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Bad news for China and Imran Khan—Pakistan’s biggest opposition parties now back Gwadar protests

PPP delegation at the Gwadar protest site (Photo: @MHidayatRehman/Twitter)

In a big boost to the 'Give Rights to Gwadar' movement, Shehbaz Sharif—Pakistan's Leader of the Opposition, called the Gwadar protests a "watershed event" in the struggle for basic rights. On Wednesday, he said that the protests are "a new chapter in our country".

Pakistani newspaper, The Express Tribune quoted Sharif as saying: "Owned and led by the people it is a watershed event in the struggle for the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan.” Sharif urged the Imran Khan government to listen to “the people’s voice” and “address their problems immediately”.

Not to be left behind, the other main opposition party—the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), sent its senior leaders to the site of the Gwadar protestors to show solidarity with the Baloch people.

Pakistani newspaper, Dawn reports that the PPP delegation that met the Gwadar protestors included central leaders like Nayyar Bukhari, Syed Khurshid Shah, Farhatullah Babar, Qadir Patel, Mir Changez Khan Jamali and Saeed Ghani. The Dawn report says that the PPP has expressed support for the Gwadar ko haq do movement.

Geopolitical analyst and Balochistan watcher, Mark Kinra told India Narrative that the support by PPP and PML(N) to the Gwadar protests is just another political gimmick and flexing muscles until the next elections.

Kinra said: "“The Gwadar protests have certainly transitioned from a local movement to become national as political parties like the PPP and PML(N) are showing solidarity with the Gwadar protestors. Currently, PML(N) is in the opposition while PPP is not even an opposition party in the current Balochistan assembly. Both these political parties have served Balochistan earlier and are now calling in the ruling coalition to provide the due share to the Baloch. When they were ruling Balochistan between 2008 and 2017, of all the revenue generated in Balochistan, the province got just one per cent share, the Chinese had 75 per cent while the federal government got 24 per cent".

Addressing the Gwadar protestors, PPP leader Bukhari said: “The people of Gwadar have the same rights as the people of Islamabad”. He added that the people of Balochistan have the same rights as the people in other provinces of Pakistan—Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The important port city of Gwadar, has been witnessing a massive sit-in by local people for nearly a month seeking basic rights like water, power and fishing livelihoods. The protestors also want Pakistan to remove security checkpoints which have been placed to protect Chinese nationals working on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The month-long Gwadar protests have put up enormous pressure on the Balochistan provincial government as well as the federal government of Imran Khan. The Gwadar protestors, along with other disaffected communities like students, the local civil society and families of people kidnapped by the Pakistani military and intelligence have been carrying out protests in Balochistan capital Quetta and federal capital Islamabad.

Explaining the mass protests, Kinra says that among all socio-economic indicators–poverty rates, GDP per capita, unemployment, illiteracy and lack of connectivity, Balochistan ranks at the bottom of the pyramid.

In an important development, the man behind the Gwadar protests, Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, met with Balochistan Chief Minister (CM) Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo and his cabinet on Wednesday evening to resolve the issues faced by the masses and the local fishermen. Senior officials from provincial capital Quetta and from Islamabad too arrived in Gwadar to meet up with the protestors.

The mass protests have led to the closure of the port road and other areas in the city for nearly a month. The movement has generated interest from other segments of the society including the Pashtuns against the Imran Khan government.

This Sunday, Khan even tweeted in favour of the Gwadar protest, saying: "I have taken notice of the very legitimate demands of the hardworking fishermen of Gwadar. Will be taking strong action against illegal fishing by trawlers & will also speak to CM Balochistan".

The Baloch fishing community has been protesting against Chinese commercial trawlers which are known to deplete the oceans of fishing stocks. Another demand is that CPEC work has deprived them of free movement in Balochistan due to the high security that comes with CPEC projects.