The massive protests in Gwadar which unnerved Islamabad and Beijing was fuelled by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).Dr Shabir Choudhry, a writer and an activist from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), writing in his blog said that the Gwadar protest led by Jamat e Islami was a kind of victory for the protestors because Imran Khan's government, despite strict media control, woke up and decided to listen to demands of tens of thousands of men and women protestors.
China has been involved in the development of the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea as part of a USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure project. This protest or sit-in of tens of thousands of local people was against 'illegal trawling, a growing drugs trade and the lack of basic facilities like health and education.
Famous slogans were "Give Gwadar its Rights" and "Haq Ya Shahdat", meaning rights or Martyrdom. This peaceful movement received a big boost when tens of thousands of women and children joined the protest. The protesting men, women, old and young called off their month-long sit-in after many rounds of talks, said Choudhry.
Balochistan is very important to both Pakistan and China because of its strategic position, natural resources and the CPEC which ends in Gwadar, and provides China access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Moreover, Gwadar is in Pakistan's impoverished province of Balochistan, which is a sparsely populated, mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran.
Despite the lofty claims of Pakistan, the local residents of Gwadar have long complained that Chinese presence and investment in the area has done very little, if any, to improve their lives, particularly with regards to water scarcity and jobs. The reality is that they face more problems since the inauguration of the CPEC, as they encounter more restrictions and fewer rights; and to make matters worse, the Chinese projects have, "Robbed them of their primary source of livelihood, fishing, as giant fishing trawlers have come in through the Arabian Sea, resulting in the closure of a majority of fish processing factories," wrote Choudhry. It must be pointed out that the local people strongly feel that they are deprived of their livelihoods as more than two million people are directly linked with the fishing business in Gwadar.
The residents of the city also demanded access to clean water, power supply, and a right of movement by removing check-posts which restrict movement of the local people, and create enormous problems for the local people, as they cannot freely move around in their own hometown, Choudhry wrote. Baloch leaders fighting the Pakistani state and their oppression and looting in Balochistan, including Gwadar, are not prepared to trust the Pakistani establishment, as they have been 'betrayed' by the Pakistani state many times.
While speaking to Choudhary, a Baloch political and human rights activist, Munir Mengal said, "People who are peacefully protesting in Gwadar want access to clean drinking water. They want a right to life. They have lived in this area for centuries, and their livelihood is fishing. With the help of China, they are deprived to fish and survive." "Pakistani establishment is systematically killing Baloch nationalists, which can be called slow-motion genocide of the Baloch people. Sadly, the list of the missing people is getting longer and longer, and authorities have no concern for the suffering families," added Mengal. Holland-based Think Tank, European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) in its newsletter published on 24 December 2021, pointed out that 'the main demands of the of the Movement included a ban on illegal trawling the Arabian Sea, including massive Chinese fishing operations there which the protesters said had rendered the local fishermen and others jobless, access to the coastal areas near the Gwadar seaport, and reopening of the Iranian border, which is a major commercial and trading centre for the local population.'
It is in the interest of China and Pakistan to crush and subjugate the Baloch people; and both countries (China and Pakistan) work as a team to discredit and harm the Balochi struggle, said Choudhry. If the local people make too much noise or instigate some kind of resistance or disobedience, they could also face serious trouble.
They can be abducted and imprisoned, or in the worst-case scenario, killed in a fake encounter. Their name will be added to the growing list of missing persons; and their loved ones will spend the rest of their lives protesting, and trying to find out where their husband, son, brother or other relatives have gone. Moreover, whereas it is pleasing to note that the local people of Gwadar may get some benefits or some rights as a result of this four weeks-long protest, however, it must also be noted that it is also a victory for Jamat e Islami and its leadership.
This 'victory' for Jamat e Islami is in a way a victory for the religious and extremist politics, which will surely provide impetus to religious and extremist groups in Pakistan, and especially in Gwadar and Balochistan.
The real danger is that the Movement or struggle in Gwadar and Balochistan may be divided into religious and sectarian lines. If this happens then it will give a new dimension to the struggle in Balochistan, lamented Choudhry. If the authorities decided to only rely on their military might and gave no importance to dialogue and consultation then there is a serious threat that it can escalate and may lead to some foreign intervention with disastrous consequences, advised Choudhry.