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Imran Khan accepts one of 19 Baloch demands. But Gwadar has a history of false promises

Gwadar residents thought the CPEC project would change their lives. Instead, 'not a single penny was spent on Balochistan.'

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After nearly a month-long protest in the port city of Gwadar, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday took notice of the ‘legitimate’ demands — 19 in all — and promised action against one — illegal fishing by trawlers.

Besides Gwadar, thousands of people, including civil rights activists, fishermen, children, and women from cities such as Turbat, Pishkan, Zamran, Buleda, Ormara, and Pasni in coastal Balochistan have been protesting at Y Chowk on Port Road for 28 days now.

Many social activists have hailed Friday’s massive rally to be one of the ‘biggest’ protests in the history of Balochistan and voiced their concern and offered support.

Contrary to the conservatism in Pakistan, women stepped out in record numbers.

Considering that the primary means of livelihood for residents of this region is fishing, the protesters demand the eviction of big fishing trawlers from the Makran coast and the permission for fishermen to freely go into the waters, according to Dawn.

The protest — Gwadar Ko Huqooq Do Tehreek (Give Rights to Gwadar Movement) — is being led by a local leader named Maulana Hidyat-ur-Rehman. The Jamaat-e-Islami leader—affiliated to the party that has traditionally been an ally to the Pakistan government—has been the face of the movement since its inception in the early weeks of November.

The agitation against the ‘trawler mafia’ is not a first by the fishermen of these coastal areas. The issue was first raised in June this year. Hundreds of agitators, including fishermen and members of civil society, had staged a protest against the Pakistani government’s grant of licences to Chinese fishing trawlers.

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Strangers in their own land

The protesters have also raised concerns regarding the flagship project of China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Speaking on news programme Zara Hat Kay, Rehman said that the residents of Gwadar had pinned their hopes on the government when work on the CPEC began, expecting it to transform their lives. Instead, “Not a single penny of the project was spent on Balochistan.”

According to Rehman, Balochistan Minister for Planning and Development Mir Zahoor Ahmed Buledi continued giving assurances to the people, but it seemed that the trawler mafia was more powerful than the provincial government.

The people have also been struggling with the lack of clean drinking water, poor access to electricity and gas. Despite all the promises of employment, the people were reduced to mere strangers in their own land.

Among other key demands was the handing over of authority to moderate the Pakistan-Iran border affairs to the district administration from the Frontier Corps. Rehman noted that the residents of Balochistan have a close association with Iran and have families and relatives living across the border, so imposing restrictions on their movement leads to their emotional breakdown.

Meanwhile, China has disassociated itself from the ongoing protests, saying that terming the agitation ‘anti-China’ is fake news. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made these comments at a press conference last month.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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