Unfulfilled promises

Published November 22, 2022

IN Gwadar, the protesters are back on the streets, forced to raise their voices for their rights due to the state’s unfulfilled promises. Around the same time last year, tens of thousands of demonstrators, including women and children, held an over a month-long sit-in under the banner of the Haq Do Tehreek calling upon the state to fulfil their demands, which included an end to illegal fishing off the Balochistan coast, provision of health facilities as well as drinking water. The PTI-led government then in power at the centre sent in several ministers to assure the demonstrators, led by Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman, that their grievances would be addressed, while the Balochistan chief minister signed an agreement binding the state to deliver upon the protesters’ demands. Moreover, then prime minister Imran Khan had termed the demands “very legitimate”. Yet despite the legitimacy of these demands, a year down the line the protesters have returned, again led by the maulana, and on Sunday, after 25 days of protest, a large number of demonstrators blocked the highway leading to Gwadar port, after a deadline given to the government to meet their requests had passed.

The demands remain the same: no more illegal fishing by trawlers; recovery of missing persons; maximum concessions in border trade with Iran; and other civic issues related to the port city. Maulana Rehman has said unless the demands are met, the port will be blocked. Instead of allowing this crisis to balloon further, the provincial and federal governments must respond proactively. Lollipops for the people of Gwadar and the rest of Balochistan will no longer do the trick. There needs to be solid action where the protesters’ genuine demands are concerned. The state wishes to turn Gwadar into a world-class port, a key node in the grand CPEC scheme. However, this will be very difficult unless Balochistan’s people are equal partners in these projects, and the benefits of foreign investment reach the locals and improve their quality of life.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022

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