‘Gwadar Protests to Resume’

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‘Gwadar Protests to Resume’
Maulana Hidayatur Rahman

‘Gwadar Protests to Resume’

An Interview with Maulana Hidayatur Rahman, secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami and leader of Haq Do Tehreek

Quetta: Maulana Hidayatur Rahman, Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Balochistan chapter, and leader of Haq Do Tahrik

Maulana Hidayatur Rahman has emerged as the top leader of protests being held by the people of Gwadar, a central point in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He went underground when his pre-arrest bail was rejected by a court and the police launched a crackdown against Gwadar’s Haq Do Tahreek on 25 December, 2022. He has now been arrested on charges including the murder of a police constable and damages caused to public property. He has been handed over to the crime branch police which has shifted him to Quetta for interrogation. Bol News interviewed him in an undisclosed location just before his arrest on 13 January 2023.

Q. Why have you started protest when the government accepted your all demands in 2021?

Maulana Hidayatur Rahman: We have been conducting a democratic resistance for the last two years for our just demands that are constitutional, legal and justified. We have motivated the people, including women and old men of Gwadar, and brought hundreds of disappointed Baloch youth into the mainstream. For the first time Balochistan’s history, women in huge numbers came out to join the protest. Our main demands include action against the trawler mafia, the drug mafia and the border mafia, as well as the removal of unnecessary check posts. We are not against security check posts, but the unnecessary ones that are set up on school and hospital buildings and over the rooftops of houses. The missing persons are also our top priority. On the instructions of the Imran Khan government, Qudoos Bizenjo had struck a deal with us but it was never implemented. After joining the Shahbaz Sharif government, a Baloch nationalist party (BNP-Mengal) started dominating the affairs of the province and has since ignored the public protests of Gwadar.


Q. Why did you avoid negotiating with a high-powered delegation led by Home Minister Mir Ziaullah Langov?

MHR:  The government people are liers. Administrative officials who were in contact with me used to say that the government was not serious about our demands and was asking them just to keep the protesters engaged. The govt delegation didn’t come to discuss issues with the protesters; they came for a photo session. We have been protesting for the last two months in rain and cold weather, but nobody is bothered. We always wanted negotiations even with a small govt functionary such as peon if he was empowered. In fact, it (delegation) came to us because Gwadar’s Pearl Continental (PC) hotel was going suffering losses because of the protests. So, they decided to unleash a crack down on us.

Q. Any particular reason why you declined to meet Zia Langov, and instead sent the second tier of leaders to talk to him?

MHR: We are Baloch. Women and old men were sitting here for two months, but nobody bothered. If Baloch are respected, they give respect in return. If they are offended, they take revenge, and that’s what the people of Gwader did. There was a broad consensus among the protest leaders that I will not take part in negotiations. Four persons were chosen from among the the protesters to meet the minister. All of them were highly educated and competent, perhaps even more competent than the prime minister and the chief minister or any administrative official. After the talks, the home minister told the media that the first round of talks with our Haq Do Tahreek (give us our rights movement) was satisfactory and that there would be a second round. We waited for that, but instead of holding the second round, they cracked down on our unarmed and peaceful protesters.

Q. People say that had you participated in talks, the violence in which a policeman and a youth in Pasni would not have not taken place. Do you agree?

MHR: What is the state’s responsibility? Should it use force against the public? State is supposed to be the mother of the people. Did it play that role? It doesn’t make any difference whether I participated in the talks or not. The representatives of the movement did that. It is the people’s demands that are important, not Hidayatur Rahman. Had they been sincere in implementing the demands, the issue would have been resolved. Had they wanted negotiations, they would have briefed the protesters about the progress in implementing their demands. But the delegation only offered hollow assurances of implementing what the government had already agreed to last year. The public knew that the government had cheated on them last year, and the delegation was here to cheat on them again. We don’t believe the government any more.


Q. You say the government unleashed violence, but the government says protesters killed an unarmed police constable. Isn’t it stubbornness on your part to stop port operation where hundreds of Chinese are working?

MHR: Can one justify the government’s attitude towards peaceful protesters who had been staging a sit-in in the city for two months? Is it not stubbornness on government’s part? In a civilized world, the governments approach their troubled citizens within hours to enquire about their condition. How can poor fishermen become violent? They were protesting for months but didn’t damage any public property. Compare them to PTI activists led by Imran Khan who staged a sit-in within Islamabad’s Red Zone for 126 days, and caused the Chinese President to cancel his trip to Pakistan while foreign diplomates were confined to their homes. They even attacked the parliament, but no force was used against them. Instead, they were served Biryani dishes. On the other hand, we didn’t force any foreign dignitary to cancel his trip or confine diplomates to their homes. We were forced to block the gate of a non-functional port, and that too happened after two months of unheard protests. Yet, the government unleashed violence against our poor and peaceful people. This has forced us to think that there is a status difference between the people of Punjab and those of Balochistan.

Q. You say that protesters were able to shake up Islamabad by blocking the gates of the Gwadar port, yes?

MHR: Yes. The people at the helm of affairs consider the people of Gwader as insects and their land as a treasure. The roads that the VIPs use were all open and the “insects” sitting silently by the side were ignored, until the road was blocked for three days. The elite didn’t tolerate this and Islamabad sprang into action. We then realized that unless we disturb the VIP’s routes, Islamabad will not move. We are the owners of Gwader, not these elite. We believe that baton charges, violence and jails cannot deter the people of Gwader from holding their legal and democratic struggle. We are a confident people, and will resume our protests when we have dealt with the fabricated legal cases brought against us.

Q. Why do you think the government is not taking your demands seriously?

MHR: Mafias hold power everywhere; in the lobbies of the parliament, in government institutions, and in the Chief Minister’s House. Dr Malik Baloch, when he was the Chief Ministe, once publicly said that he was unable to control the trawler mafia. That is because the officials are pocketing millions by allowing these mafias to operate. I can prove that Rs 40 million a day is earned by the civil administration only from the smuggling of Iranian fuel into the country. So, it is difficult for the government to act against thesae crime mafias, but very easy to crack down on poor fishermen. Eversince the crackdown, 200 trawlers are back in Balochistan’s waters to do illegal fishing.


Q. Do you think that youwill be able to mobilize the people again?

MHR: Yes. It is difficult, but not impossible. There are two options before the people of Gwader; either accept their economic death amid the loot and plunder of their marine resources, or resist. They have already decided to resist in a democratic way.

Q. What is your future line of action?

MHR: We have decided to first fight the legal battle against the fabricated cases. The government first launched a crackdown on us, and has now started victimising our supporters and elected councilors on the behest of a nationalist party, using police and civil administration to spread fear among the people. But I am sure that on our one call thye public will again take to streets.

Q. Why other parties are not supporting your movement?

MHR: Political parties have their stakes in the prevailing system. Even if they accept that demands of a community are justified, practically they don’t come out to participate in its struggle. They don’t want to annoy the mafias, because the mafias are influential enough to get their members elected to the parliament.


Q. Why a new demand regarding missing persons was included in your charter?

MHR: It is not new. It has been on our list from the very first day. Families of the missing persons come to us and ask us to exert pressure on the government to resolve this issue. These families have launched a long march from Karachi to Islamabad besides staging protests in Karachi, Quetta and Islamabad. They have our full support.

Q. The blockade of the port gate gave the impression that you were forcing the Chinese nationals to leave Gwader. How will such an impression attract foreign investors to Balochistan?

MHR: It is a wrong impression, spread by the mafias that are the actual root cause of terrorizing the Chinese nationals. We are not against the Chinese, and we have been saying it in our speeches. China wants to work here as a foreign investor for the development of the area. Many projects in Makran area were executed with help from Japan, the Asian Development Bank and Omani government. China is a friend country. My party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, once had a party-to-party cooperation agreement with the Chinese Communist Party as well. But we want that if Gwader port is the backbone of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), why the people of Balochistan are deprived of its benefits.


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