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After one year, Gwadar protests erupt again over Chinese trawlers

Gwadar Rights Movement begins protests against China (Photo: Twitter)

Very quietly, away from the media glare, the Gwadar Rights Movement, has restarted its protests in the strategic port city of Gwadar in Balochistan. Gwadar is in news for the multi-use port being built by China on the Arabian Sea coast in the disputed region.

Also called the Gwadar ko Haq do movement, its protagonist Maulana Hidayatur Rehman has resumed his agitation saying that the Balochistan government has not accepted the demands of the Baloch community. Around the same time last year he had led unprecedented mass protests that included women and students asking for basic amenities like water, power and livelihoods from the governments of Balochistan and Pakistan.

Pakistani newspaper, The Express Tribune reported on Tuesday that the protesters blocked the main Gwadar Chowk and shouted slogans asking for their unmet demands to be fulfilled. People have reportedly blocked the roads by sit-ins in the port city.

The newspaper quoted the maulana as saying: “All the demands of the participants are genuine, legitimate and legal”. He added: “Ministers and bureaucrats continue to deceive the people of Gwadar” as they have failed to resolve the problems of the masses.

One of the main demands of the protestors, that remains unresolved since last year, is to stop illegal trawling in the Gwadar sea.

The entire length of the Pakistani coastline stretching from Sindh to Balochistan has witnessed a surge in unsustainable deep sea trawling by Chinese fishing vessels. Despite mass protests and also resolutions in the Pakistani parliament, Islamabad has been unable to stop trawling because of its strategic proximity to Beijing. However, this activity has led to a loss of livelihood for the Baloch fishermen.

The community is also affected because of the construction of the Gwadar port.

The development of the port by China as part of its mega $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to gain access to the Gulf region, has cut off the Baloch fishermen from the sea. Because of security restrictions by the Chinese, the fishing community has been cut off from the coast.

Among the other major demands is waiving off power bills for Gwadar residents. The locals want relief from the government after floods devastated almost all districts in Balochistan causing massive loss to agriculture and infrastructure. The floods had followed a severe drought and water shortage in the region that borders Iran to its west and Afghanistan to its north.

A member of the Balochistan provincial assembly from Gwadar, Mir Hamal Kalmati said the issues of the protesters would be addressed. “Government has launched massive development projects in the district”, Kalmati told the Quetta Voice website.

A harsh international spotlight had swung on Gwadar last year after Maulana Hidayatur Rehman launched massive protest rallies last year. China had taken note of the criticism in the international media and waived off the protests as fake news. Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Quddus Bizenjo had brought an end to the agitation by promising to accept the demands of the people.

Also Read: Chinese fishing trawlers swamp Arabian Sea, Baloch fishermen protest

Mullah Ki Daud Masjid Tak: Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s run in Balochistan