A massive sit-in protest was held in Gwadar to protest the lack of water supply. However, despite all the protests, these basic problems relating to civic amenities remained unresolved
Since November 15, thousands of people in Gwadar have been holding a sit-in protest to voice their grievances. The protestors have camped at the Y Chowk which is a junction from where roads lead to Gwadar fish harbour and the Gwadar port. The protestors are led by Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, the provincial general secretary of Jamaat-i-Islami who belongs to the Surbundan area of Gwadar. The movement, named Gwadar Haq Dou Tehreek, has become the largest protest movement in Gwadar in recent times.
The movement is a culmination of protest demonstrations that took place over the last couple of months. In mid-August, a massive strike was called in Gwadar to protest against the lack of electricity supply. On September 30, Maulana Hidayat held a massive sit-in on a coastal highway to protest the lack of water supply. Despite the protests, the basic problems relating to civic amenities have remained unresolved.
This time the protestors have a 17-point charter of demands. The main focus is on stopping “the humiliation of residents of Gwadar” at checkpoints set up in the name of security; prevention of deep-sea fishing using illegal trawlers; permission for local people to continue border trade with Iran; supply of water and electricity; and improvement in the public education system. The demands are in line with constitutional provisions and rights. Little wonder, they have attracted support and solidarity from political parties and civil society from all over Balochistan.
However, political pundits are intrigued by how a leader of a religious party has become the champion of the rights of the people of Gwadar. Maulana Hidayat belongs to a fisherman’s family from the Surbundan area of Gwadar. He joined Islamic Jamiat-i-Talba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat-i-Islami during his religious education in Lahore in 2003. In the past, he has been elected as a councilor. He also contested the 2018 general election. He got the spotlight for the first time a few years back when he led a similar sit-in protest outside the office of Gwadar deputy commissioner.
When the sit-in protest gained momentum, the government included his name in the 4th Schedule, the watch list for those suspected of terrorism. Interestingly, according to the locals, this helped increase his popularity among the masses. Maulana Hidayat has threatened to shut down CPEC projects and continue the sit-in protests if the demands are not met.
Detractors allege that he has been given a free hand by the powers that, and that’s the reason he is speaking so boldly.
“Some nationalist politicians claim that Maulana Hidayat has the backing of the government and the leniency shown to him could not be expected for the nationalists talking against security check posts etc,” says Nasir Rahim Sohrabi, president of the Rural Development Council of Gwadar. Sohrabi adds that the nationalist parties are not very active in Gwadar currently because in the past they have been dealt with quite harshly.
Sohrabi also says that once the National Party and the Balochistan National Party stopped talking about the people’s problems in Gwadar, it created a political vacuum.
“Maulana Hidayat has stepped into that vacuum. That’s why he has become a popular leader,” Sohrabi tells The News on Sunday (TNS). He adds that there is a perception about Maulana Hidayat among some people that he is “a sincere leader who will not make deals for personal gain and that’s why the people are firmly behind him”.
One of the main issues raised by the protestors is fishing. According to Sohrabi, 65 percent of the population of Gwadar is dependent on fishing for their livelihood. He says nearly 2,000 deep-sea fishing trawlers are currently exploiting the fish in the sea. “These trawlers have long nets. They capture all the fish including the eggs. This endangers fish populations in the sea,” Sohrabi says. He adds that while it deprives the people of Gwadar of their livelihood, some people mainly from Sindh, make hue fortunes through trawling.
Khudaidad Waju, chairman of the Gwadar Fishermen Alliance, representing 60,000 fishermen of Gwadar, is also supporting the sit-in protest led by Maulana Hidayat.
“The Fisheries Department which is responsible for preventing trawlers has poorly equipped patrol boats. They cannot do the job,” Waju tells TNS. He says the Fisheries Department must be provided with fast and well-equipped boats like the Coast Guard and Maritime Security Agency.
“With the reduction of fish in the sea, we can’t even afford to educate our children. However, the government is doing nothing to help us. Therefore, we are firmly behind Maulana’s protest,” he continues.
The Maulana has warned that if the people of Gwadar do not get water supply and electricity they will not welcome CPEC projects. He has said that the government must take steps by the week end to meet their demands.
Media reports suggest that given the pickets on roads leading to Gwadar port and a sense of hostility towards the Chinese project, Chinese diplomats have expressed concern over the matter and asked the government of Pakistan to resolve the issues.
The protestors have now put up posters carrying the pictures of the senator, MNA and MPA from Gwadar declaring them ‘missing persons’ for their failure to visit the protest camp.
Asked for his comments, MNA Aslam Bhootani tells TNS that he has been undergoing dialysis for the last five months.
“I am not in the shape physically to travel to Gwadar. However, I have always done my best to resolve the problems of Gwadar’s people,” he tells TNS.
Bhootani mentions that among other things he had helped obtain approval for breakwaters for fishermen in the Eastbay expressway, the establishment of a university and a cadet college and requested the federal government to approve a Rs 3.3 billion grant for missing civic facilities in Gwadar. “The protestors have the right to display my picture and question my absence but they need to realise that the problems of Gwadar cannot be solved overnight,” Bhootani tells TNS.
The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on twitter: @iAdnanAamir