certain media outlets' malicious attempt to smear CPEC and China-Pakistan relations by fabricating disinformation with subterfuge in violation of press ethics," the report stated.