Protesters in Gwadar threaten to block CPEC projects, issue three-day ultimatum to Pak authorities


The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) faces a blockade from the Baloch people (Photo: Xinhua/IANS)

Protests in Balochistan for access to basic facilities like water, power, free movement and livelihoods are threatening the controversial China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The movement called 'Haq do Gwadar ko', which means 'Give Rights to Gwadar' has given an ultimatum to the Pakistan government to restore fishing rights to the Baloch fishermen otherwise the locals will block Othello, Ormara, Pasni and Sarbandan areas of Gwadar. The protestors have been blocking the main roads in the port city of Gwadar for over a week now.

Significantly, the latest protests in Gwadar are being spearheaded by Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman Baloch--the General Secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Balochistan.

Geopolitical analyst Mark Kinra says: "Maulana Baloch has mobilised the “Gwadar Haq Do Tehreek” protest movement from November 15 for which he has mustered the support of several civil society groups as Balochistan has been fighting for basic rights for almost seven decades now."

China and Pakistan are together investing in the massive $62 billion CPEC that envisages the construction of infrastructure projects ranging from roads and rail networks to power plants. The CPEC projects start from Kashgar in the controversial Xinjiang province of China, and runs across the length of Pakistan to its south-western Baloch port of Gwadar.

Kinra adds that "Maulana Baloch's political association with the Jamaat-e-Islami party makes him a potent person to lead the protests as the Pakistan government is in no position to cross roads with Islamist parties after the debacle with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and ongoing negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)".

Kinra feels that if Maulana Baloch is able to get rights for the Baloch people in Gwadar, it might be a setback for the nationalists who have been fighting for an independent Balochistan over the last seven decades. "The prevailing politics in Balochistan is chaotic. If the maulana gets the local people some rights, locals will be inclined towards Maulana Baloch and it will give push to Islamist politics in Balochistan".

This year the Baloch people have faced famine-like conditions due to severe paucity of water and food. Moreover, their coastline has been literally taken over by Chinese companies for the multi-use Gwadar port which has barred them from fishing--the mainstay of their livelihoods. Though the region has seen a long-running insurgency, the ultimatum served on the government has taken the discontent to a different level.

Is the Taliban targeting Baloch families under Pakistani ISI's pressure?