EVENTS seem to be repeating themselves in Gwadar, as supporters of the Haq Do Tehreek , led by Jamaat-i-Islami’s Maulana Hidayatur Rahman, have been protesting in the port city for two months or so, mirroring last year’s massive demonstrations. However, matters turned ugly on Monday following a strike call as police and the protesters faced off. The law enforcers resorted to tear-gassing demonstrators as a mob tried to attack a police station, resulting in several arrests. The Balochistan home minister says the protesters were trying to block the port and police had “no option” but to resort to forceful measures. The HDT has been staging protests for a number of demands, including the banning of illegal trawlers in Balochistan’s waters, a reduction of security checkpoints, as well as the liberalisation of trade with neighbouring Iran. The violence erupted after negotiations between officials and HDT representatives broke down.
While violence cannot be condoned, the state needs to handle this issue with care. The fact is that many of the HDT’s demands are justified, and reflect the deeper malaise affecting Balochistan, as many of the province’s people feel they are not getting the fruit of ‘development’ that projects such as CPEC and others are supposed to bring. While critics say the HDT chief has political aspirations, the fact is that he has struck a chord with the people of Makran, who feel the establishment-backed politicians, as well as the nationalists, have failed to deliver. Instead of cracking down on the protesters, the state needs to resolve the impasse and address the people’s genuine problems and continue the dialogue process. Instead of more promises, the people of Balochistan need action on the ground, so that they become the principal beneficiaries of development in their own province. Considering decades of neglect, it will take time to address the people’s grievances, but the government needs to deal with the issues with compassion and understanding, rather than resorting to the use of force.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022