QUETTA / GWADAR: Two Balochistan government officials — home minister and an adviser to the chief minister — arrived in the coastal city of Gwadar on Saturday with one purpose: to negotiate a settlement and convince the protesters of Haq Do Tehreek (HDT) to end their around two-month-long demonstration.

Home Minister Mir Ziaullah Langove and Adviser to Balochistan CM Lala Rasheed met with the HDT leadership, but with little goodwill between the two sides, talks failed to make any headway.

Mr Langove said the government was making “all-out efforts’’ to address the protesters’ grievances and hoped to find a way out with negotiations.

While the minister appeared hopeful, HDT leader Maulana Hidayatur Rehman refused to even participate in the negotiations and the government delegation had to meet the second-tier leadership.

Mr Rehman blames the government’s “non-serious attitude” for the impasse.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Rehman — a veteran politician from Gwadar — said the provincial government has failed to address their concerns for a long time.

He said the locals were protesting over “genuine issues” including, illegal trawling in Gwadar’s water, high number of security checkpoints and trade on Pak-Iran border.

“These are issues of the Baloch. There is no trade at the Pakistan-Iran border. There are still a great number of checkpoints. The issue of illegal trawling still persists,” he told Dawn.

Illegal trawling has deprived local fishermen of their livelihood and if the provincial government was serious, it can easily put an end to this issue, he said while complaining of lack of efforts from the other side.

However, officials told Dawn that considerable progress has been made to address the protesters’ demands. Gwadar Deputy Commissioner Izzat Nazeer Baloch said eight trawlers have been confiscated by the fisheries department. And the fee for boat registration and renewal of licence has been decreased as per the protesters’ demand.

“Police, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency and Coast Guards, will carry out joint patrolling to curb illegal trawling,” DC Baloch said.

Negotiations being held between Balochistan Home Minister Zia Langove and leaders of the Haq Do Tehreek on Saturday. —Dawn
Negotiations being held between Balochistan Home Minister Zia Langove and leaders of the Haq Do Tehreek on Saturday. —Dawn

With respect to the trade on the border, he claimed smooth trade was going on at Kuntani border and the Iranian authorities have been requested to open more border crossings.

“All unnecessary checkpoints have been removed but the HDT is demanding to abolish army camps which is impossible under the current security environment,” the deputy commissioner added.

“Multiple meetings were carried out before the sit-in and [Mr Rehman’s] genuine demands were met,” he claimed while referring to the ongoing sit-in at the Expressway, a road linking to key installations like the port and the under-construction international airport.

‘Politics’ behind the movement

This is not the first mass mobilisation led by Mr Rehman. The coastal town of Gwadar — which seldom made headlines before being flushed with Chinese investment under CPEC — was catapulted into national discourse last year when Mr Rehman led historic protests seeking redressal of the same issues.

Those who saw the previous movement say the support for the movement has decreased this year. They link it to Mr Rehman’s ‘political aspirations’.

They claim the HDT leader has his sights set on the next general elections and the fresh movement has little to do with the rights of its people.

For Mr Rehman, contesting elections was his “democratic right” like every other politician. He also dismissed the claims of diminishing support.

He said fishermen, locals, activists, labourers and above all “the nation” was standing with him.

Experts say Mr Rehman has presented himself as a popular leader amid a political vacuum that existed in Gwadar.

“In Gwadar, the Baloch follow Maulana because the political leadership, especially the nationalist leadership, has disappointed [them] due to corruption and vested interests,” said Prof Mumtaz Baloch, a political science professor at a university in Quetta.

Analysts say the fresh wave of protests will continue till the next general elections as Mr Rehman would like to transform it into an electoral victory.

“Maulana has political ambitions,” argues Nasir Sohrabi, who is an analyst hailing from a political family in Gwadar.

He added that if the HDT leader played his “political cards” well, he could give a tough time to Hammal Kalmati, the current provincial assembly member from Gwadar.

Mr Kalmati has been dominating the politics in the port town since long before Mr Rehman emerged on the national scene with his protests last year.

“[Mr Kalmati] is well aware of the grounded political realities in Gwadar, which is why over the last few months he has been showcasing his development works in Gwadar,” Mr Sohrabi added.

But for those who joined Mr Rehman in the protests, his political ambitions, if any, don’t matter as they rallied behind him over genuine issues.

Rukhsana Baloch was one of the women who joined the women’s rally in Gwadar, headed by Mr Rehman.

She told Dawn she went along with other women in her family for her brother Azeem Dost who has been missing for the last eight years.

The viewpoints on the movements — political or genuine — might vary, but the ground reality remained that a large number of people were out on the streets of Gwadar demanding their rights.

Understandably, the developments are being closely monitored by China which has heavily invested in the area and has been developing the deep sea port.

Commenting on the protests, Chinese Consul General Li Bijan said Mr Rehamn and his movement’s leaders met Chinese officials in Karachi and Islamabad.

“We have been assured the protests in Gwadar have got nothing to do with the CPEC,” said Mr Bijan while talking to Dawn at the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

However, he added that a deeper analysis shows the protests have “got to do something with the CPEC”.

Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2022

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