THERE exists in mankind an instinct to throw off the yoke of oppression. The tipping point may come after years of injustice and hardship, but it will come and when it does, the people will rise and demand they be heard. That is what appears to be unfolding in Gwadar city where tens of thousands of locals as well as people from surrounding districts have been protesting for close to a month — that too without a party flag in sight. Their numbers continue to swell and, most surprisingly for a conservative society, women are participating in droves — not just standing by silently, but speaking articulately and forcefully about their rights.
Led by Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman, general secretary of the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Balochistan chapter, the ‘Gwadar ko haq do’ movement, as it is known, has some 20 demands that it wants the provincial government to fulfil. Several of them pertain to the severe shortage of drinking water and the dire state of educational and health facilities in the area, as well as the devastating impact that illegal fishing by trawlers along the coast has had on the livelihoods of local fishermen. A week ago, the provincial government announced it had accepted the protesters’ demands and urged Maulana Hidayat to call off the sit-in.
However, the people — long familiar with the empty gestures of officialdom — are not going to be mollified so easily. A transfer here and there, a promise to review policy, an announcement to form committees — these tactics will not cut it. The crescendo of voices demanding their rights is only growing louder and the mass of humanity gathering day after day in the port city shows no sign of dispersing. It is a rare development in the highly securitised province which inevitably scores the lowest on the country’s human development indices. That the protest is taking place in the shadow of the port long projected as the centrepiece of the multi-billion-dollar CPEC project is a damning indictment of the authorities’ skewed priorities.
As Maulana Hidayat said in a TV interview a couple of days ago: “When the Gwadar port has brought no prosperity to those living in its vicinity, what good can it do for the people in the rest of the country?” The Balochistan government and the security establishment must take concrete, verifiable measures to address the protesters’ demands. Otherwise Gwadar could become the spark in a tinderbox of disaffection.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2021