Gwadar spring: A rights’ crusade -The Nation

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Like the Arab Spring that erupted in the Middle East to reclaim the common public’s rights, “Gwadar Ko Haqooq Doh Tehreek,” seems to be its Asian version which is coined as Gwadar Spring. Similar to the Arab Spring which took everybody by storm due to its nature and formation amazingly driven by the common man irrespective of gender, profession, cast, ethnicity and any affiliation, the Gwadar Spring looks to be an epic crusade charged up to get fundamental rights, a purely public-led movement. Usually, movements are led by high-profile personalities. They carry forward motives for political gains or some vested interests. In the case of Gwadar Spring, motivational personalities are local fishermen, shopkeepers, labourers, daily wagers, teachers, students, traders, government employees, transporters, poets, kids, women, the elderly and many others belonging to all spheres of life. Although Maulana Hadayat Ur Rehman Baloch, who is leading the Gwadar Ko Haqooq Doh Tehreek (Gwadar Spring), is local Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) leader, the movement has never used JI flags which testifies that his affiliation with JI has no role in the public-driven drive.

 

During the recent Gwadar trip, I got a chance to physically observe the sit-in and speeches. I also interacted with government and Chinese officials besides sharing thoughts with intellectuals. Having analysed this from various aspects, it is clear that the general public are the masters of their own Gwadar Ko Haqooq Doh Tehreek. As a matter of fact, people are losing their right to live respectfully with shrinking resources of livelihood, mostly linked to the fishing profession at the hands of the trawler mafia. They are witnessing the high-handedness of black sheep in the government which has paralysed their business and trade activities at the Iran border. They are in dire straits due to being deprived of clean drinking water, electricity and gas with barricaded roads and frequent security checks as growing nuisances. The Gwadar Spring is now the last hope and it appears that it is the sole remedy to their traumatic life.

The situation is really grave and common people are suffering. However in the age of helplessness and hopelessness, there are some positives. One of them is the Gwadar Port operated by China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), led by its Chairman Zhang Baozhong and Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) chairman Naseer Ahmed Kashani. The fruits of CPEC-led development have not reached the people in their entirety but it is a fact that China’s initiatives in collaboration with the Pakistan government inside Gwadar Port and outside have started creating positive ripples. Gwadar Port Free Zone (Phase-1) is functional. A goat farm, kitchen farm, a women’s development centre, a forestry garden, container yards, warehouses, a model harbour are all providing employment to local people. As many as six factories are fully functional. Construction of eight factories are underway. 46 companies, Chinese and Pakistanis, have been registered. Customs clearance and the one-window operation is up and running.

Cargo trade has accelerated and it has become a boon for transporters, drivers and allied workers. A technical and vocational training institute has been constructed where local people will train local youth by equipping them with advanced hands-on knowledge that will enhance their prospects for job-recruitment. Earlier, water scarcity was a major issue. Now water is available but the issue is with rusty and broken pipes. The government is all set to replace the water supply lines. The New Gwadar International Airport is likely to be functional in 2023. Gwadar Free Zone Phase II has been inaugurated. The entire spectrum of development is supposed to generate $50 billion in contribution to the national economy.

Local fishermen complained about the obstruction of their access to sea due to the construction of Eastbay Expressway, an exclusive road that connects Gwadar Port to M-8. In order to address the grievance, GPA built an overhead bridge that allowed fishermen to take their boats beneath the bridge to reach the sea and continue to earn their livelihood. Pak-China hospital is going to be completed soon. Many schools are operational for local children. Gwadar University has been established. That is why when Gwadar Ko Haqooq Doh Tehreek’s leader Maulana Hadayat ur Rehman was asked, he said loud and clear that the protest and sit-in are not against China and CPEC. “Demonstrations and rallies are for seeking lost rights,” he added.

Now a question to consider is that in the presence of CPEC-led development projects, especially the Gwadar Port being run by Chinese company COPHC, local people are getting the dividends but these benefits are not commensurate with the plethora of problems. In my perspective, the reason is that when various projects were launched and are still being rolled out, a staggering hype is unleashed trying to establish the impression that in a few months, the floodgates to employment will be opened and trade and business activity will go on a rampage, and Gwadar will outpace advanced cities in civic amenities, commerce and infrastructure. It is true that this sort of publicity blitz made the people believe that the utopia is real, but as a matter of fact it is not. It is high time that a realistic picture should be displayed, offering true insight about the timeframe and its impact. Frankly speaking, it is fair enough to say that because the size of the problem is gigantic, it will take time for when each and every local to see the dividends of CPEC and China-led development works in Gwadar.