Gwadar remains a microcosm of the Baloch discontent. It not only represents civil, and military bureaucracy’s disregard for public sentiment but also a disinclination for the closure of issues that sit at the heart of the Baloch disenchantment in general. Limited education opportunities, unemployment, poor health infrastructure, nominal access to state finances for the common man, and enforced disappearances are some of the complaints common to nearly all Baloch citizens. Gwadar only symbolizes them.
Gwadar ‘Haq Do Tehreek’ initiated by Maulana Hidayatur Rehman (Jamaat-i-Islami) epitomizes that sentiment. For months, the Maulana stayed put to press for demands that include the unhindered right to fishing in their seas, protection of the rights of fishermen communities, and prohibition of big trawlers that sweep the waters around Gwadar that leave local fishermen with little fish catch. The cleric also became the voice of the unemployed locals. One of the demands that have been largely met is the minimal involvement of security forces in the daily life of locals.
Touted as the ‘crown jewel’ of CPEC, Gwadar draws unusual attention. The new airport, to be the country’s largest being built under CPEC, is also 60% complete. It is likely to undergo test runs in a couple of months. No surprise that Gwadar has been part of discussions in the region as a deep sea port with tremendous potential for East-West connectivity via the Arabian Sea. But peace on the ground is the prerequisite to harnessing this potential.
Sometime in the middle of 2022 a young man, who also runs an online magazine from Gwadar, went missing after attending a leadership training workshop in Islamabad. He returned home after nearly three months. No explanation thus far as to why he was picked up.
What must be worrying for civil, and military establishments is the fallout of absent opportunities or high-handed management of grievances arising out of the socio-economic disparities. Why? Because these grievances act as fault lines that outsiders can easily exploit for sowing discontent and perpetrating terror. This also serves as the cover for new anti-state alliances and subversive activities. No surprise that the year 2022 saw the emergence of a vicious triad comprising TP, BLA and IS-K that led to the surge in terror both in KP and Balochistan.
How will investors look at recurring protests against ‘alien’ trawlers that take away fish from Baloch waters, thus depriving them of livelihood? This is a disruptive phenomenon both for local life as well as the investors — primarily Chinese companies at the moment.
Life in Gwadar — compared to a couple of years ago — has definitely improved. But public confidence in the government as a whole is missing. The continuing disconnect between the people and the authorities — often aggravated by the high-handed handling of the public — serves as another fault line that external forces exploit. Deficient health and education opportunities, disregard for the sensitivities of civilians, and the sense of helplessness vis a vis the predator fishing trawlers — which locals allege belong to bigwigs from Sindh — are some of the simmering issues that do provide a justification for the public uprising. One evident example is the thousands of locals that have been rallying around one cleric. Pushing the issue under the carpet will only accentuate this fault line.
This article was first published in The Express Tribune. Click here to go to the original.