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5 Feb 2023

Zofeen T. Ebrahim, Panda Paw Dragon Claw

Pakistan: Understanding the disquietude in Gwadar in the context of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor

"Letter from Pakistan: understanding the disquietude in Gwadar" 5 February 2023

One May afternoon, in 2017, in an interview at the under construction Gwadar port, the chairperson of the state-run Chinese firm China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), Zhang Bhaozong, told me, he dreamed of leaving a “happier and prosperous” Gwadar when he returned to China.

The nearly USD 70 million mega project was launched in 2013 under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and aimed to turn the once sleepy fishing town of Gwadar, southwestern coast of Balochistan province, into a powerful trade hub bringing prosperity to the local Baloch people. A decade on, it has failed in this objective. [...]

The HDT, founded in August 2021, has been protesting illegal trawling in Gwadar’s water, the huge number of security checkpoints the locals had to navigate and to allow ease in curbs on trade between Pakistan and Iran. What the government calls smuggling and thus the restrictions, is trade for the locals, because there are no other means of earning an honest living.

They have even convinced thousands of disgruntled Baloch women to come out on the street to vent their anger for not being able to provide water, electricity, healthcare or education for their children, as well as to protest the forcible disappearance of their male family members. This was the first time the women of the community, who have been campaigning on these issues quietly for the last ten years, came out on the street in show of anger. It was a radical event in this socially conservative community. [...]

However, the illegal fishing trade is ongoing, now under the cover of dark. Some, locals claim, are trawlers from Sindh and some are Chinese, despite protestations by the HDT. [...]

The government may have brought the situation under control, but if it wants lasting peace it needs to engage with the Baloch people on the other CPEC projects in the pipeline. When the city masterplan for Gwadar was being developed and approved in the early 2010s, the consultants never thought it important to take guidance from the locals, or listen to their demand of ensuring their access to the sea, their only means of livelihood. [...]