The port story

Gwadar tells a story Pakistan must listen to, and understand
The port story
Representational Pic

For the time being, calm appears to have descended on Gwadar, the port city in Balochistan in Pakistan, after the government accepted all the demands of the protestors who had staged-in a massive sit-in for weeks together, calling for their rights on their natural resources and a life of dignity without the interruptions of the check posts and restrictions in a highly militarized environment.

This is a patchwork, as it is an arrangement that aims at calming the anger of the agitators as a temporary measure but falls far short of addressing long-term fears linked to the issues of the human dignity, and the natural claim of the locals on their lad and resources. This is a natural consequence of the mindset in an environment when artificial and imposed development is used to trample rights of the people and access to their own natural resources. Pakistan, indebted to China for multiple reasons, and its own federal policy of subjugating the Baluchi aspirations, has created a series of problems for itself in the region. It is banking on an artificial picture of the reality than the reality itself. It has been noted by some intellectuals in Balochistan. The restiveness in the region cannot be subsided by the patchworks. In fact, Pakistan, where the establishment has all the powers, the space for the dissent is choked.

Gwadar is the show-piece of China’s investment in the port city from where it has gained access to the warm waters of Arabian sea; was taken note of only last week and then a promise was held out that all the demands of the agitators will be accepted. There is some kind of a written agreement. The Government has pledged that the Chinese trawlers will not be allowed to fish in the waters, where the locals had all the righting of fishing.

Islamabad accepted these demands because it could not afford scene of protests and sloganeering in Gwadar, at a time when it was hosting a big moot on Afghanistan. It wanted to present itself as a great champion of the people of Afghanistan, reeling from so many hardships, particularly when a harsh winter has set in. The moot on Afghanistan is a theatre with all the lights and cameras on. That grandeur would have lost its shine, especially when the event raising awareness about the high-magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, was being attended among others by China.

Gwadar is a joint venture of China and Pakistan. To showcase that they were alive to their internal problems, they agreed to the demands of the protestors. Some may argue that it is not Beijing’s problem, but the fact is that it cannot afford to escape its responsibility in Gwadar because it took advantage of the meek surrender of the Pakistani establishment to its wishes, which enabled it to encroach upon the rights and resources of the locals. Since both Pakistan and China have become vocal about the aid to the people in Afghanistan, though the real intention is to help Taliban acquire legitimacy, and recognition in the international community. Taliban is their proxy in Afghanistan, and the Chinese intentions are clear; to take control of mineral treasure over there. It is going to be a repeat of Gwadar experiment, facilitated by Pakistan, and in Afghanistan the similar helpful role will be played by Taliban. But Pakistan and the rest of the world should not take eyes off the deep problems in Balochistan.

This has been succinctly summed up by Riffiullah Kakar, a public policy expert in his article in Dawn on Sunday, “Development but no prosperity”. He has analyzed the Gwadar crisis as “a product of Islamabad’s extractive development model that has, over the years, not only disregarded social and political rights of the local people but also expanded in scope from exploitation of natural resources to control over land, the informal economy and water resources”.

True, as it may be, that Balochistan is part of Pakistan’s map , but that doesn’t give the federal government the right to hurt the local sentiments. The natives are always very sensitive and possessive about their soil, their resources, not only for the all-important economic reasons of sustaining their sustenance, these also hold importance owing to their local sense of identity. This identity is not determined by the lines on the map, the inner content and aspirations of the people regarding their land, resources, ethnicity and distinct cultural traditions. The attempts to superimpose other cultures is the best recipe for unrest. That’s what is happening in Balochistan. Pakistan blames outside forces for the troubles in the restive province, but conveniently overlooks how it has trampled rights of the natives and treated them as second-class citizens. There is a universal rule, if it is understood in right spirit, nothing can be imposed on any land and people, because that puts the imposers and the natives on the path of confrontation, sometime vocal and some other time through the simmering discontent with a veneer of silence.

Pakistan cannot impose Pakistani national identity of its flag on any province and the people without striking an emotional chord, which accepts the development as development, and not as yet another sign of occupation and source of repression by the establishment .

In July, Pakistan Premier Imran Khan had told a gathering in Gwadar that the port city will be developed at all costs, and almost promised moon as he unfolded his plans for “Naya Pakistan”. He had also promised that local interests would be watched, but his promises were honoured in breach, and the result was the growing unrest in Balochistan. Imran Khan, as is his wont, blamed India for stoking unrest there, and his opponents, who ruled before him, for all the neglect that Balochistan suffered from over the decades. But, from July to December – five months – Balochistan is angrier and more frustrated .

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