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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 498, 4 January 2023

Gwadar: Economic, political and livelihood demands and security responses



D. Suba Chandran

For the last two months, developments in Gwadar town should have been prominently in the national news and the assembly discussions at the national and provincial levels. There have been protests in Gwadar. An opinion in today’s Dawn highlights the following as the primary demands of the protestors “access to fishing in their own waters, the security of tenure of fisherfolk’s settlements, greater inclusion of the local population in the job market, limiting the role of security forces in daily city affairs and the provision of proper healthcare and education.” (See Dr Noman Ahmed, “Gwadar imbroglio,” Dawn, 04 January 2023, https://www.dawn.com/news/1729827/gwadar-imbroglio.)

The demands and the protests have been peaceful so far. The demands are basic livelihood ones – whether it comes from the local fishermen in the Gwadar and the wider Makran regions or the working and middle class in and around the town relating to day-to-day work and access to it. And these demands are not recent ones; in 2021, there were similar protests in Gwadar for similar reasons. Why are the protests continuing, and why are the demands not addressed?

The following could be the reasons. Perhaps the protests in Gwadar are not a priority for the government in Quetta and Islamabad. The protests are taking place in a peripheral town in a peripheral province. Second, perhaps, security of Gwadar, as perceived by the government in Islamabad and the Establishment, is a bigger priority, than the livelihood demands of the local people. Gwadar may be a political periphery for Islamabad, but a CPEC core for Beijing, thereby to those who back the Chinese projects in Gwadar. Securing the Chinese projects in Gwadar has become a “big-picture” for Pakistan, due to the nature and size of the CPEC projects not only in the Makran coast, but elsewhere in the country. 

A few recent attacks on Chinese projects in Pakistan have made securing them a priority for the government at the cost of other inconveniences caused for the local people. For example, fencing Gwadar and having more checkpoints in the town is a part of Pakistan’s security response to protect one of its CPEC jewels. In the process, it is likely to bring more security personnel into the governance process, thereby limiting local involvement. As a result, instead of bringing more people into the governance process, it alienates them. That is why the demand for “greater inclusion of the local population in the job market, limiting the role of security forces in daily city affairs,” as Noman Ahmed has highlighted above.

The other demand is related to fishing rights by the local fishermen. There is a conflict brewing across the South Asian region between those who use traditional fishing methods and those who have adapted to larger new means with deep sea trawlers. And in certain cases, there have been outsiders with bigger trawlers and better fishing equipment undermining the local fishermen. This is a livelihood issue; the demand needs to be met, and a larger dialogue is needed. 

The response to the above demand should be economic and political. If the government looks at it through a security prism, it will be seen as a problem to be put down and not as an issue to be addressed and resolved.

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