AFTER the arrest of Haq Do Tehreek (HDT) leader Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, the mood in Gwadar has been sombre over the weekend.

The Maulana had been in hiding following the registration of a case against him over the death of a policeman during an operation to disperse an HDT protest last month.

Thanks to the imposition of Section 144 in the area, life seems to have returned to normal in the Padizar beach and Marine Drive areas — the localities where protesters gathered and marched during the HDT demonstrations.

At the same time, anger is bubbling over the way the Maulana was finally taken into custody.

During a visit to different areas in the port town, Dawn spoke to women, traders, and fishermen; everyone was alarmed at Maulana’s arrest. Jameel Baloch, a shopkeeper in the Gwadar bazaar, says he is angry, like others are, over the protest leader’s arrest.

“The Maulana has been campaigning for our basic, legitimate rights, which are neither against the Constitution nor the state of Pakistan. He is a peaceful man,” he says.

Mr Baloch says he became a follower of the Maulana after attending the protests. His demands resonated with the shopkeeper, because they were all the same things that he and many residents of Gwadar had been unable to enunciate.

On Friday, the Maulana had arrived at the court to reportedly surrender himself. However, even amongst a crowd of lawyers, he was not allowed to enter the court room.

District Police Officer Najeebullah Pandrani told media persons that the Maulana was wanted in the case of slain police constable Yasir Saeed Ari and 19 other cases.

But the lawyers present termed the arrest tantamount to ‘contempt of court’ when the protest leader had come to court to surrender himself to the law.

The arrest is definitely the talk of town, and subsequent events have demonstrated that the protest had an impact.

In an apparent bid to placate the protesters, the provincial government has declared the status of labour for local fishermen in order to secure their labour rights and to bring them to the ambit of labour laws and the ILO conventions.

Moreover, the provincial government has announced health cards for the fishermen of the coastal districts of Gwadar and Lasbela.

According to the local administration and fisheries department in Gwadar, they have been patrolling the sea 24 hours. Fisheries Department’s Director General Saifullah Khetran, while talking to Dawn, said they had confiscated 12 trawlers in the waters of Gwadar within two months.

However, local people in Gwadar, including the HDT members, are not convinced. Instead, their anger has increased following the Maulana’s arrest.

“Our top leadership is in jail,” Naveed Baloch tells Dawn, who is a councillor of HDT, “Since there is Section 144 imposed in Gwadar, we are waiting for the orders of our leadership to resume our protests.”

On the day of Maulana’s arrest, the top military commander in Balochistan Lt Gen Asif Ghafoor was present in the port town. While meeting political party leaders, journalists, businessmen, and common citizens, he held out the assurance that they would try to resolve the local people’s problems with joint efforts of the civil administration and the general public.

“We stand with the Maulana who has been leading the movement for the basic issues and people’s problems,” Suleiman Baloch, an old supporter of HDT tells Dawn in Gwadar.

“Even though we protested at the Gwadar port area, we have done to bring an end to illegal trawling and for other issues facing Gwadar. And we will not back down an inch from our rights, which are enshrined in the Constitution.”

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2023

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