Protest day 23: Gwadar city on roads, demands rights

GWADAR: Thousands of men occupied a major thoroughfare along the coastline in Pakistan’s Gwadar port city on Friday to demand basic rights, as hundreds of women took their place a few kilometers away to continue a sit-in that has lasted for about a month.

Gwadar, which is located in the country’s southwestern Balochistan province, lies at the heart of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multibillion-dollar regional connectivity project which promises to bring financial prosperity to the two countries and their people.

Thousands of demonstrators gather at Marine Drive in Gwadar, Pakistan, on December 10, 2021, to protest against illegal trawling, token system at the Pak-Iran border and security checkpoints in their city. (Picture courtesy Arab News)

Local residents of the area have been protesting since November 16 while demanding the authorities to take a firm action against illegal trawling, abolish a token system at the Pakistan-Iran border and remove security check posts from their city.

While protestors have also made nine other demands, including an end to narcotic smuggling to Gwadar and other cities of Makran division, the three demands are on top of their list since the livelihood of most people in the area depends on the fishing industry and border trade.

They also maintain that they are “humiliated” at security checkpoints.

“We are living in a big jail where we are humiliated in the name of security checking,” Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman, who has been leading the protest since the outset, told Arab News after his address to the rally at Gwadar Marine Drive. “We don’t need anything from CPEC. All we want from our government is to stop snatching our sources of livelihood which is being done by allowing illegal trawling and strict border management.”

A large number of women join a protest rally in Gwadar, Pakistan, on December 10, 2021 (Picture courtesy Arab News)

He said that police tried to arrest him on Thursday night after a case was lodged against him and Yousuf Masti Khan, a Baloch leader from Karachi, who was taken into custody from a local hotel but released on Friday after he secured a bail from a local court.

“The provincial administration of Balochistan will not be able to control the situation if I am arrested,” Rehman said, adding the protest would continue even if he was detained. “The government is not honoring its commitments. Illegal trawling is still going on while the border situation has not improved either.”

Speaking to Arab News, Abid Qamar, a youth resident of Gwadar who brings petrol from the Pakistan-Iran border to sell in other districts, said his family’s survival had become difficult.

“We have been in this line of work for at least three generations,” he said. “Now I spend 20 to 25 days in the mountains without much food. Even then there is no guarantee that I will get the token to benefit from border trade since these tokens are only given to influential people.”

Qamar said it was the deteriorating financial condition of his family that had forced him to participate in the rally.

Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman addresses a protest rally in Gwadar, Pakistan,
on December 10, 2021. (ANI photo)

Asked about the participation of women at the sit-in, Fatima Raza, a student, said Gwadar’s female residents understood the importance of fighting for their basic rights.

“My father and brother are marching on the road and I have taken their place over here,” she told Arab News. “We have the right to earn our livelihood, but it is increasing becoming difficult to do that because of the illegal trawling.”

She added there were several other problems faced by the people of Gwadar, though the authorities were not doing enough to effectively address them.

“Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman is here to fight for our rights,” said Mahnoor Baloch, another teenager. “This protest matters to everyone since it is about our rights.”

Veteran Baloch Muttahida Mahaz (BMM) president Mir Yousuf Masti Khan

Earlier this week, Balochistan’s planning minster Zahoor Ahmed Buledi told Arab News the authorities had met most of the demands presented by the demonstrators.

“They presented twelve demands, four of them were major while others were minor,” he said. “There has been progress on almost all the twelve demands: Trawling has decreased in the sea to a great extent, the border trade management system has improved and the issue of check posts has been largely addressed.”

Rehman said, however, the government was not willing to resolve the problems faced by the local community and was now registering cases against him.

“The sit-in will continue,” he said. “We, as Pakistan’s citizens, have rights which we are not going to leave.”

Yousuf Masti Khan arrested

Police on Thursday arrested veteran politician and Baloch Muttahida Mahaz (BMM) president Mir Yousuf Masti Khan on the charge of making a “provocative and anti-state” speech at a protest sit-in staged by the people of Gwadar. According to a latest report, Mir Yousuf Masti Khan was bailed out on Friday on personal bond of rupees one lakh.

Police arrested Yousuf Masti Khan from a hotel where he was staying and later produced him before a sessions court. The court remanded him in police custody for one day.

The Baloch leader reached Gwadar to express solidarity with the people of Gwadar staging the protest sit-in.

The organisers of the sit-in claimed that police had also registered cases against Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman.

They said that police also attempted to arrest the leader of the movement but could not do so due to the presence of thousands of people at the sit-in.

A heavy contingent of police and other law-enforcement agencies was present in the sit-in area, but took no action against the participants of the protest.