Pakistan’s Port City Gwadar in Chaos

Muhammad Bezinjo

Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar, the hub of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is in a siege-like situation amid unrest caused by a crackdown against protesting citizens. The city faced a blackout of mobile and internet communications for almost a week. While the mobile networks have been restored, the internet has been shut down since December 28. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has taken notice of the unofficial obstruction of information in Gwadar and asked the government to shed its tacit policy of relegating Balochistan to second-class status.

The unrest erupted when police raided a sit-in protest camp and arrested members and leaders of the Haq Do Tehreek Gwadar (HDT) movement (in English: Give Gwadar Its Rights). This was followed by mass demonstrations against the crackdown of the police and paramilitary forces. The HDT movement, led by local leader Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, has become a symbol of hope for the people of Gwadar in a very short span of time. The foundation of the movement rests on certain demands that found widespread support among the masses. These include an end to illegal trawling in the sea off Gwadar’s coast, a reduction of security checkpoints in the region, recovery of missing persons, and an easing of curbs on border trade with Iran. These demands have been called genuine by the provincial government, but have not yet been met.

Recently, the intensity of the protests grew after a negotiation team of the government, led by the provincial home minister, failed to convince the movement to end its demonstration. Rehman and his supporters have blamed the government for adopting a “non-serious” attitude towards their demands. In response to this failure, the provincial government applied a kinetic approach to end the two-month long protest in the city. To disperse the demonstrators, police used batons and bayonets against them, which led to a conflict between the security forces and protesters. Reportedly, the ensuing clashes caused the death of a police constable named Yasir in Gwadar. Since then, the government has imposed section 144 under the penal code of Pakistan to prohibit public gatherings and sit-ins in the city for one month….