The people of Gwadar have supported a sit-in protest for the last 43 days
elatively few people across Pakistan may be aware that a sit-in protest has been going on in Gawadar for six weeks. A month-long protest demonstration in the port town last year had resulted in some promises by the government. The protests have been led by Maulana Hidayat-urRehman, an emerging leader the people of Gwadar from the platform of Haq Do Tehreek (Gwadar Rights Movement).
The protest site once again is the entrance to the Gwadar port, the centre stage for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The protestors are demanding certain rights for the people of Gwadar and demanding changes like a reduction in the number of check posts, easier border trade and a total end to deep-sea fish trawling in the sea next to Gwadar. Earlier this month, the protestors held a sit-in demonstration in front of the entrance to the new Gwadar International Airport, which is still under construction.
Unlike last year, the protesters have not received much media attention this time around. This is partly because of other sensational news like the appointment of a new army chief and Imran Khan’s call to dissolve the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa crowding the airwaves. Another factor is that the protest movement this year is not as strong as it was last year.
There are three main reasons for the weaker support for the Maulana. First, some of the main demands of the Haq Do Tehreek have already been met. Last year, the people of Gwadar had faced severe mismanagement and issues with regard to security checkposts, border trade, fishermen’s access to the sea and a large number of deep-sea fishing trawlers. These problems were resolved following the protest movement led by the Maulana last year. The demands put forward now by the Maulana have not attracted as many people to his cause.
Secondly, as a result of Haq Do Tehreek’s protest last year and its success more people have been engaged in economic activities.They can no longer be at sit-in protestsfor long. Most of the aforementioned demands were related to economic issues. Last year, the fishermen and merchants involved in border trade had attended the sit-in protest because they were being deprived of their livelihood on the pretext of security. Now that they can easily travel for business, they don’t see the need for the sit-in.
Earlier this year, the Maulana capitalised on the popularity of last year’s protest to contest a local government election and won a decisive victory. This earned him the ire of several political parties that have now refused to lend him support. This has resulted in a smaller number of protestors.
The third reason is the growing political opposition to the Maulana. Last year, a majority of opposition parties had supported the sit-in because it was still a protest movement. Earlier this year, the Maulana capitalised on the popularity of that protest to contest a local government electionfrom the platform of Haq Do Tehreek and won a decisive victory in the first round of polls. This earned him the ire of other political parties who now see him as a rival. These political parties have refused to lend their support to the Maulana. This has resulted in smaller numbers of protestors.
Despite getting less attention than expected, the Maulana is determined to continue with his protest. There are two main motives behind his strategy of persisting despite the lower turnout. First, he wants to pressure the government further to ensure that more of his demands for the people of Gwadar are met. Second, he’s under pressure from his voters to deliver. His candidates won convincingly in local government polls.Now people expect them to deliver, even though the LG elections have not been completed and the local government tier does not have much powers. The common people do not understand these intricacies. They expect the Mualana to deliver now that they have voted for him. Hence, it seems Haq Do Tehreek will continue its protest to keep its voter base.
The Maulana does not plan to end the sit-in anytime soon. He is planning a huge show of confidence by his female supporters in the form of a rally on December 10. This promises to be an unprecedented political activity in Pakistan and will be difficult for the media to ignore. He probably also has other tricks up his sleeve. These might include blocking the East Bay Expressway and Coastal Highway, or blocking the entrance to the new Gwadar airport to halt work on the construction site. Such measures could help him generate more pressure on the government but could also elicit strong reactions like use of a violence to disperse his supporters.
Given the plethora of problems in Gwadar including as the lack of reliable electricity supply, water scarcity and the absence of municipal services, the feeling of deprivation will remain intact among many residents of Gwadar. Consequently, the Maulana will always have issues to protest about. He will do his best to convert the sense of deprivation people feel into votes for his candidates in the general elections. So, even if the current sit-in endsmore will take place over the coming months and in the lead-up to the general elections.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and economy. He can be reached on twitter @iAdnanAamir